Public culture is in perpetual flux. This has been accelerated as a consequence of the pandemic, which transformed collective social rituals and the ways we inhabit space. This is at odds with the state of architecture, which is typically one of permanence, unable to keep up with the pace of the world around it. We were given the opportunity to propose an alternative to this relationship within the “Reading Space” as part of ACCA’s recent exhibition, 'Who’s Afraid of Public Space'. Our proposition, The Common Room is a space that was designed to be reconfigured, added to, and archived through the collective agency of those who engage with it.
The project was developed over a time where our sense of physical spaces has been completely disoriented through the ongoing effects of the pandemic. In a recent online workshop with Masters of Architecture students at Melbourne University, we asked students to come with an image that represented public space to them. The general sentiment was that public spaces (that aren’t the local park) felt like foreign territory after almost two years of not being able to frequent them. This widespread loss of recall has added further complexity to our task, as we attempt not only to challenge the known conditions we are critical of but also speculate on the ways that we might re-inhabit public spaces after a period of absence.
Our desire for The Common Room was to create a space that encourages softness, slowness, and a sense of agency over a shared cumulative archive. Form and colour have been carefully considered to provide subtle cues for users to participate in reconfiguring the layout to suit the needs of users of different ages, abilities and engagement levels. Materials were selected with the intent to soften the institutional feel of a public gallery. The project itself is collaborative, as the contents of the exhibition library were nominated by members of the general public through an open call for resources.
Now the project has materialised, we have been able to witness how visitors responded to the space. What we saw was a sense of calm, slowness and comfort. The space acting as an intuitive resting zone rather than a space that traditionally is a thoroughfare. In this sense, it’s was an opportunity for us to test not only how the traditional qualities of a gallery can be subverted, but how it can be used to trial new forms of post-pandemic public space.