Agency Feature Part 1: The Uncarved Block – Melbourne Central Food Court

I have lost count of the amount of times I have used the above image as inspiration over the last 6 months for retail projects focusing on graphic language and tone of voice. I recently stumbled upon this article on Architecture.AU and found that the agency responsible for the project is The Uncarved Block. A relatively young agency, founded in 2010 by Philip Chia. The Uncarved Block’s holding page gives little away, other than a strong, contemporary impression that leaves the visitor intrigued to see more!

Architecture.Au offers more of an insight though, the company work on a wide range of projects, including retail, residential and overseas resorts.

The image at the header of this article belongs to the Melbourne Central food court. The manifesto for the food court encourages ‘the blending of creativity and art with retailing and community, and promotes sustainability to the retailers by leading through example’.

This is executed through the use of a contrasting materials palette that pays particular attention to the inclusion of sustainable materials. Marble, mosaics, stone tiles, wall claddings with relief patterns, along with timber and glass slats sit against (and behind) a layer of cleverly placed graphics, including birds and nature.

One of the things I have learnt as a designer of retail spaces within a branding agency is that graphic design works hand in hand with interior design. Retail environments, in particular large format shopping centres and food courts need to project a tone of voice that is relevant to their offer, client demographic or local geographic area. Melbourne Central is a landmark shopping centre that is environmentally aware, so the right tone of voice to continue to project that message is essential. This is done perfectly with the use of stylishly illustrated images of birds and trees/nature. It forms a nice blend of fashion and sustainability that sits well in a retail environment and is fitting for the food court.

The space is not without drama, glass fins, timber slats and a mixture of ambient, pendant and coloured lighting all add an element of theatre to the food court. That and the intentional blocking of site lines to all tenants (a usual faux pas in food court design) with screens and other objects encourages customers to rely on their ‘innate sense of curiosity’ to travel around the space.

The idea here is to blur the lines between canteen ‘fast-food’ dining and restaurant dining. This is achieved in part by those objects and screens that create the blocking of tenancies sight lines and thus forming rooms within rooms in the food court in order to create more intimate dining experiences.

The food court was recently shortlisted in the 2012 Australian Interior Design Award along with The Galeries Victoria food court, featured in part two of this agency feature (see here).

Words my own, Images from Architecture.AU

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