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South Coast town wins international award

Rebecca Barrett reported this story on Friday, November 6, 2009 12:46:00

SHANE MCLEOD: Now from Berry to Barcelona. A small country sports hall on the south coast of New
South Wales has taken out the World Architecture Festival Awards in Barcelona.

The $1 million redesign of the Berry sports centre beat the redevelopment of Wimbledon and the New
York Jets training complex to take out the prize. The humble hall features cement walls pierced
with hundreds of shards of glass that let the natural light in during the day and at night let the
light inside sparkle like stars.

The Project's architect Michael Heenan spoke from Barcelona with Rebecca Barrett.

MICHAEL HEENAN: Yes it's very exciting and very exciting for Australian architecture to be, to have
a small modest sports hall in Berry named the best sports building in the world. And this is up
against hundred million, and $200 million projects like the redevelopment of Wimbledon and the New
York Jets training facility.

It's certainly a strong statement about the quality of Australian architecture.

REBECCA BARRETT: Now there was some pretty stiff competition as you've just mentioned, were you
always confident of winning?

MICHAEL HEENAN: Oh completely not, because I sat through each of the interviews and there was just
some beautiful buildings came up, and so I was very surprised when the judges said there was a
clear and outstanding winner from Australia, Allen Jack+Cottier's Berry sports hall.

REBECCA BARRETT: So that took you by surprise?

MICHAEL HEENAN: Oh completely, because when you're sitting in a room with 2,000 architects from 60
countries having submitted 800 entries and shortlisted them, you're there with the very best in the
world so there can be no surety or no strong expectation that you'll get up and win.

REBECCA BARRETT: What do you think it was about the design that actually won the judges over?

MICHAEL HEENAN: I think that there was a comprehensive level of thinking that involved an
understanding that the future generations are going to want us to produce things and produce them
using way less resources. And they're not only going to want it, they're going to demand that we do
that.

And as architects we need to be able to do that, but the judges noted too that all the practical
side of it had been covered exceptionally well, but it lifted to another level, a level of
eloquence and poetry that they didn't expect in such a modest little building.

REBECCA BARRETT: So can you describe the design for us?

MICHAEL HEENAN: The building, if you can imagine quite a large sports hall, it's got beautifully
finished pre-cut concrete walls. And we had this idea to put shards of glass through it 500 times
and in the end we did it in a very careful way.

But as the sun slowly sets then the lights are on in the building when they're playing sport
inside, the thing turns from a heavy farm-like building into this sparkling night sky version and
slowly as the sky gets dark it actually melts into the night sky. And so this massive heavy
farm-like building just seems to disappear.

And the jury was very impressed because we'd done a lot of research about the original custodians
of the land, the Wadi Wadi people who lived in that area and their existence depended on the sky,
directions from the Southern Cross. Their higher being lived in the sky. And that was essential for
their existence. And they understood then that we had made a very strong and deep connection to the
ancient history of our land as well.

REBECCA BARRETT: You talked earlier about pressure on architects to produce more value for less
cost, and that was one of the themes of this year's festival wasn't it? Do you think that your
design now is likely to be a template for similar buildings in Australia and around the world?

MICHAEL HEENAN: Right at the moment with the Federal Government rolling out new sports halls in
most primary schools around the country, we're up here on a world stage saying we've provided this
building that's been recognised as one of the best buildings in the world for a budget that is no
more than our normal government issue brick and tin shed.

This of course is a template, it's a template that we should be rolling out.

REBECCA BARRETT: So we could perhaps see Berry sports halls in schools across the country?

MICHAEL HEENAN: Well I have a very, very careful thought process when I'm developing a building and
it's a lot to do with understanding the micro-climate completely, so yes, it could well roll out in
the temperate and cooler climates of Australia.

SHANE MCLEOD: Architect Michael Heenan in Barcelona speaking to Rebecca Barrett.