Architecture: On the road

Greater Melbourne's footprint is much bigger than that of other, much more densely populated metropoles. To make the journey into the furthest-flung suburbs more pleasurable, roads and freeways  compete for attention with large-scale artworks and architectural interventions. As such, a trip to the boundary of Melbourne's urban sprawl has become a drivethrough safari for cultural buffs.

Eastlink Urban Design and Art
Completed: 2008
Location: Eastlink between Donvale and Frankston

The latest among the roadside art and architecture destinations is at the same time the most extensive. Stretching 39 kilometres from the Maroondah Highway in the east to the Frankston Freeway in the south, recently opened EastLink is adorned with 14 individual artworks. Among the most revered is the work simply titled Hotel, by artist Callum Morton, whose work appears to unaware motorists as nothing but a stock-standard roadside flophouse, but in actuality, the sculpture is only five metres wide. The Eastlink head office in Ringwood, visible from the road especially because of its distinctive green façade, was designed by Wood Marsh.

Melbourne Gateway
Design: Denton Corker Marshall
Completed: 1999
Location: Tullamarine and Flemington Road Interchange

Due to its scale, position, fanfare, creators and, not least, the controversy it caused, the Melbourne Gateway by Denton Corker Marshall is the mother of all architectural interventions on the city's freeways. The abstract interpretation of a city gate aptly heralds the dynamic design culture of the town, as well as promising a city consisting of man-made – rather than natural – attractions. Dubbed the 'cheese sticks' the gateway consists of a massive 70-metre yellow steel beam cantilevered at a precarious angle across eight lanes of freeway and an assemblage of 30-metre high red sticks. 

Eastern Freeway Extension Sound Barriers
Design: Wood Marsh with Pels Innes Nielson Kosloff
Completed: 1997
Location: between Bulleen Road and Springvale Road

A freeway extension along this stretch of road required sound barriers incorporating pedestrian and bicycle paths. The award-winning project by Wood Marsh plays on one design element, the arc, producing a sequence of walls in a variety of materials. Changes in colour texture, height, planting and curvature ensure that drivers experience a varied landscape, with rock-textured concrete barriers inspired by American sculptors of the 1960s and '70s.

Geelong Road Noise Walls
Design: Lyons Architects
Completed: 2001
Location: Princes Freeway, Laverton section

The noise walls by architects Lyons appear at site-specific points on Geelong Road; at a railway bridge crossing, a pedestrian overpass and a creek. Here, a folded plywood wall structure integrates acrylic windows and factory-painted cement sheet.

Hallam Bypass Soundwalls
Design: Kerstin Thompson Architects with Chris Dance Landscape
Completed: 2003
Location: Princes Freeway, between Doveton and Berwick

Travelling along the Hallam Bypass, avid observers of the sound-walls can detect changes occurring behind and beside them by looking at the patterns, shapes and colours of the wall elements. Their treatment varies according to the different scales and features of the adjacent landscape. For example, walls beside residential allotments differ in their zigzagging shape and opacity from those beside reserves or watercourses.

House in the Sky
Design: Brearley Middleton Architects
Completed: 2001
Location: Interchange between West Gate Freeway and Western Ring Road

Driving on the Western Ring Road toward West Gate Freeway, an ephemeral structure looms over the motorway like a fata morgana. It is an accurate rendering of the surrounding mansions. The two-dimensional structure, which formed part of the 'Images of the West' initiative by the city councils of Melbourne's western suburbs, also received some criticism. Maybe, after all, its floating in the sky made obvious the fleetingness of the suburban dream?

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