NGV Architecture Commission 2021

Common were shortlisted for the 2021 National Gallery of Victoria Architecture Commission.  The project entitled ‘At the Table’ proposes the installation of a landscape table in the Grollo Equiset Garden at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

The table is the original common space. Most cultures include some form of communal space, to meet, to eat, to share stories and company. This takes many forms, but the sociality is consistent, a space within the city that serves as a point of confluence in increasingly divergent lives. The table is where deals are made, bargains struck, fortunes won and lost. Society operates both above and below the table, with the legitimate and illegitimate defined metaphorically as above or below the board. The enfranchisement of our communities and the ability to participate in social discourse and decision making is marked by a seat at the table.  The table is the repository of memory – a childhood spent hiding behind the tablecloth – a summer afternoon meal with friends. In a time of social dislocation and isolation this proposal is an architecture that celebrates this collective unconscious, the common, the public, together…apart.  

As the name suggests, at the table proposes the installation of a landscape table in the Grollo Equiset Garden at the NGV. This proposal draws on the collective imagination of the table as a common space, both within the domestic sphere, but broadly through societal, political and economic domains. The proposal is not intended as symbol or metaphor, but rather one that presents the functional and affectual qualities of furniture.

Positioned over the garden’s terrace, the design provides a continuous steel counter that loops out onto the lawn and back to the terrace. Arrayed around the counter are 48 equidistant seating alcoves providing spaces to sit at the table.

Like many of the tables in our society, this one is not equal or balanced. The experience of it will change dramatically from different perspectives. The lowest point of the table is set to the seating height of a child. Much of the table is out of reach, beyond the view of the ordinary visitor. At its highest it is set to allow sufficient clearance for an adult to sneak underneath it, to sit below it secluded.

The table encircles a productive garden intended to be eaten. Species have been selected for their appearance, scent and taste – to be picked and ground on the rough steel surface of the counter. The table is as much a space of production and preparation as it is of consumption. A space to make amongst community. The object of the table dematerialises as one walks around it, with the garden and water becoming the locus of our gaze.

In the same way that a table placed in the centre of a room structures space around it, the installation operates as an infrastructural agent within the space of the garden, a centrifuge pressing visitors against the arbours, the garden beds, draped seated women and standing figures.

The proposal is borne of a deep nostalgia and longing for the social. It is an object that at its simplest celebrates the process of coming together, seeing each other and sharing food.

The project was a collaboration with Enlocus and Bollinger Grohman