2012 Sydney Design Awards

Key Dates

Image Credit : Brett Boardman; Peter Murphy



Project Overview

The design for a creative writing centre for young people in inner city Sydney references Moby Dick, a space rocket and time tunnel. The immersive space of oscillating plywood ribs is brought to life by red planet light and sound projections to provoke fun and unleash creativity.

Moby Dick, H. G. Wells' Time Machine and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick - the stuff great stories are made of. And the inspiration for the design for the Sydney Story Factory.

Project Commissioner


Project Creator



Chris Bosse, Tobias Wallisser, Alexander Rieck
with Jarrod Lamshed, Angelo Ungarelli, Maarten Terberg, Jonas Unger, David Mitchell, Vivienne Ni, Paul Bart, Giulia Conti, Alessandra Moschella, Teresa Goyarrola, Manuel Caicoya, Guido Rivai.

Will O’Rourke (production)
The Glue Society (creative direction)
Berents Project Management (Project Manager)
ARUP (lighting and acoustic design)
Redwood Projects (builder)
Philips (lighting)
Syntec (sound)
Avatar air

Project Brief

The concept is to awaken creativity in kids, so the design acts as a trigger, firing up the engines of imagination. It’s an intergalactic journey - from the embassy, at the street entrance, to the shop full of red planet traveller essentials, to the classroom. By the time kids reach the writing classes they have forgotten they are in “school”.

The project was a collaboration with production company Will O’Rourke and their creative partners The Glue Society, who developed the Martian concept which was then road tested with kids - of all ages.

The Sydney Story Factory is a not-for-profit creative writing centre for young people in inner Sydney. Volunteer tutors help students to write and publish stories. Free programs target young people, from marginalised, Indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds, but are open to everyone.

It was inspired by 826 Valencia, a creative writing centre for young people started by novelist Dave Eggers in San Francisco in 2002. In 2010 novelist Nick Hornby opened The Ministry of Stories in London behind Hoxton Street Monster Supplies.

Project Innovation / Need

The goal is to awaken creativity in kids, so the design aims to fire up the engines of imagination. For inspiration LAVA travelled back to some great stories - Moby Dick, H. G. Wells' Time Machine and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. The immersive space of oscillating plywood ribs fosters fun and unleashes creativity. Kids are excited just to walk in the door – the design inspires imaginations to write future fables. A mix of Martian essential oils and the sounds and lights of the red planet animate the space.

LAVA used a fluid geometry to merge the three program components [embassy, school and shop], and a computer model was sliced and ‘nested’ into buildable components. The flexibility of plywood is highlighted in the fabrication and construction. The simple action of cutting a flat sheet of plywood generates a complex three-dimensional space. The 1068 ribs were CNC sliced into buildable components, then put together like a giant puzzle in an imperfect existing envelope. The timber ribs create the space, shelves, seats, benches, storage, counters and displays and continue as strips on the floor. Edged with Martian green, the curvy plywood flows seamlessly so that walls, ceiling and floor - space, structure and ornament - become one element. LAVA’s architecture is not about decoration - it is about fusing structure, space and architectural expression into one single element.

Design Challenge

The design transformed a long, dark, unloved shop, located between a funeral parlour and an electrical outlet store on the main street in Redfern, into a zone appropriate for the first interplanetary diplomatic post on Earth, and an extraordinary place that gives the Sydney Story Factory a special identity. Located in Redfern near public transport, the aim was for the centre to become a prominent part of the community it served. It needed a rebirth and to do that, it needed serious help, with no budget.

All of the partners on this project, including LAVA, came on board to work pro bono to support this vital project. The team drew up plans and submitted them to the City of Sydney Council. Despite no planning rules covering approval for missions from Mars, permission for a combined shop, reading room, writing centre and kids party venue was given.

NASA's Curiosity took seven months to get from Earth to Mars, but this mission took far less time, and money!


The centre uses a renewable timber product – plywood – and low maintenance, energy efficiently LED lighting, along with cross ventilation strategies that minimise the use of active heating and cooling systems. LAVA’s offsite prefabrication process reduced energy foot print, site time, energy costs and allowed easy and efficiently down cycling / reuse of materials. The computer process optimised profiles automatically, which in turn reduced waste significantly, with more result/less material usage.

The curvy potential of plywood was perfect for the fluid concept and function of the project. Its versatility with regard to fabrication process and form making included the:
1. Cost
2. Flexibility and adaptability to an existing building; 1068 unit CNC pieces can be assembled and adapted to an imperfect existing envelope. The flexibility of the material became essential.
3. Relation to the concept (curves/ fluid --> easy to cut and join) and use of the project (shop and school--> warm material).
4. Process: the simple action of cutting a flat sheet of plywood generates a complex three-dimensional space.

This award recognises building interiors, with consideration given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes and aesthetic presentation. Consideration given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.
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