Creative design inspires NGV visitors to ponder our future

Creative design inspires NGV visitors to ponder our future

A stunning pink lake and native gardens will soon feature at the NGV, with RMIT artist Dr James Carey part of the winning team in the NGV’s 2021 Architecture Commission.

The installation entitled pond[er], was designed to inspire visitors to reflect on their relationship with the environment and its future custodianship and care.

Carey, who studied  Interior Design at RMIT and now lectures in the program, collaborated with fellow alumnus Peter Knights and his Melbourne-based architecture and interior design firm Taylor Knights on the project.

Carey said  the team began with initial discussions about designers, architects and artists having a fundamental responsibility to address concerns about our climate and ecological adversities. 

“We were thinking about the devastating bushfires from the previous summer, and we really wanted to address this need to care for our fragile environment,” he said.

The original NGV International design incorporated three interior courtyards, and the team mirrored one of them into the garden  as a starting point for their proposal.


Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'The winning design for the NGV’s 2021 Architecture Commission will feature a stunning pink lake and native gardens. Image courtesy Taylor Knights and James Carey.' The winning design for the NGV’s 2021 Architecture Commission will feature a stunning pink lake and native gardens. Image courtesy Taylor Knights and James Carey.

“The pink body of water emulates Australia’s inland salt lakes that are absolutely beautiful but also very precarious,“  Carey said.

“A lot of their colours are shifting due to environmental, temperature and salinity changes.”

The team also worked with landscape designer Ben Scott to incorporate a series of Indigenous plants that will bloom at different times throughout summer.

“We’ve chosen these plants specifically to highlight the temporal nature of the environment, the preciousness and beauty of it,” Carey said.

The design offers moments for individual contemplation in the pavilion but also more communal spaces that the team hopes will encourage people to invest in discussion and conversation about the environment, water management, and caring for these systems.

“By interiorising the Australian landscape, pond[er] highlights the beauty of our local ecologies, becoming a space for connection, contemplation, and play,” he said.

Carey said the team were thrilled to have won the commission and were looking forward to seeing their design come to life.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and the four of us who have collaborated together can’t quite believe it - we’ve been pinching ourselves,” he said.

In response to the 2021 competition brief, the materials selected for the project are locally sourced and manufactured, and, wherever possible, are intended to be distributed and used again by various landcare, Indigenous and community groups  including the Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association, upon removal

Associate Dean of Interior Design Suzie Attiwill said she was delighted to see the practice and ideas of RMIT interior design academics and alumni  recognised with such a prestigious commission.

“The NGV Architecture Commission is highly respected both nationally and internationally, so this is fantastic recognition for the team,” she said.

“We’re also proud that both James Carey and Peter Knights studied the Bachelor of Interior Design (Honours) at RMIT  and are continuing to achieve so much in their fields.”

Attiwill said Carey’s diverse skills as both a practising artist and an interior designer shone  through in the design concept.

“As interior designers, we are always thinking about the relation with exteriors; how to make spaces for encounters with new ways of living; how to frame ideas and, as a reflective piece, the pond works brilliantly,” she said.

“People can engage with the installation, but they are also engaging with the environment directly through  the pond,” she said.

It is the second time in less than five years members of the RMIT architecture and interior design community have been part of the team awarded the annual commission.

Alumnus Amy Muir, from MUIR Architecture was part of the winning team in 2018.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Design and Social Context, Tim Marshall said that consistent with previous winners, pond[er] demonstrated the alignment of values that continue to underpin the strong partnership between the University and NGV.

“Climate emergency, social inclusion and care for Country emerge through this thoughtful project,” he said.

‘RMIT is proud to be the Design Partner of the NGV and a major sponsor of the NGV Architecture Commission, which provides support and recognition for emerging Australian architecture practices and artists."

The 2021 NGV Architecture Commission will be on display from October 2021 – April 2022 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Free entry. Further information is available via the NGV website: NGV.MELBOURNE  

About the Designers

Taylor Knights is a Melbourne-based architecture and interior design studio with projects spanning metropolitan and rural settings. The studio focuses on craftsmanship and a thoughtful response to the environment and civic generosity.

Dr James Carey is an artist and lecturer in Interior Design, School of Architecture and Design, RMIT University. He is also an artistic director at BLINDSIDE Gallery in Melbourne. His recent PhD by project at RMIT School of Architecture and Urban Design foregrounded duration and temporal practices within the discipline of Interior Design.

About the NGV Architecture Commission series

Following the founding of the Department of Contemporary Design and Architecture at the NGV in 2015 the Gallery developed the NGV Architecture Commission series to offer a unique opportunity for Australian architects and designers to propose a compelling design idea for presentation within one of Australia’s great civic and cultural spaces – the Grollo Equiset Garden at NGV International.


Story: Kate Milkins


  • Design
  • Arts and culture

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.