Finalist 2023

LIGHT COLOUR HUMANITY - The Alastair Swayn Legacy Showcase

Ian Wong / Dr Indae Hwang / Jo Pritchard

The inaugural Alastair Swayn Showcase - Light Color Humanity celebrates both the career of Alastair Swayn and also his legacy.

The inaugural Alastair Swayn Showcase - Light Color Humanity is both a celebration of the career of Canberra Architect Alastair Swayn and also an acknowledgement of his legacy to support and promote design research through The Swayn Gallery of Australian Design . The program included a major public exhibition, floor talks, a documentary film, motion graphics, and an illuminated immersive outdoor Augmented Reality experience. The major exhibition was at the Canberra Museum + Gallery for three months and the AR experience was a featured installation at Federation Centenary Fountains during the Enlighten Festival 2023.

Design Brief:

The design brief was outlined in an open call competitive EOI for the inaugural Creative Director for the showcase. 'The inaugural 2023 Legacy showcase should kick-start a tradition of legacy for Alastair Swayn the man - his interests, achievements and aspirations for The Swayn Gallery of Australian Design.' The successful creative director would respond to the theme Light Colour Humanity and develop a program to engage with the public during the Enlighten Festival in Canberra. The program developed responded to the theme by merging a celebration of Swayn’s architecture practice with photographic images from John Gollings, text by Professor Phillip Goad and research about Australian Design from Ian Wong. The program included a major public exhibition, a film, motion graphics, and an illuminated immersive outdoor AR experience. The major exhibition was at CMAG for three months and the AR experience was at Federation Centenary Fountains for Enlighten 2023.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

The design process began as a very rough concept in the submission for the EOI for the project. The broad concept was for a number of architectural forms approx 2mx2mx2m with Gollings images on the exterior faces and solid colour interiors filled with colour blocked objects from the Ian Wong Collection. Portholes would allow for objects to be concealed until approached. A paper mockup was used to explore the concept and a site visit to the gallery assisted in resolving the spacial plan and user journey. The inspiration for a 'light' scrim cube came later following discussions and interviews with John Gollings and others about Swayn's passion for atriums and light filled spaces. The concept for the inclusion of original sketches and archive material from Canberra based designers to enhance the visitors experience and awareness of Australian design came from Swayn's passion to promote community awareness of design. The use of the dot as a design element and exhibition way finding device came from the dot portrait logo of the Alastair Swayn Foundation. The gallery space was divided into two distinct spaces. LIGHT was the focus of the glazed section inviting the natural light in during the day and projecting the illuminated cubes and AV at night. COLOUR was the internal gallery space with brightly coloured cubes, archive objects, original drawings and extreme close up images by Gollings of Swayn's bold use of colour. The brightly coloured portholes were commissioned as a collaboration with FINK & Co to honour the distinguished career of Canberra’s own Robert Foster. Design in Canberra is celebrated with original drawings and objects loaned from designers with a connection to Canberra. The installation at Enlighten Festival and the exhibition at CMAG were all delivered on time and on budget and exceeded expectations.

Design Excellence

Light, Colour, Humanity – The Legacy of Alastair Swayn focuses on these three words that Alastair Swayn himself chose to embody his practice. LIGHT: Photographic images taken by John Gollings, of significant projects by the late Canberra-based architect and designer, Alastair Swayn. COLOUR: Colour massed groupings of Australian designed products from the Ian Wong Collection. These objects reflect the rich palette that is highlighted through Golling’s engaging images. HUMANITY: Swayn’s architecture deeply considered the functional needs of all who inhabited the buildings. The objects selected represent the familiar, the everyday of life in Australia. The AR experience used durable glowing cubes activated by QR codes and viewed on a smartphone. The exhibition design uses pure geometric cubes to represent architectural forms and is layered with viewers first impacted by the bold photographic images by Gollings curated by colour. Three perfect cubes are constructed from the cladding material specified by the Swayn on many significant projects in Canberra. The fourth structure made from fabric scrim represents Swayn’s passion for light-filled spaces. Inside the cube are white on white objects from significant designers and printed images were also white on white. The contents of each cube are revealed through one of Swayn’s signature details the ‘porthole’. Drawn in by the jewel like 'Fink' portholes the viewer experiences colour blocked everyday Australian Designed objects. Porthole positions were accessible and encouraged children to engage. Design as a process is shared with original drawings and products on loan from significant Canberra designers. One digital art print of the CSIRO Discovery Centre, a favourite project of Swayn's, was included to honour Gollings. The narrative film was critical and included archive material as well as commissioned interviews and filming in Canberra. Drones were deployed to capture the scale of the architecture and its siting in the landscape.

Design Innovation

The LIGHT, COLOUR, HUMANITY | AR experience is an installation at the Federation Centenary Fountains and at Canberra Museum + Gallery during the Enlighten Festival 2023. The AR experience utilised the latest online augmented reality platform to deliver an immersive user experience for visitors to the Enlighten Festival and also at Canberra Museum + Gallery. Working with Cobalt 3D models were produced for the first time of products designed with pencil and paper. This process was not conventional with Cobalt exploring the latest available AI and CAD tools and deploying a process never used before. The research for the exhibition explored over 1400 images by John Gollings many that have never been shown in public. Curatorial research on the design practice of designers with a link to Canberra discovered archive material never before shown in public of significant Australian Award winning projects. These original archive drawings were displayed to demonstrate and share the historical techniques and design process changes over time. The exhibition design and user experience is innovative by first engaging the visitor with portholes to concealed colour blocked objects inside each cube. Once drawn in the story of Australian Industrial design and innovation can be explored further. A creative and playful approach as an alternative to traditional object and label. The Portholes were arranged to engage audience in an accessible manner with specific attention to the user needs of wheelchairs and children. Objects like toys etc were clustered low and one porthole in each cube was under 400mm from the floor.

Design Impact

The promotion of good design and design research was important to Alastair Swayn and the inaugural Alastair Swayn Legacy Showcase has exceeded expectations for public engagement. The 2023 Enlighten festival was record breaking for attendance and the AR experience had a prominent and central location and featured in online social media posts. An independent You Tube Channel Seven News and Entertainment featured the event. The film and digital content was distributed on social media and individual posts on featured objects were posted. Canberra Times published two feature articles on the exhibition. The concept of merging objects from the Ian Wong Collection curated by colour into the Showcase for the career of Alastair Swayn has enhanced the appreciation of this Victorian based collection and also highlighted many of the significant innovations from Victoria like the Powerboard, KeepCup, Orbitkey, and Black Magic Design cameras.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Sustainable design principles were inherent in the development of the program. Low voltage LED cubes with AR elements required minimal use of resources and zero waste. The cubes are retained for future use. The use of digital projection at CMAG for the majority of the images by John Gollings also increased the number displayed and reduced waste. The plastic storage tubs used to transport the objects were used as structural support for the platform displaying the objects inside each cube. The objects sourced from the Ian Wong Collection will return into storage and have been collected and reused rather than sent to waste. The 2m cubes will be retained for reuse. The entire exhibition has been stored is being considered for a national tour.

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