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The Calyx, Sydney

Calyx: “The sepals of a flower, typically forming a whorl that encloses the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud.” Approaching the Calyx, the newest addition to the Royal Botanic Garden. A long path rises slowly off axis and passes a lawn cut from the dominating green surrounds.

There is an overall feeling of informal and easy ceremony that belies an extraordinary sense of careful design at work in the positioning and siting of the elements of the setting, while avoiding the heavy-handedness of a formal axial approach. With detail still obscured by distance, the white sharpness of the steel elements describes the outline of a rotunda through the mass of the radially arrayed columns.

Rising from the circumference of the circular plan, then bending inward to the horizontal, the columns create an internal colonnade as much as a formal geometric volume in white-lined precision against the dark organic backdrop, with both figure and field benefiting from the visual contrast.
As you move closer, the whiteness turns to a crowning of sharp verticals inscribed within the volume as the columns visually articulate themselves as individual elements. The enigmatic space dematerializes altogether, revealing the lightness of the steel columns, which only suggest solidity – outlining the voids between lines where the greenery lies.

The overall presentation of the Calyx, designed by PTW Architects in Sydney’s beautiful Royal Botanic Garden, is elegant and enigmatic. The Calyx sits somewhere between the fascination with pavilions of the moment and the history of the glasshouses of the Victorian era. It is too constrained and much too modest in its formal ambitions to be considered in the lineage of the spectacular pavilion parades that erupt around the likes of the London Serpentine every summer. Instead, the Calyx defers to a different history, one of Crystal Palaces and the blossoming of Victorian-era science, when (botanical) discoveries were being carefully catalogued in a newly discovered world.

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