tree of knowledge monument
Brian Hooper Architect and m3architecture.
When driving to the union town of Barcaldine, home of the Australian Workers Heritage Centre, from the squatters’ town of Longreach (Stockman’s Hall of Fame, Qantas Founders Museum), a tiny black square starts to nudge across the vanishing point of Route 66. Closer, the pixel grows to a cube, a curious Ka’bah-like form crossing the highway. Closer again, a hollowness becomes apparent, the dark mass held above the horizon on eight legs, a burnt-black elevation allowing a few vertical slivers of animating light to appear and disappear in a veiling moiré effect. At eighteen-metres-cubed, the massive monument is wrapped by screens of charred timbers enclosing an array of sixty by sixty vertical timbers, recycled hardwood five-by-fives, suspended in a hanging grid. Orthogonal view lines open avenues to the horizon, with diagonals aligning to a secret second geometry. As in infinitely reflecting mirror cabinets, whether we look up, left or right, we find ourselves pinned at the intersection of insistently receding axes.
The ghost of the giant ghost gum is the central pole, the axis mundi. Its wrinkled, hollowed and patched trunk supports a few forlornly writhing final branches. It was a venerable old life form, near to the end of its days before the poisoning. The preserved remains have been returned to their exact origin. The timber cube shelters and venerates this sacred relic, but also aspires to invoke the living tree as it was in 1891. The architects have triangulated from historical photographs to plot the former branch spread as a negative spatial cast within the cube. Volumes of long-gone boughs are mapped in the billowing domical grids formed by 3,600 hanging timbers, each wooden tip chamfered obliquely into pentagonal leaf forms. The historic tree is rendered as a geometrically precise ghost, hollowed from the vast segmented mass of recycled timber, reanimated by passing breezes and enlivened by the slow movement of the sun.
At night, artificial lighting cranks up the metaphoric reading. The red-ochre pavement has inscribed bearings to the towns from which the strikers came. Uplights at each address illuminate the whitened end chamfers and solidify each canopy dome. The ancient root ball glows in an earth-red underground chamber, preserved for inspection below glass like an embalmed statesman in a mausoleum. Slightly-too-green top lighting through the hanging timbers brings a miraculously reborn tinge to the long-dead timbers, though it is only from down the street that the emerald lighting cloud coheres as a faint but persuasive outline of the phantom tree-in-a-box.
(Source: Architecture Australia)