by Neometro

The Immersery by Hassell

Design, Ideas - by Open Journal

The city’s premier food-and-wine event, The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival comprises hundreds of dinners, lunches, workshops and masterclaseses. For the second year in a row, HASSELL has designed the centrepiece and main festival hub, this year called called The Immersery.

With bar, kitchen and rain-garden, the Immersery is a response to the 2014 Festival theme of water. Moored to the banks of the Yarra River, the three-level, cloud-like structure gives visitors a fleeting chance to drink, dine and interact with a familiar Southbank setting. 

Open Journal spoke to Brenton Beggs and Johanna Picton, Landscape Designers at HASSELL, to find out more the design, construction and why “pop-up” venues still matter.



What was the brief from Melbourne Food & Wine for this year’s festival?

The brief for the festival hub this year was to create a highly unique hospitality experience and activated space that would be accessible to a broad audience over the 17 day festival.

Working the 2014 Festival theme of water, the space was also to contain educational content around the role and responsible use of water through meaningful storytelling, integration of the site, and smart use of materials.

Programmatically, we set out to create a temporary bar space floating atop the Yarra River, and on its banks a kitchen/dining space situated on Queensbridge Square. The bar and dining spaces needed to each accommodate 80-100 people each.

And what is the result – how would you describe The Immersery to someone who hasn’t seen it?

The resulting temporary space is split over three levels. It incorporates a cloud-like structure – suspended atop of the disused Sandridge Bridge, creating unique framed views of the city, and an urban retreat. Housed beneath the cloud sits a covered dining space and a series of suspended raingardens, cascading into the square. The square contains the kitchen, servery and back of house, cleverly immersed within native planting and a jungle of pipes. Weaving their way through the lush planting, the user descends the stairs to a floating pontoon. Complete with its own bar, the pontoon provides uninterrupted views of the cloud, as well as a unique river experience.

What are some of the key ideas and design elements of interest in the site’s design?

We embarked on our design journey by looking at the three states of water: solid, liquid and gas. These three states of water are represented on site through easily distinguished spaces. The pontoon becomes the solid state, reminiscent of a floating iceberg, and forming the connection with the solid ground through the cascading planting.

The liquid state can be interpreted with the help of the extensively planted rain gardens on site, which are suspended beneath the bridge and cloud. The raingardens are planted with native, drought tolerant species, as well as a series of vegetables and herbs, educating visitors and acting as passive cooling for the heavily paved areas.

The vast cloud structure, perched above the disused Sandridge Bridge, represents the vapour state. With the aid of specialised lighting and water mist, the vivid cloud allows the user to experience the city from a literally heightened state.


What materials and construction techniques were utilised to create the structure?

Many of the materials used throughout The Immersery are connected to water infrastructure, such as plumbing pipes, and have either been reclaimed, recycled or will be returned into circulation following the Festival, ensuring material waste is kept to a minimum.

– 1.5 kilometres of  PVC piping has gone toward creating cloud-like structure, which will be reused for other projects post-festival

– 23 repurposed concrete and steel pipes have been salvaged from Melbourne Water “pipe grave yard”, some up to 2 metres in diameter, created unique and striking planters

– HPDE pipes house the remaining planting liberally scattered throughout the square. These pipes will go on to be recycled

– The raingardens are contained in a series of recycled 45 gallon drums, cleverly detailed into to unique and beautiful objects

– And the barge, donated by City of Melbourne, is fitted out as the floating bar

The result is­ a two-fold message, allowing visitors to educate themselves on the water infrastructure that we use every day, and also to experience these infrastructure elements as not only objects of resource worth, but also how they can be building materials and objects of beauty. The installation aims to push the environmental and aesthetic boundaries often associated with the materials.

How does the Immersery draw on previous experiences with projects such as Chasing Kitsune and the Urban Coffee Farm, the site for last year’s Food & Wine festival?

HASSELL was invited back by Melbourne Food and Wine Festival to design the Immersery following the success of The Urban Coffee Farm and Brew Bar and we were invited to work with them in the first place because of our experience on other temporary installations such as Chasing Kitsune. The temporal nature of ‘pop –ups’ make them a great vehicle for testing ideas about materiality, occupation and behaviour in public space so it is only natural that a design practice such as ours should be drawn to them.

We have learnt that the appropriation of modular elements such as packing crates, ply boxes and now pipes are fantastic for quickly building cohesive spaces that can be recycled afterwards. We have developed the confidence to create spaces for people in forgotten or non-traditional public spaces with the knowledge that they will appreciate and delight in the discovery, hence this year people can dine under a bridge or atop a construction barge. We have discovered that despite a perception of apathy from the public, people love green space and vegetation in the city and want to know about plants! Above all we have learnt that Melbourne’s population is adventurous and hungry to discover new experiences from a different perspective on a space they may already be extremely familiar with.


The site is labelled ‘Kitchen, Bar and Raingarden’. What is the form and function of the raingarden?
The raingardens sit suspended from the existing exposed structure of Sandridge Bridge and the broader /cloud structure. Their aim is to not only provide lush planting and an aesthetic sculptural quality, but to also educate the visitor about the direct link between our plumbing and waterways.

Reaching down through the ‘cloud’ the striations of the vertical rain gardens will reinforce the ‘density’ of the water cycle – from the dense ‘base’ to the gaseous top.

They also begin to allude to the various infrastructures underground that bring potable water to our homes.

The educational raingardens and graphics on site expose the benefits of raingardens, and help to inform the visitor about the worth and ease of incorporating these into their homes. Featuring drought tolerant plants, and vegetable patches, we hope to highlight how accessible these landscapes can be, no matter the size of land available. 

“Pop up” is almost an overused word these days. But why are temporary site activations such as this still relevant and important?

Absolutely, Pop-Ups are ubiquitous these days and the term lost its novelty in Melbourne some time ago. However, a temporary venue makes a lot of sense for a temporal festival such as Melbourne Food and Wine; it acts as a marker for the event and can be designed and built to encapsulate the current year’s themes and preoccupations. This year, The Immersery is not just a fantastic opportunity to provide the people of Melbourne and its visitors with a unique dining and bar experience that embodies the festival theme of water, but a chance to demonstrate the potential of relatively empty disused public spaces such as the decommissioned Sandridge Bridge and demonstrate their often overlooked beauty and inherent value.

What do you hope the punter takes from their visit to the Immersery?

The Immersery: Festival Kitchen, Bar and Raingarden is one of the most ambitious temporary spaces Melbourne has ever seen. We love the fact that anyone can visit this festival hub and hope that they might take home new and unique experiences that enrich their perspective. They will have the chance to sample world class food, wine or cocktails from acclaimed Victorian chefs, winemakers and bartenders, the opportunity to occupy a disused rail bridge and learn about the potential of raingardens and vegetation to improve our waterways. We hope everyone finds something that delights and excites them, because ultimately that is the wonderful potential of a ‘pop-up’.

The Immersery | Melbourne Food and Wine Festival



By Matt Hurst 




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