2017 Inception Award | The Human Machine


The Human Machine is a dialogue between humanity and technology and their roles within the contemporary production process. With the rise of mass production the global community is at risk of losing unique haptic knowledge developed by generations of artisans. This proposal seeks to conserve and celebrate the skills of international craftsmen, inviting them to teach, display and record their expertise.

And what better place for this dialogue than the White Bay Power Station; a giant, redundant, industrial machine?

Since the human hand is both physically and metaphorically dwarfed by the site and the industrial world it represents, the architecture manipulates scale to challenge the dominance of the machine in production. It contemplates the transformation process intrinsic to the creation of both electricity and craft through its exploration of progressive form . The underground elements are reminiscent of the coal mine, whilst the materiality of the interiors explores progressive form, unashamedly celebrating both the raw and the perfected, the solid and the fine

The proposal generates this philosophical and architectural dialogue between humanity and the industrial machine it inhabits with the ultimate aim of developing a rich community of artisans, students and public in which meaningful haptic innovation thrives.

At its heart the White Bay Power Station is a powerful machine with one purpose, to convert raw coal into a specific and precise form for human use: electricity. Each and every element of the sites remaining machinery and architecture speaks to this process of transformation through a series of heating, cooling and turning. However, whilst the machinery had definitively shaped the design and layout of the existing buildings, it is evident that the space was never inhabited by machines alone. Engrained in the very anatomy of the site was the existence of hundreds of human workers, seen in the human scale rooms right down to the details: the switches made for human hands and the signs to be read by human eyes. Yet there is a distinct lack of humanity in the space, and an almost complete absence of people in the written histories, seemingly forgotten in the rush to conserve the built history and its heritage

Fundamentally, the proposal was inspired by this interplay between humanity and industrial machines within the power stations production process.

A parallel dialogue between man and the machine in production is taking place in contemporary realm of craftsmanship. Australia’s value of efficiency and mass production has led to the decline of craftsmanship along with its rich traditions and potential for genuine innovation. More concerningly, Australia’s landscape is representative of a global pattern and contemporary society is at critical risk of loosing a wealth of haptic expertise and skill. The Heritage Crafts Association lists over 150 crafts on its endangered list including piano, watch and wallpaper making.

The proposal seeks to conserve the unique and endangered expertise of craftsmen worldwide by developing a living bank of skill and celebrating the human hand as society’s fundamental tool for making.
The design proposes two primary methods of archiving:
1. The School of Craft – Preserving knowledge through the passing on of haptic skill
2. The Human Machine – Preserving skilled movement and creative thought through electrophysiological technologies for archiving, learning and interactive exhibit.
Rather than use technology to replace the human hand in craftsmanship the proposal seeks to harness technology to empower the transferring of haptic knowledge.

The design positions the existing site as a symbol of the mass produced industrial world and establishes the new insertion as the counter challenge of the human hand. As you approach, a large pool reflects the old structure presenting an alternate vision for White Bay Power Station where the role of humanity and technology are inverted. The visitor descends to the sites entry, a spatial metaphor for the diminishing role of the humanity in contemporary production, arriving at an underground tunnel reminiscent of the beginning of the power production process: the coal mine.
On entering the extant boiler house building the visitor is confronted by a towering insertion. The monolithic, monumental form challenges the dominance of industrial machines as it fills the empty void left long ago by a coal boiler. Strengthening the geometry of this insertion is the addition of juxtaposing, smaller human scaled spaces such as the Tea House where the visitor comes into direct contact with raw and finished materials as well as solid and perforated forms as a incessant reminder of the production process.