The EMPYREAN – NGV Pavilion 2021

(The EMPYREAN – NGV Pavilion 2021)

Traditional Custodians of the land
Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation

Grollo Equiset Garden,
Melbourne, VIC

Completion Date
Competition Proposal



Decibel Architecture

Structural Engineer
Bollinger + Grohmann


We have been immersed in sombre times, introspective moments, recognising our collective grief. Time has been warped. Space stretched, compressed. Worlds tipped upside-down. Hearts and rules broken, nets and souls mended, disruption of our cycles, of our breath-catching norm. Now we are yearning to emerge and reconnect to our humanity and collective spirit – tentative, grateful, aware.

It is the re-awakening of our consciousness to those things we take for granted, making visible the unseen.

(Competition Panels)

The Empyrean’s core purpose is programmed by nature and chance- there is no predestined form, connotation or content involved. Here nature delivers a complex interaction of light (beyond simulation by the most sophisticated computers) despite the simplicity of the structure. The resultant shimmering jewels of profound symmetry enthral our minds and hearts. For those who visit, the experience is uplifting, life affirming and designed to bestow joy – to re-see the world from earth to skies through this fresh lens of curiosity and reflection.


Source: The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri

In ancient cosmologies, the Empyrean Heaven, or simply the Empyrean, was the place in the highest heaven, which was supposed to be occupied by the element of fire. The word derives from the Medieval Latin empyreus, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek empyros, meaning “in or on the fire”.


The Empyrean enhances and enlarges those fleeting moments which make this life so precious – some more visible than ever, others waiting to be rediscovered but no less magical. We amplify the quietly profound. It is time to reconnect with the profound beauty of this vast universe and lift our eyes skyward once again, to re-see the wonders and nascent possibilities in our universe and in the beautiful humdrum of our everyday lives.

The world we are designing reveals the extraordinary in the mundane, reframes our perceptions and sparks delight at the most intricate minutiae. The Empyrean revels in and reveals the endless potential of the fidelity that surrounds us. A geometrical, biologically inspired framework that reconnects humanity to a shared celebration of the ordinary.

(Site Plan)

Set on crisp alignment to the primary axis of the NGV; from Circle to Square to Rectangle, we have placed the transcendent equilateral Triangle. This enfilade of geometric spaces inspires interaction with nature, and (given the prelude of the Leonard French stained-glass ceiling) with the sky.


Initial impressions of the structure are of a floating biological microstructure enlarged to super macro levels – a cell, a seed pod, an anemone, a radial crystal or geological mineral formation. A mathematical formula writ physical, the structure floats above the ground, nestled by aggregated potted plants, peering into and over foliage to the sky and to our awakening city. There is a deep internal glimmer visible beneath its spines through the axial entries, drawing the visitor into its shade and magic.


The interior is a spectacular revelation – the gently rising contiguous underside voids of the 64 spines of the triangular structure. Each is revealed as a mirrored kaleidoscope – the inclined sides create geodesic spheres of light at their tips, suspended in a dark, endless space, refracted and reflected worlds composed of the skies above. Each view opens a window to a unique world, programmed by nature – an organically curated, geometric interpretation of the Great Hall ceiling. Each mesmerizing singular world will enchant, with the collection akin to fireworks and the milky way.


Upon conclusion of the installation, each seed-like spine is designed to detach from the whole and be distributed as gifts throughout gallery gardens in Victoria, each one sharing moments of reflection and wonder into the future.
The adaptive reuse of the kaleidoscope segments enables distributive design action to ensure long-term impact and legacy. The ‘seeds’ reflect their unique environments thereby ensuring a constantly fresh connection to the worlds we live in, encouraging new linkages, exchanges of experiences and evolving use and interactions. This mirrors our aim for a circular economy in longevity of materials and experience, design for distribution and repurpose, and adaptive social engagement.



The Empyrean’s legacy will continue to reveal new experiences and insights across our urban and regional skies and will symbolically connect all of Victoria to the NGV.