ROBERT WOODWARD AM, FRAIA, AAILA
1923 - 2010
WATER SCULPTURE FOR NSW PARLIAMENT HOUSE
New South Wales Parliament House is accessed from Macquarie
Street, both Old Parliament House and New Parliament House, through a common
vestibule between the two buildings. The vestibule encloses a two storey
courtyard open to the sky.
Sheltered from street traffic noise, this space between the
old and the new is blessed with an air of tranquility. A still pond fills the
What a setting for a dainty sparkling gem! The fairy like
form of silver appears to float above the centre of the pool. Thousands of
silken stainless steel wands hang umbrella-like to catch the daylight from
Secure behind a glass wall and lit from above by the open
sky, the delicate wands gently spring upwards when water drops are released
from their hanging tips. This slight movement brings the sculpture to life with
gentle oscillation. Visitors and parliamentarians in the surrounding lobby see
the falling droplets disturb the mirror smooth water surface with a white ring
In this sculpture of steel, water and light were designed
concurrently. Full scale prototypes of a segment of the sculpture were
fabricated and refabricated as the design developed. The first prototype was a
rough study made of fencing wire, hose and a light fitting in a bucket of
water. Gradual refinement culminated in a finely crafted equivalent of the
The convex outer curves of the wands reflect the broad area
of natural light from the sky above and the concave inner curves reflect the
concentrated artificial light from below; yin and yang forces which balance at
twilight. Very small drops of water cling along the curves of the wands and
slowly slide down to grow into large drops hanging from each tip. More active
are droplets which fall freely through the sculpture. The clinging and falling
beads of water sparkle like a multitude of diamonds.
No brainwave was required to create a great new concept; nor
was there any need to search the archives of existing art. The sculpture is a
response to the requirements of people and site.
The mixed media sculpture of metal and water has light as an
extra medium. Natural and artificial light are so closely integrated with the
other media that they contributed to the development of the sculptural form. It
was not a matter of ‘the sculpture is done — now light it’.
Light was studied in sketches as geometric applications of
its properties of reflection, refraction, diffusion and absorption; and studied
again in the prototypes by observing aesthetic effects. Some imagination was
required to perceive the finished work while looking at a 1/32 full scale slice
of the whole.
The light fittings are the simplest functional form for the
purpose. They are located underwater for cooling and concealment; they are
clustered in a tight circle with wide flood lamps to avoid spotty
concentrations of light.
Baffle rings project above the water surface to prevent
illumination of the surrounding facades and to screen direct vision of the
disturbed water surface within the rings. A very high intensity of illumination
above the lamps would have been distracting. The baffles also prevent light
spreading into the water in the pool, so that only the sculpture is
illuminated. Space between baffles and bodies of the fittings allows free flow of
water to cool the lenses.
Standard light fittings did not satisfy the design criteria.
They also go out of fashion making lenses and seals impossible to replace.
Custom fittings were therefore made. They were fabricated from grade 316
stainless steel for strength and long life, standard pipe sections being chosen
for economy and precision. The replacement components; lamps, ‘O’ rings and
lenses made from flat glass; can be easily obtained.
The lamps are 120 volt, 500 watt, PAR 56, quartz, wide flood
lamps which have a rated life of 4000 hours. The choice of low voltage has the
advantage of smaller conductors, less voltage drop, smaller transformers and
subsequently less heat in the plantroom than there would be with extra low
voltage (less than 32 volts). Provision was made for possible later change to
extra low voltage by installing oversize conduits. The conduits are out of
sight below the pool bottom.
The conduits slope away from the pool so that any leakage
will show when water emerges from open ends in the plant room. The open ends
also ventilate the airspaces in the light fittings and thus prevent pressure
differentials which could cause water ingress.
One light fitting was manufactured and approved by the
electrical supply authority before final production proceeded. Reference was
made to the SAA wiring rules on requirements for underwater luminaires and
professional guidance was also used during early design stages.
