NGV Triennial 2020 Outdoor Dining Pavilions

Client: National Gallery of Victoria
Location: Melbourne, Victoria
Co-ordinates: 37°49’21.8”S 144°58’10.0”E
Status: Built
Year: 2020
Project Team: BoardGrove Architects, NGV Exhibition Team, Paul Conole Engineering, Surveyed by Nicolas, Architecture & Access
Contractor: CBD Contracting
Photography: Rory Gardiner
Words: BoardGrove Architects
Awards: Winner Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter 2021: Kevin Borland Award for Small Project Architecture, Commendation Australian Interior Design Awards 2021: Installation Design, Shortlisted Australian Institute of Architects National Awards 2021: Small Project Architecture, Shortlisted Eat Drink Design Awards 2021: Installation Finalist Design Anthology Awards 2021: Hospitality – Dining Spaces

The gesture of this work is small in stature but profoundly generous in heart and in experience. Careful and sensitive decision making, finely calibrated to limitations of both budget and time, have delivered a place of sincere rest and comfort within the NGV gardens that far exceeds the sum of their humble material components.

— AIA 2021 Victorian Architecture Awards Jury

This collection of pavilions was designed for the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2020 Triennial summer outdoor dining program. Located at the NGV International the pavilions are part of a wider celebration of art and music in the garden and operate in two states. Predominantly they were used as picnic pavilions and for a month they operated as formal dining spaces.

The pavilions sit nestled under trees next to a powerful Triennial artwork by French street artist JR about the Murray Darling Basin. This got us thinking about simple structures associated with camping along riverbeds in the Australian bush. The casual informality of swags and tents, hung over branches or propped up with poles is a quintessential image of Australian summer ‘escapism’: a desire for escapism particularly craved by many Melbournians post months of lockdown.

Each pavilion has a repetitive A frame structure nestled between mature trees and a raised deck which avoids disturbing the ground. During the formal dining experience, a canvas roof is slung between the frames with vertical lighting and custom long linear tables. The billowing roofs allow for low lying branches to span overhead unscathed, casting soft shadows across the interior space. With a low soft roof and feeling of being elevated in the garden each pavilion creates a sense of intimate enclosure with minimal means. Like being under a tent awning you feel like you are in an interior space but still in close proximity to the trees, long grass and artworks in the garden.

When designing these structures their short life was a particular challenge. We therefore tried to find materials or components that could be re-used in future. The raised decks are custom pallets factory made that can be reused after the event. The A frame structures are made from pine and can be recycled/repurposed. The canvas roofs can also be repurposed for various uses from bags to clothing. The lighting is intended to be re-used for other NGV events and the tables are designed to be flat packed so the gallery can easily store for future large-scale dining events such as The Gala. Chairs are borrowed from the NGV Education Space.

The design and construction happened in a very short timeframe. Melbourne was emerging from the Covid lockdown in late October and NGV’s Triennial exhibition was scheduled to open on 19th December. This small window of opportunity set the timeframe for the design and construction, 7 weeks total. Working closely with CBD contracting, a joiner and a canvas specialist we refined a design concept with a series of components that were made off site and assembled on site in a short space of time.