The Tweed River Art Gallery, a unique and interesting display of modern rural architecture. Striking yet very simple, the building is in its own right a sculptural display of modern art.
However, the showcase piece is the countryside vista across the Tweed Valley. The gallery building cleverly interacts with the view, drawing the landscape into the interior.
The Tweed River Art Gallery first opened in 1988 and was situated in the small New South Wales town of Murwillumbah. The original gallery building was a
refurbished old-style Federation house built in 1923 and situated on the bank of the Tweed River.
As the gallery became more popular the building eventually became inadequate for the gallery’s needs. The last exhibition in the old building was held in November 2003.
The first step towards building a new gallery took place when patrons Doug and Margot Anthony donated land for the new building.
Situated just outside Murwillumbah, the site possessed many limitations as it was long, steep and narrow. However, architect Bud Brannigan was commissioned and undertook the intricate task of designing a new art gallery on the site.
He saw the opportunities of the hilltop site, surpassing its complications and designed in response to the site’s rural location and its panoramic vistas across the countryside.
His goal was to strike a functional balance between the rural site and the new building by making the structure one with the landscape and the landscape one with the gallery.
Brannigan designed with the intention that the new gallery be built in stages, with stage one opening in 2004, followed by stage two in 2006 and a third stage proposed to be completed in 2014.
The building is over two levels with the car park on the ground level and the gallery above.
The building’s structure consists of three layers, with reinforced concrete columns on the lower level on which a concrete slab sits, followed by the structural steel frame of the second level.
Externally the building is clad in a range of metals with different profiles to reflect the physical nature of the surrounding countryside.
The architect emphasises the perched nature of the building by cantilevering the main floor and the roof line, which extends the relationship between the site and the gallery.
The surrounding landscape is also highlighted by Brannigan’s segmentation of the roof form, which imitates the topography of the site.
Brannigan stated that one of his objectives in designing the new gallery was to have the building viewed “as part of the rural landscape, in essence a large farm
shed”. However, he does not fully achieve this.
The building plays and hints at being a rural shed through the materiality of traditional textures such as corrugated iron, but it is more of a postmodern art form challenging the traditional architectural notions of stereotypically rural concepts.
The forms of rural structures, such as sheds and farmhouses, seamlessly blend into the surrounding countryside, becoming one with the landscape.
Comparatively, this strikingly different building challenges the conventions of traditional forms, makes an unexpected statement upon the land rather than blending in.
When initially approaching the building the concrete and iron exterior creates is an overwhelming feeling of emptiness. However, this changes almost instantly when stepping foot in the building’s foyer. Huge panes of vertical glass frame the landscape beyond and fill the space with natural light. This is furthered by the use of irregular natural timber cladding on the ceiling and gift shop, which radiates warmth into the space.
Polished concrete floors and white walls also serve as a continuous canvas, not only to display art pieces, but to showcase the slots of the rural landscape that are framed by carefully placed windows.
Brannigan is also quite successful in the spatial arrangement of the building. The hall connecting the exhibition space is especially effective as it is not only a circulation space but a great exhibition space as well.
The bend in the hall is rather successful as it stems interest.
There is no straight line of sight down the hall and curiosity is generated at the beginning of the hall by an identifiable light streaming down it.
Progressing down the hall, more glimpses of the landscape are revealed though carefully placed vertical openings controlling the views and adding intrigue.
These openings create informal gallery spaces expressing ever-changing frames of art that hint at the landscape beyond.
Brannigan is playing with space and light to change the atmosphere when transitioning throughout the building. These transitions build a sense of curiosity and exploration.
Continuing back through the gallery to the exit the building reveals even more, with angled windows framing more of the countryside beyond. These angled slots are carefully designed and placed to capture snippets of landscape that are only really noticed when walking in one direction.
The interior is forever revealing as the building is explored.
The interior and exterior do not seamlessly fit together as they should because they are experienced in different manners, and this means that from the outside there is no expectation of the beauty that is revealed once inside the gallery.
Despite its almost harsh and opposing exterior and its failure to fit in within the surrounding landscape, the gallery interior seems to effortlessly stream the outside in, showcasing the landscape that the exterior fails to emulate.
Due to Brannigan’s success in bringing the landscape into the building by framing distant views and engaging with the site, this could quite possibly one of the best rural art galleries in Australia.