Buildings, spaces, landscape elements and vegetation are
easily defined with graphics and therefore can be designed and documented on
the drawing board; not so with light. Only physical work with the medium itself
enables the designer to find the desired effect.
NSW Parliament House photos: Max Dupain, Photographer, Dupain & Associates,
SPIRAL WATER FEATURE, DARLING HARBOUR
Because all works in the Darling Harbour complex were
administered by a managing contractor I could not be commissioned by John
Andrews. I refused to be contracted to the managing contractor and insisted on
a direct contract with my client, the Darling Harbour Authority. This gave me
access to my client and some autonomy and design freedom. However, I had no
authority in construction or cost management. Changes were made to my plantroom
design, but fortunately the visible works were not altered.
The site consists of a broad waterfront concourse; an open,
brick-paved expanse flowing past a series of unrelated buildings and dominant
spaghetti of overhead freeways; a space devoid of containment or spatial
intimacy. The environment is a flat open thoroughfare for festive people moving
between various showplace and entertainment activities, sometimes busy,
The concept was to give each visiting child and adult the
chance to take away a lasting memory of their Darling Harbour outing; a memory
of some detail, event or joyous moment.
The concept was not to construct a monument for a distant
audience but an unobtrusive waterplay to be discovered close up; a patch of
water that would enchant passing people and tempt them to pause and stray from
their course. The concept was to let water predominate and be merely supported
and enriched by accompanying forms and materials.
The project is a spiral water feature in front of the
Convention Centre; an unassuming saucer-shaped depression in the bare
harbourside concourse; a shape cleanly cut, as if by an auger, into the pavement;
ten spiralling paths for water and two for people; a mesmerising flow of
shallow rippling water.
Water flows from the header at the top of each of the ten
spirals as smooth, accelerating supercritical flow. When maximum velocity for
the 1 in 16 gradient and roughness coefficient has been reached, the flow
becomes constant and is therefore critical, a condition of least possible
stability (Froude number = 1.0). In this unstable condition water is easily
sculpted by minor external forces. The weir configuration and drag disturbance
from the sides of the spiral create waves which travel downstream. The waves
move across the spiral at an angle and reflect from the opposite side;
crisscross interference patterns result. The wavelength is constant and
sympathetic group wave action develops and continues down the spiral. This wave
action is an original creation which probably does not occur in nature.
The 360 square metres of crisscross wave action over 3000
identical weir stones is created by the energy from a mere 5 litres per second
total flow, the same as from a domestic swimming pool filter.
An important part of design procedure was the use of full
scale wooden mock-ups. Many mock-ups were needed to develop the sculptural
water forms, to determine the slope and width of the spirals and the size and
shape of the weirs and to find the correct flow.
EL ALAMEIN MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN
The El Alamein Fountain is a War
Memorial. However it is not the usual sombre
structure of granite headstones with bronze plaques and inscribed tablets. It
is a lively burst of water depicting the Ninth Division of the Australian
Imperial Forces breaking the deadlock of World War II.
Front line war correspondent Chester Wilmot´s broadcast of
September 1941 explains how it was.
the first eighteen months of this war Hitler´s armoured columns and aircraft
carried the swastika from Warsaw to Narvik; from Amsterdam to Athens; from
Paris to Benghazi. In this time no land force, no fortress withstood their
assaults... Then came Tobruk...
After Australian and British troops took Tobruk in January
1941 Rommel determined to take it back, fighting desperately to retain his
foothold in North Africa. Attacks and counter-attacks ended with the Ninth
Division´s victory in November 1942 at El Alamein. This might sound like a
sudden event, but it wasn´t all that immediate.That was nearly two years of
struggle which turned the tide of the war.
The fountain design was the winning entry in a competition
organised by the Sydney Fountains Committee in 1959. It was to commemorate the
deeds of the Ninth Division of the A.I.F. during World War II.
The design is an example of Modernism. It follows the principles of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto
for whom I worked in 1953–54.
