Architectural students Matt Ritani and Declan Burn won the Brick Bay Folly 2015 competition, realising their design, Belly of the Beast, within a tight programme and a steep, but very rewarding, learning curve.

The winning design, Belly of the Beast, was a site-specific installation: a 12m-high abstract tower which is clad in tyre-tread shingles with a 7.5m² internal space set around a working fireplace. It adopted a sustainability ethos of ʻmaterials in transit̓, meaning that each of the components will have a second life afterwards.

“We were so stoked that we were given the opportunity to build this project. It was great fun and we learnt so much through the process of construction,” said Burn. “If a problem arose, then we had to ask, ʻwhat do we do now?̓, so we learnt to negotiate with contractors. It was exciting and intense to work to a tight deadline and for a real client: Brick Bay Sculpture Trust.”

The project was supported also by Resene, Architecture New Zealand and Unitec, who invited architects, architectural students and graduates of architecture to propose large-scale projects and installations that explore contemporary interpretations of the architectural folly.

The judges were: architect Richard Harris from Jasmax; Tony van Raat, associate professor at Unitec; Richard Didsbury from the Brick Bay Sculpture Trust; Jonathan Organ, artist and arts manager at the Brick Bay Sculpture Trust; Justine Harvey, editor of Architecture New Zealand; and Karen Warman from Resene.

Burns described their design as “a large, shaggy beast that sits in the landscape, all covered in ragged, textural recycled tyres. However, conceptually, when you enter the project, you actually become the beast: you are the belly of the beast, which is bodily red in colour, and you identify the ribs – the structural steel members that run up the interior space.” He adds, “When the fireplace is lit, the condition changes into a murky, smokey environment. It intensifies the experience of being inside the belly.”

Ritani and Burn explained that, during the initial design process, they spent considerable time trying to figure out what the judges might be looking for in a winning scheme, “We wanted to relate our design to art practice,” said Ritani. “We looked at the development of sculpture, from the object on the podium to minimalist sculpture off the podium, to reading sculpture as an experiential architectural space.”

“Conceptually, Belly of the Beast was reading architecture as a gesture to many references but not one single meaning,” said Ritani, “Now it’s in the public sphere and it̓s fine for it to be any of those things.”