The Melbourne Building With A Face

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Some people see faces in everything—in clouds, in the arrangement of faucets on a sink, on a power socket, and on the facade of a building. But the enormous face on this 32-story apartment building at the Carlton end of Swanston Street, in Melbourne, is not an illusion. The face has actually been sculpted on to the building's southern and eastern facades by the creative use of negative spaces formed by white balconies against black windows.

An architectural world’s first, the building named “Portrait” stands at the former Carlton United and Brewery site on Swanston Street.

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The 85-meter-tall face belongs to William Barak (1824–1903), the last traditional elder of the Indigenous Wurundjeri-Willam clan, who became an influential spokesman for Aboriginal social justice and an important informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore. Barak, who was also an artist, fought with the colonial government of his time to return the land to his people. He was renowned for working to bridge the divide between black and white Australia.

To produce the face, the architects, ARM Architecture, took a photograph of Barak and digitally converted the greyscale image into horizontal bands of black and white of varying vertical thickness. Then, they converted the bands into 3D molded panels for the balustrades. Together, the panels form a pattern, which the human eye interprets as a portrait when viewed from a distance. The clearest view can be had from the Shrine, located 2.8 km away. As you move closer the face fades from view and increasingly you see the effect of curved, carved balconies.

At the base of the building, the carpark podium is faced with a grid of circular portholes, some of which are filled with aluminium discs that form a pattern spelling out “Wurundjeri I am who I am” in braille. The northern and western facades of the apartment building are superimposed with a colourful heatmap, representing the lives and bodies inside the 530-apartment tower.

The building took seven years to complete, and was opened on 5 March 2015.

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Sources: Architecture Australia / ARM Architecture / The Conversation

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