Aalto had taken Scandinavian Modernism to a culmination of
the aims of Gropius´s Bauhaus School; to unite art and industry, to unite art
and daily life. He did not follow the rectilinear minimalist functionalism of
others such as Mies van der Rohe.
Aalto believed that everything in architecture relates to
biology and that biology teaches the principles of cellular structures, flexible combinations and standardisation.
Cellular structures are spatial. They are the multitude of spaces which combine
to make up the architectural whole.
Flexible combinations are the various ways that elements combine as one finds in
a natural organism such as a leaf with its many like forms of cells and veins.
Standardisation refers to repetition of both spatial and material elements
and creates unity and economy.
The cellular structures, flexible combinations and
standardisation are the underlying foundation of design. Aalto would not
consciously work with these as design tools, but together with information from
a thorough analysis of the economic, technical and human aspects of the problem
they would become imbued in his subconscious mind. The requirements of a design
problem are so numerous, complex and conflicting that they form a confusion
which can not be clarified through some step by step design process. He would
wade into a design problem with an open mind, making free flowing sketches,
sometimes of abstract shapes and sometimes shapes built on the general form of
Out of those sketches an idea would emerge and a form would
develop. This was not the triumphal end of the road; there was much work still
to be done to follow the ideas and forms to resolve the architectural
composition. A correct form had the flexibility and freedom to accommodate all
problems. Aalto´s designs were complete
whole systems. The fountain is a complete whole
system, a living organism. It is born, lives and dies. It bursts into life as the primary commemorative statement, bright
and clear on its pedestal; flows languidly over descending ruff edged terraces,
then sinks silently into glory holes.
Max Dupain's photograph shows the fountain at night, for it
is of Kings Cross and Kings Cross is of the night. The only lighting is a
cluster at the centre of the lively ball of water.
Water is the sculpture. It forms the transition of the
organism through various stages until activity ceases.
Can there be a greater medium than water? The precious
element to express any feeling of power, joy, tranquility. Flow can be in
torrents, ripples or smooth.
The site falls away to one side creating contour terraces
which diminish in length step by step and so soften the terminations.
The highest terrace gathers the falling water, and so the
surface is disturbed. Subsequent levels have smooth undisturbed surfaces ― yet hundreds of water jets stab the level below. This
creates a gentle sound. The six hundred similar sounds reflect from the hard
face of the bronze plates behind.
Water's sounds have variety of volume and pitch, sharpness,
softness, rhythm and most importantly, harmony.
The pitch and character of each sound depends on the shape
and mass of the falling water, its velocity and the nature of the landing
surface. Much modelling at full scale determined the dentils and therefore
water shapes. The finely designed jets do not disturb the tranquility of the
receiving surface. The glory hole outlets, three ― two and four ― silently say amen!
200 mm wide bronze edges to terraces present battlemented
entry for water. The restriction nullifies surface roughness. Water flows
slowly in the long (relatively) and narrow channels, hugs the channel sides,
slips off the open ends in spoon shapes which surface tension draws into round
cross section at the 300 mm drop level.
In two fruitful years my Finnish experience led to a
breakthrough in my design philosophy. I realised there was no mysticism, the
basis of good design is obvious; it is thought, uncluttered thought, build
simply and naturally, refrain from the stilted, showy or superfluous.
Robert Woodward, AM, FRAIA, AAILA
All NSW Parliament House Courtyard photos; and photo 'El Alamein at night' are credited to Max Dupain, Photographer, Max Dupain & Associates, Pty Ltd.
The 'Asahi Shimbun article' and 'Asahi Shimbun cover' is credited to Asahi Shimbun 1970 4.1, 'The 1970 World Exposition Opens' http://www.asahi.com/english/
All other images and text copyright Robert Raymond Woodward 1961-2010. All rights reserved.
Caroline Viera Jones wrote an obituary for Robert Woodward. The link is below.http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/armourer-and-architect-designed-the-el-alamein-fountain-20100315-q9i5.html