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Museum of Difficult Memories

Part 1 Project 2009
Lydia Hnatojko
University of Melbourne Melbourne Australia
The purpose of this bespoke Museum is to commemorate the Australian prisoner’s of war- the often-overlooked casualties of conflict. The dissemination of the POW’s ‘difficult memories’ is through both the physical display of artefacts and perhaps most poignantly, the emotive responses evoked by an architectural sensitivity inspired by the experiences of these men and women. It is the survivors of Singapore’s Changi prison that inspires and drives this design.

The site for the Museum was chosen for its unique location in Melbourne, an interface between the City and the Yarra River. The museum serves as a ‘stepping stone,’ a connection between the street and river levels.

The museum consists of a Fixed Gallery, a Rotating Gallery and a Workshop, each contained within a highly symbolic, emotive envelope - offering a unique experience differentiated from the last and appropriate to what is encased. Together, distinguished through their materiality and interpretation of a box, the three galleries rest sculpturally within a sloping landscape concealing all activity within. The museum is not about outward views but inward reflection, the mood and atmosphere created within each gallery is as important as the artefacts themselves.

To achieve an emotive response, the display of the artefacts strives to establish a personal connection between the stories of the subject and the visitors. The exhibition techniques question traditional museum paradigms, presenting visitors with a tactile, exploratory and interactive alternative. Additionally the materiality and the exploitation of natural light inside the envelopes and the inbuilt experiential freedom within the sequential journey contribute significantly in offering a carefully considered and purposeful gallery experience of the POW’s difficult memories.

Lydia Hnatojko

Lydia has been nominated due to her excellence in design and her maturity in responding to complex programmes. She was the best student in my MARCH design studio ‘A Museum of Difficult Memories’ 2008 for which her design response is a good example of her approach and capacity. The studio took on the complex task of designing for a topic that is particularly sensitive in Australian history- the internment of prisoners during the Pacific War. Students were asked to design a new kind of museum for warehousing the artefacts created by Prisoners of War in the internment camps. Issues of social memory and social suffering were discussed. Lydia was captivated by the sense of impermanence related to internment: the phenomenological experience of impermanent materials. Her museum design comprised three pavilions set in a sandy slope leading down to the Yarra River. Each pavilion captured a different stage of internment: The first pavilion, a perforated insitu concrete box, the first pressing realization of the limits of internment…its temerity and uncertainty; the second pavilion, an irregular arrangement of rectangular prefab concrete box rooms within a canvas enclosure, the internalization of internment and the third pavilion, a timber and metal box-workshop space, with its seams breaking apart to express the release of the prisoners. In her re-conception of museum space, Lydia offered a novel programme for housing and receiving artefacts as containers for phenomenological and material memories. The materiality of each pavilion responded to a stage of internment and great attention was paid to construction details and tectonics. She used concrete, glass, fabric, sand, timber and metal to convey very specific ideas. New digital display techniques made this history accessible to a broad audience. The passion with which she approached the studio was maintained throughout the design process and was evident in the tone and quality of her presentation. Lydia has a tremendous capacity for producing high quality work and has a keen understanding of how design might be apprehended and communicated. She takes full responsibility for her design process and is able to address experiential, material and social issues in great depth.


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