Finalist 2021

NGV Triennial 2020 Outdoor Pavilions

National Gallery of Victoria / BoardGrove Architects Pty Ltd CBD / Contracting Group (Builder not Designer)

A temporary installation of pavilions for the National Gallery of Victoria's 2020 Triennial summer outdoor Covid safe dining program.

This collection of pavilions was designed for the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2020 Triennial summer outdoor dining program and operated in two states. Predominantly they were used as picnic pavilions and for a month they operated as formal dining spaces. The structures were nestled between mature trees. During the picnicking event they acted as a stage for informal occupation. During the formal dining experience, a canvas roof was slung between frames with custom long linear tables. With a low soft roof and feeling of being elevated in the garden each pavilion created a sense of intimate enclosure with minimal means.

Design Brief

As Melbourne started to emerge from the extended lock down in 2020 the National Gallery of Victoria tasked us with creating a Covid safe festival type dining experience for the public visiting the NGV Triennial exhibition. They needed to operate in two states - picnic pavilions and formal dining spaces.

The dining experiences were to take place in the Grollo Equiset Garden and needed to be designed to sit within the constraints of the existing landscape and to respect the artworks installed for the Triennial exhibition. The dining experiences would create a convivial and festival like atmosphere in the garden. During the formal dining experience guests would need to be protected from the elements, controlling summer sun and protection from rain.

The project was to be realised with economic means in an extremely short time frame - 7 weeks from appointment to completed construction.


This project was developed by:

Process Design

The pavilions sat 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. We referenced the canvas tent structure in Tom Roberts iconic painting ‘The Artists Camp’ which is part of the NGV collection. It became an inspiration for the simplicity and humble nature of the pavilions we designed.

To facilitate the quick turnaround of the project we quickly assembled a team of builders and fabricators to assist with the design and delivery and engaged with a structural engineer, access consultant and building surveyor.

Given the project operated in two states - picnicking and formal dining - we designed a single structure that adapted over time to suit the different types of dining experiences. The structure was transformed from informal to the formal creating two uniquely different experiences.

The structures were designed to sit lightly without foundations and carefully placed to sit within and below the established trees within the garden. The structures were conceived as modules that could be fabricated off site and brought to site partly assembled to enable a quick installation process that didn’t compromise the NGV’s Triennial Exhibition Installation.

Design Excellence

Set within the grounds of a big public institution the pavilions are human in scale and offer an evocative experience as they carve out a special place for picnicking and dining within the garden. Each pavilion has a repetitive A frame structure and raised deck that is nestled between mature trees. In the picnicking setting the informality of furniture placement prompts people to make themselves at home and use the decking spaces in an undefined way, similar to the casual act of picnicking. The Dining Pavilions with their low slung canvas roofs, long linear tables, glowing lights and elevated decking, create an intimate horizontal setting that encourages one to celebrate in the ritual of sharing a meal.

Humble in materiality the dining pavilions are reminiscent of camping structures such as tents and swags with a strong ephemeral connection to the elements: wind, rain, sun, noise, ground - all of which play out as part of ones experience within the pavilions. In the mornings the smell of the freshly watered garden and damp grass permeates the space. Dappled sunlight seeps its way through the tree canopy projecting dancing shadows of leaves on the decks and through the canvas roofs. Breezes activate the fabric roofs, leaves overhead and adjacent kangaroo grasses creating soft sounds and gentle movement. The sound of light rain is captured on the waterproof fabric roofs as diners sit sheltered below. In the evening the darkness of night envelopes the pavilions heightening their sense of interior within their external setting whilst low level suspended artificial lighting within the dining pavilions gently glows like torchlight, reflecting off the billowing canvas roofs overhead. The presence of these climatic elements and their associated spatial impact result in a strong sense of placemaking and refuge within the dynamic space of the NGV garden.

Design Innovation

The pavilions were designed in a unique moment in time. Melbourne was emerging from a long lockdown and the pavilions were able to provide unique outdoor dining experiences for the NGV whilst creating a positive user experience out of the restrictive health and safety requirements of current Covid times.

The table that we designed specifically for the formal dining event helped to formalise the space and user experience within the pavilions. Table legs spaced every 750mm created a ruler like table with many legs that allowed the hospitality staff to easily manage social distancing between dining groups – a ‘space’ was simply left, instantly creating a 1.5m social distance between diners. As such the table allowed for social distancing to occur in an elegant, calm and dignified manner.

When we started designing the different events, we kept questioning how one structure could facilitate two very different events. The adaptability of the A frame structures was a real success in that it reduced the amount of construction and minimised the use of materials. The A frame structures in their skeletal format suited the picnicking experience and were easily transformed with the canvas roofs to create the more intimate and formal dining experience.

The pavilions were realised in an extremely short timeframe - 7 weeks from our appointment to construction being completed. An impressive achievement made possible by a fantastic team including the NGV, builder, suppliers and joiners who all worked tirelessly alongside us to make it happen.

Design Impact

Whilst the pavilions functioned as two dining experiences, they also offered people respite from the extended lockdown in a setting that is rarely used for social activities. The pavilions offered a space for rest, shelter and much need social interaction and subtly provided a dining experience that was defined by the new social distancing requirements we were all getting used to.

The pavilions were realised with minimal means - minimal material usage, minimal cost and minimal waste. Designed with each components life cycle in mind it was the intention that the parts that made up the whole would contribute to the circular economy once the Triennial event was complete: e.g. pallets return to their original use in moving materials, and furniture and lights to be reused elsewhere in the gallery, canvas roofs to be potentially repurposed into fashion clothing and accessories. This was of particular concern to the NGV who facilitate numerous events and exhibitions which in turn require a large supply of materials, furniture and fittings.

The NGV building is a hive of activity and has minimal storage space so the dining tables were designed to flat pack to make storage easy and since the Triennial they have been used for a book sale and a local community event.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The pavilions were realised with minimal means - minimal material usage, minimal cost and minimal waste. Designed with each components life cycle in mind it was the intention that the parts that made up the whole would contribute to the circular economy once the Triennial event was complete: e.g. pallets return to their original use in moving materials, and furniture and lights to be reused elsewhere in the gallery, canvas roofs to be potentially repurposed into fashion clothing and accessories. This was of particular concern to the NGV who facilitate numerous events and exhibitions which in turn require a large supply of materials, furniture and fittings.

The NGV building is a hive of activity and has minimal storage space so the dining tables were designed to flat pack to make storage easy and since the Triennial they have been used for a book sale and a local community event.

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