Perhaps I was mentally unprepared upon arrival to expect such an experimental building in a seemingly conservative state like Canberra. Foolish as it was considering the calibre of incredible architecture Canberran’s possess, yet still in the moment feeling vindicated when gazing upon Callam Offices. I can easily place this edifice in California, Paris, London, Brazil, Spain perhaps even Japan and Berlin as it resonates between Buckminster Fuller’s experiments, the soup of architects who pulled off the Centre Pompidou and the works of Oscar Niemeyer. One can only imagine architect John Andrews eagerness to introduce Australia through its capitol territory to this modernist ethos
Callam Offices architectural significance begins at the time of its construction, marking it as the only office building to be fully supported by an exterior tensile structure in Australia. My plight, however is not to educate my readers on a google search but to walk you through a human-centric spatial experience for vicarious pleasure.
"The ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens.". Oscar Niemeyer
The stairwell and elevator are a spatial experience of their own, a pleasant surprise to see the detail through material, texture and composition of shape and form, generating anticipation for exploring the rest of the building. The circulation spaces in the building combined with the exterior multi-level circulation was playful and dynamic. Corridors filled with light and interesting views of the buildings structure. It was as though the building had swallowed you up and you were in the belly of it looking to its skeletal structure.
Upon reflection I remember feeling watched, like a mouse in a maze as the hidden offices may or may not have been filled with people whose view is of the very space you’re exploring. A group of women who work in the building expressed how much they enjoy it “we just love it” they said, another said he believes it is beyond repair and labelled it “a potential fire hazard”. To me it is now just a memory, one of a place that I can be sure I will not forget for it was uniquely stimulating through its unfamiliarity of place and time, articulation of material and use of form and composition.
Approaching this edifice, it feels natural to question its overall aesthetic, it looks like a tired, ancient spaceship that has travelled from lightyears away. It is vast and scattered in its footprint and elevated off the ground. An unconventional entry sends one searching for a way in, dwelling beneath the perspex tunnels, peering up and around for entry evokes disorientation, only settled throughout the building by the existence of the centralised elevator core.
Image credits: Photographer Rochelle Tissa https://www.rochelletissa.com/