Designing iconic cultural buildings from his London studio, architect Kevin Carmody reminisces about the structures that marked his formative years in Canberra.
A riverside museum in England’s Lake District takes the outdoor-indoor, al fresco approach of Australian architecture, he says, “to create a shelter that is defined but not enclosed”. A monumental book archive in the geographic center of England transforms a 1940s structure into a state-of-the-art robotic facility (squint, and it’s no different than the National Library of Australia nestled on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin).
A slick, eco-brick addition to Design Museum Gent in Belgium uses strategies of compression and release – of alternating intimate volumes with large ones – that Carmody associates with the neo-classical War Memorial, delivered in 1941.
“These large public buildings were an integral part of my childhood,” says Carmody, 48, who began spending his summer holidays “from the age of 14 or 15” working in architectural studios. “I was quite good at drawing, so I learned the technical aspect quite quickly.” So quickly that he was in a hurry to study architecture at University of Canberra, “a very solid course, based on the approach of the Sydney school. A large number of [Glenn] Murcutt’s disciples taught there.
To broaden his perspective, he enrolled in post-graduate studies at RMIT, “which gave him a theoretical counterpoint and nourished me in a much more international and, I would say, European way”. By 2000 Carmody had moved to London and was working with David Chipperfieldwho had just completed his widely acclaimed first building, the River and Rowing Museum in Henley.
The GuardianArchitecture critic Rowan Moore described Chipperfield’s work as “serious, solid, neither flamboyant nor radical, but at ease with the history and culture of his surroundings” – a descriptor that easily applies to Carmody, who not only cut his teeth but refined his bite under Chipperfield.
There, Carmody met Andy Groarke and “developed a way of working together independently in the studio”. They competed in duo competitions, won a few – including the prestigious Burnham Prize (Chicago) and for the Coney Island Parachute Jump pavilion – and in 2006 launched their own practice, Carmody Groarke.
Their first major commission was not a building, but certainly a striking structure: a permanent memorial to the victims of the London terrorist attacks of July 7, 2005. Unveiled that day, four years later, its 52 vertical cast iron pillars stainless steel – each weighing 850 kilograms and representing one of the lives lost – are arranged in an open pattern of four interconnected groups representing the four bomb locations.