Art Meets Design: Brunswick Bouldering Plaza
This project merges public sculpture and recreation by creating a climbable centrepiece for a new public plaza in Melbourne’s northern fringe.
How has the project played out in terms of turning your original vision into reality – what compromises have you had to make?
Stuart Beekmeyer: The project has turned out far beyond expectations. The initial aim was just to get a public bouldering wall in Brunswick as there are tonnes of climbers here and the sport has a vibe that would suit the area. As a climber I would have been happy with some nicely overhanging ply up against a wall.
The entire project was a series of opportunities and compromises that was navigated by a team within council, myself, the climbing community and the Brunswick community. The opportunity to create the space came up when we won a Justice Department grant to use a bouldering wall as a way of activating space to discourage anti-social behaviour. The challenge then was to shut down the street which was done via many community consultations and events, an eight week trail shutdown where a pop-up park was held. The pop-up had events constantly which, gathered a tonne of support. Then there would have been lots of wrangling in council to get the funds and right people on board that I never saw.
In terms of the boulder the biggest challenge was providing climbing that would suit dedicated climbers, novice climbers and the general public then package it in a way that works as public art as well as active recreation. You need a 3-metre fall zone around the most overhanging point of the form so you lose space quite quickly. You have to be precise with the way the form is constructed.
How does this facility compare to others around Australia?
SB: There are two examples of custom built urban bouldering in Australia that I know of. The oldest is Burnley bouldering walls under the South Eastern Freeway. It is run by the Victorian Climbing Club who I used on Brunswick to route-set and maintain the climbing on the form. The other is in Cairns. It looks nice. Big slopey fibreglass blocks and a roof surrounded by old Ficus trees. This is the first time bouldering has been applied to a new urban plaza in the spot where the sculpture or water feature usually goes. It is more a reflection of the use of urban bouldering overseas. The US, UK and China especially use the idea.
This boulder is made from textured metal and that’s something I have not seen elsewhere internationally. Because it’s metal it acts as a big reverb chamber so we put a guitar jack in it and you can plug in. It’s essentially a big guitar pedal when it’s used in that mode.
What is the shape and form of this work inspired by?
SB: Movement. The form was created to facilitate a physical sequence of planes which could then be choreographed by route setters, who turn that sequence into what is climbed by the public. The planes set up the ability to create beautiful movement to experience for a wide range of climbing abilities. At every point of surface you have to be able to relate to the potential movement of the body in 360 degrees.
The form on a macro level is a battleship painted with dazzle pattern. Brunswick is where a lot of start up creative practices come to turn into established practices, which creates an amazing ecosystem of creative talent and support. It can be a challenge to survive at times, especially in the start up phase. A furniture maker I know calls it “Battlefield Brunswick, where every day is a battle to survive”. He likes to say it like he’s doing a promo for a Hollywood blockbuster. From that idea I thought it would be apt to have Battleship Brunswick. Maybe that’s the moral to the piece. Creative practice is a battleship and if you work hard, get strong, focused and stay humble then you can do things you once thought improbable.
What does this facility offer people locally?
SB: Free bouldering 24 hours a day. A new public space that doesn’t stop when commerce stops, and a sculpture. I think it also gives people an added reason to come into Brunswick. Where else can you shop, eat, coffee, boulder then go see a band. I think the plaza will become a vibrant social hub where people go because they know stuff will be going on. Beyond the climbing there is a lawn, food truck spaces, trees and two big street art commissions by prolific Melbourne painters.
Something that will happen over the following years is occasional performance at the space. I want to see how performers use the vertical terrain of the boulder and I like the idea of occasional free public theatre. I’d love to see festivals like Dance Massive or Fringe use it if they can. That brings even more possibilities into the area.
Do you expect it to be a drawcard for climbers further afield?
SB: Yes. Melbourne is an international city. Lots of people who come here are from places that has a lot of climbing. The Grampians and Mt Araplies are considered world class destinations that people travel a significant distance for. Climbers just want to climb and anywhere that you can train for free will attract anyone passing through. You get lots of internationals at Burnley as it is. Between Brunswick and Burnley an international gets one facility to train hard at and one to socialize at, which is pretty good for free.
Can you tell us a bit about the most exciting new and upcoming developments in climbing facilities and technology?
SB: 3D modelling and scanning has the potential to change the way we create form. But I think the most significant change is in climbing culture. Climbing is booming as a sport on an international level. I think this project shows progression in the application of climbing rather than a progression in technology. My next project is in Craigieburn gardens and the exciting part of developing that piece is that it will link with Brunswick. People from Craigieburn could be introduced to bouldering and have a reason to come to Brunswick, which could be a gateway to all sorts of interesting paths. Maybe it’s more about developments in sociology than technology.
How does this park express and/or address some of those developments?
SB: By setting a precedent more than anything else. It just will be a good space to visit. Im looking forward to not seeing it as a project and just seeing it as my free bouldering wall. I think when your’e down there at 9pm on a nice spring day, eating a burger and watching the people do their stuff along the wall it will all make sense. It’s movement, stacked on art, stacked on sculpture in a fun little plaza. The idea that it can even exist is a major development.
Brunswick Bouldering Plaza Climbing design program and feasibility BOULDERGEIST. Plaza Design and Developer MORELAND COUNCIL. Fabricator BIG FISH. For more info on this project visit bouldergeist.com.au or see it for yourself at Wilson Avenue, Brunswick (VIC).