Run entirely by volunteer authors, journalists, editors and the like The Martian Embassy is the new home for The Sydney Story Factory, a not-for-profit creative writing centre for disadvantaged kids in Sydney.
A mix of Martian essential oils inspires young imaginations, whilst the sounds and lights of the red planet animate the space. Martian passports, alien money, 1kg cans of gravity, abduction kits and SPF 5000 sunscreen are just some of the ‘Made on Mars’ gift products sold in the Martian Embassy store.
We caught up with Chris Bosse of LAVA to delve deeper into this inspirational and otherworldly project. Situated just around the corner from The Loop HQ in Redfern, we’re itching to go and poke our noses in and experience the intergalactic excitement!
1) First things first, how did this idea come about? What was the inspiration / insight?
Sydney Story Factory is a new not-for-profit creative writing centre targeting marginalised young people in Sydney. The inspiration came from San Francisco’s 826 Valencia Pirate Supply Store founded by novelist Dave Eggers in 2002. Seven other chapters with different themes have since opened in the US. Novelist Nick Hornby in 2010 opened The Ministry of Stories in London, behind Hoxton Street Monster Supplies.
2) This was a really collaborative project. How did you all come together to work on the Martian Embassy?
Will O’Rourke produced, conceptualised and constructed the space with their creative partners – The Glue Society and us at LAVA. The Glue Society then developed the brand identity and came up with the idea of a Martian theme, which they tested with kids – of all ages!
For the design inspiration we at LAVA travelled back to some great stories – think of Moby Dick, H. G. Wells’ Time Machine and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. The goal is to awaken creativity in kids, and the design had to fire up the engines of kids’ imagination so we knew we didn’t want to do a cliché Martian spaceship metal saucer.
We decided on a fusion of a whale, a rocket and a time tunnel, an intergalactic journey – from the embassy, at the street entrance, to the shop full of red planet traveller essentials, to the classroom. By the time kids reach the writing classes they have forgotten they are in “school”. The immersive space of 1068 oscillating plywood ribs is brought to life by red planet light and sound projections.
Using a fluid geometry merging the three program components [embassy, school and shop], a computer model was sliced and ‘nested’ into buildable components. The timber ribs create the space, shelves, seats, benches, storage, counters and displays and continue as strips on the floor. Edged with Martian green, the curvy plywood flows seamlessly so that walls, ceiling and floor – space, structure and ornament – become one element.
Our architecture is not about decoration – it is about fusing structure, space and architectural expression into one single element.
3) What challenges did you face along the way?
Putting all the 1068 pieces of CNC-cut plywood together like a giant puzzle! Turning a long dark unloved shop into a fun space in a short period of time thanks to the most amazing volunteers.
4) What is your favourite thing about this project?
I like how wall, floor and ceiling become one single element. There are no straight lines – it is one fluid continuum.
I’ve also loved watching how the children inhabit the space, crawl all over it and experience their own worlds. And they are mesmerised by the space – is it a whale? A dinosaur? A tunnel? A cave? Then they want to know if the shop goodies such as Martian Gravity and SPF 5000 sunscreen really do come from Mars.
From a design perspective smaller projects like the embassy give us the opportunity to create innovative solutions that we can then apply to larger scale projects. It’s a good example of LAVA’s creative process – Mankind, Nature and Technology. And it demonstrates how it is possible to create more with less, more architecture and more amenities, with less material, less energy footprint, and where possible, less money.
We at LAVA see nature as holding all the answers. The geometries in nature create both efficiency and beauty. Naturally evolving systems can create new building typologies and structures. Computation allows you to simulate this natural behaviour, it is often misunderstood as superficial mimicry, but the potential is in understanding the principles behind nature, not only the appearance.
5) What would you do differently if you could do this project again?
We underestimated the amount of time it takes to get a pro bono project off the ground, however it was great to work with such creative people and on such an important mission! NASA’s Curiosity Rover mission took seven months to get from Earth to Mars – we took a little less time, and we had a lot of fun doing it.
6) What advice would you give to someone embarking on a similar kind of project?
Be realistic about cost and timeframe, get strong partners on board, and once you decide to go for it, don’t look back and run with it. We spent about 2000 hours on the job and counting, but it was worth every minute.
7) Can you draw your creative process for us?