Science Gallery Melbourne’s digital glass bricks win international award

Trish Sunga Trish Sunga Australasia Press Office,Sydney
26 July 2021

The unique and ever-changing façade of the new Science Gallery Melbourne – with its 226 glass bricks, each a ‘mini cinema’ – has won the international Media Architecture Award for Animated Architecture.

The Digital Bricks, conceived within Arup through an integrated design process, is the world’s highest resolution interactive display, curated to engage visitors and passers-by with multiple historic and cultural stories of the local area. Each handcrafted brick tells a different tale and was inspired by the theme, ‘If these walls could talk’.

Not only is this media experience technically very challenging, it is also site specific by offering a poetic window on the past. ” Ava Fatah gen. Schieck Jury member and Associate Professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London

The polished glass and clay bricks – each the size of a mobile phone – are placed in the ‘traditional’ brickwork of the Gallery’s sloping entrance façade. They are illuminated by bespoke rear-mounted, high-definition LED screens in the wall cavity. As the screens broadcast content, a soft glow emanates from the wall, drawing curious people closer. The transparent bricks are also touchscreens, creating unique interactive experiences.

Close up view of the digital bricks display on the facade of Science Gallery Melbourne Close up view of the digital bricks display on the facade of Science Gallery Melbourne
The Digital Bricks set within the façade of the Science Gallery Melbourne

The judges assessed The Digital Bricks as the outstanding example of ‘projects demonstrating creative media façade designs that enlarge or change the perception of a building or public space by adding layers of meaning and experiences’.

Tim Hunt, Arup specialist lighting designer and Arup façade engineer Chris Hube evolved the concept and tested prototypes in collaboration with Dr Niels Wouters a research fellow from the University of Melbourne and Science Gallery Melbourne (SGM), and design principal Hazel Porter from Woods Bagot. Terry Ryan from Arup’s AV team joined the collaboration to help execute the complex design as it transformed from sketchbook to site.

People are used to large scale screens in public spaces: so unusually, we chose to create intimate, colourful story-telling devices for deeper engagement moments. This simplistic experience is only realised by complex technologies that also fulfil all the practical requirements of the building’s exterior. ” Tim Hunt Arup Tim Hunt Senior Lighting Designer

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“Bringing the Digital Bricks to reality has involved several years of collaboration between many professionals from different disciplines. We could not have done it on our own and for me, this is the most exciting part as it shows the integrated design direction for this type of work,” Tim said. 

“The result is 226 small-scale exhibition spaces, a fitting introduction to the SGM which has been purpose-built, looking to explore and celebrate the collision of art with science.

“It is wonderful that The Digital Bricks is being so well received locally, and professionally recognised internationally.” 

Development of the first exhibition, The Digital Birthing Tree, was led by Susie Anderson and features photographs from the University’s cultural collections. It brings to life and connects First People’s knowledge and the area’s colonial history, with references to its more recent history as The Royal Women’s Hospital.

On the corner of Grattan and Swanston Streets, SGM is a gateway to the University of Melbourne’s new Melbourne Connect innovation precinct.