A hundred years after Canberra’s inception, creative collective Canberra Lab intervenes in the space that is our city.

As part of an ongoing discussion about the role of Canberra as both a nation’s capital and vibrant city in its own right for the people who live here, FACTION* sponsored local collective Canberra Lab’s big step out of the blogosphere and into the physical realm.

Canberra Lab is … the actualisation of a latent desire of a group of architects and designer to establish a discourse within Canberra’s design community. Through building a platform to critique, discuss and discover Canberra’s built environment. More than that, Canberra Lab is about understanding Canberra; investigating why the city is the way it is, what works, what doesn’t and exploring its potential.

Walt & Mazz: a Centenary Pop-up (named after Canberra’s original designers Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin) evolved from an idea of creating small, fine grain spaces throughout Canberra that engage and reinterpret the use of the city’s urban spaces. Made manifest through the manipulation and reuse of shipping containers that would be reworked to create a gallery space (Mazz), activated by a café/bar (Walt), the chosen building program was realised in a way that engages and promotes Canberra’s budding design and arts community.

The Centenary Pop-up was born from this concept to bring the voice of Walter Burley Griffin in to a contemporary context, maybe even to engage with Walter and Marion in their youthful, idealistic days as young designers, possibly not unlike ourselves.

Walt & Mazz was launched at Enlighten Festival, a festival which sees the Parliamentary Triangle transformed as stunning architectural projections shine a light on some of Australia’s most iconic attractions. Located outside the Gallery of Australian Design, the two shipping containers transformed the space at the edge of the lake into a space of life and colour. Through the sense of surprise, Walt & Mazz became a natural conversation piece, adding to the city at a furniture-esque scale. By inviting inhabitants into the urban lounge room, this project made people feel as comfortable as they do in their private space, but in the shared space of the city. Inhabitants felt a private claim on public territory leading to a shared experience and a renewed sense of community.

When pop-up architecture emerges in a place it stimulates activity, compelling its audience to view a familiar context through new eyes. Challenging the way space works, pop-ups perform an ephemeral cultural transaction with the passer by as it offers, within its walls, the chance to explore extraordinary things in an ordinary place.

Followed quickly by Canberra’s Centenary birthday on March 11th, which saw record crowds flock to the Parliamentary Triangle, FACTION* was pleasantly surprised that not only were visitors and Canberrans alike stoping to have a drink and check out the gallery but they were reading the articles carefully put together by the ACT Chapter Centenary program. These were the first of four exhibitions to be staged as part of the Australian Institute of Architects 100+100 Centenary Program which will shine a light on the richness of Canberra’s architecture. The first exhibition, 100+100 Canberra Architecture: In the Landscape, looked to the qualities of Canberra’s architecture and how it has emerged from its unique landscape setting including its geological origins, topological conditions, vast sky, Indigenous landscape qualities and the Griffins’ vision. This program is a collaboration with the University of Canberra Faculty of Arts and Design Through the Lens Mapping Study.

Alongside this, Canberra Lab had prepared a photographic story of the process of construction, from the initial vision of bringing the fine grain spaces into the city setting the foundation for the project. Canberra Lab facilitated and shaped the idea into a project rich in collaboration with input from local designers, artists and artisans. The project also saw a number of second year architecture students from the University of Canberra volunteer under skilled tradespeople.

During the Centenary year Walt & Mazz: A Centenary Pop-up is a nimble example of architecture’s transformative nature and flexible thinking. The Pop-up gallery and bar will enliven the city as it moves to different locations in Canberra during the year. Offering a rolling commentary on the environment in which it is placed and the city at large, through workshops, dinner parties, exhibitions and informal gatherings.

Walt & Mazz have provided the EmAGN demographic with a much-needed venue to engage socially with its community, and showcase its talent via exhibitions. Expect to see several FACTION* events at the venue in the coming months.

For the current location of Walt & Mazz: A Centenary Pop-up like it on Facebook


Reviewed by Nikki Butlin
On behalf of Faction*