By guest contributor Cameron Heggie, Acoustic Consultant, Arup

A new type of learning has landed in Redfern, Sydney. The Martian Embassy, a place for children, many of them underprivileged, is a great place to learn outside school hours. The space aims to ignite creativity in every child by offering free help from volunteer tutors to write all kinds of stories. Children enter a ