By Paul Denham

Lucy Williams, a UNSW School of Built Environment Interior Architecture student has been named the Interior Design/Interior Architecture Educators Association (IDEA) 2015 winner of their Inception Silver Award which acknowledges excellence in the advancement of interior design/interior architecture education.

Lucy’s work, titled Earth-en Oceanic, is a study in how the White Bay Power Station could be re-purposed into an Earth and ocean observatory which was done in collaboration with Urban Growth NSW. Lucy, at the time a 4th year Interior Architecture student, was part of a final year Design Studio that addresses some component of a city and how it can be enhanced. Bruce Watson, Director of the Interior Architecture course explains, “The final year students had to think about how the area could be enhanced by refurbishing the White Bay Power Station. The first half of the year is research and analysis then for the second half of the year they have to realise that work. It’s really important that this approach mimics the processes and procedures that would occur if they were paid professionals.”

The student’s work is judged on best interior proposition, best visual representation and best comprehensive work of text with drawings.

UNSW School of Built Environment sat down with Lucy and asked about her project, being an award winning student and why she chose UNSW.

Explain what your project is?

Earth-en Oceanic adaptively reuses the heritage structure, White Bay Power Station, as an interactive Earth and Ocean Observatory and tracking facility as part of the revival of Sydney’s industrial Harbour.

What did you think when White bay was revealed as your project?

I thought it was a great opportunity to work on a local heritage site. I remember feeling excited at the prospect of having very large scale interior spaces to design within; spaces of industrial machine- scale rather than of human- scale. I have always had a significant appreciation for large scale interiors because of the possibilities they allow for in regards to the human experience.   

What inspired you regarding your winning work? What informed you? Were these new themes you thought of or have passed ideas or experiences come into play here?

Carved and excavated architecture and sculpture were two significant factors of inspiration. I was inspired by the possibility of excavation beneath the surface of the site so as not to interrupt the presence of the heritage features and existing appearance of the surrounds; but also to allow for the possibility of a sensory experimental interior space. Excavation would allow for control of the sound and light quality. I found myself intrigued with how to control these elements. My intention was to implement them as frames, for example in the control of the quality and form of light shards cast down into the pools of water, which would then cause reflections. The combinations of light and depth within the excavations also enabled me to introduce interior landscape and waterfall features on floor and ceiling planes. Developing the details behind the functioning of these features inspired the remainder of the project.

Why excavation?

Heritage architecture is often associated with strict rules to abide by to ensure we do not interrupt the historical significance and memory of a site - we strive for timelessness. I wanted to respect this notion and also the urban presence and identity of the landmark, but I also felt quite design-restrained in the beginning. My solution was to excavate in large sections beneath the existing site and its unused, industrial land facing toward the Harbour. It was from this decision that my scheme became partly liberated from the heritage restraints of the existing site and morphed into Earth-en Oceanic.

Excavation embeds the architecture within the earth and draws upon its purpose as an observatory. Ample filtering of light and water into the regions below ground level via the roof structure, waterfall features and open voids allows for introductions of landscape features including tree plantations, in an attempt to create an atmosphere of serenity and mystery. The architecture attempts to pay homage to the demolished Boiler House 2, as the main excavation journeys down into the earth where it once stood, an inverted recognition of its form and scale.

How was your work submitted for consideration for this award?

In October last year, when we were nearing the due date for our graduation projects, Bruce Watson Director of Interior Architecture at UNSW, asked the students to submit their work for consideration for entry into the IDEA Awards.

What does this award mean to you?

This award is a great encouragement for me; it will inspire me to pursue experimental design and to challenge the definition and experience of interior environments. I feel more inspired to try and positively influence the way people live, feel and work through the design of the environments in which their lives play out.

Have you always wanted to study Interior Architecture? How did you arrive at this career?

I always wanted to be either a teacher or an Interior Architect.  I have fortunately had the opportunity to experience teaching this year through my return to UNSW as a causal First Year Design Studio tutor.

I guess I arrived at this career choice because I have always been fascinated by details and natural materials such as stone and timber and their suggestions of stories and time. Interior architecture brings these elements together allowing for us to influence the way people move, see and experience the world.

What made you choose UNSW?

I remember reading about the opportunities UNSW offered for travel in Europe and working there afterwards which were very exciting. I grew up in a rural area and the closest university to me didn't offer any Built Environment degrees. UNSW was the only university in NSW offering Interior Architecture, a four year degree, as opposed to Interior Design which is available at other universities but is a three year degree. I knew UNSW offered a globally recognised degree and I had read so many great things about the university and the Interior Architecture Degree that I moved to Sydney to pursue it. I was influenced by the possibilities that UNSW offered for clubs and societies, accommodation and a new experience.

What has been the most important aspect to your UNSW life? Or you might have many?

I have had many important aspects to my UNSW life. The friendships started within UNSW in a broader sense and within the Interior Architecture Degree with my classmates and the staff is certainly the major one.  I always felt encouraged by them and in a safe, supportive place for experimentation with design, even when so far from home. Twenty four hour access to Built Environment facilities such as labs and the library were also very important, as was the short walk to Coogee beach and of course the shade of the beautiful large trees out the back of the Red Centre where we used to retreat some evenings to relax.  The many challenges and adventures I have shared at UNSW and within the Interior Architecture degree have made me feel prepared and inspired to go out there and make a difference in some way or another.

Click here to read more about Lucy’s winning project

All images by Lucy Williams.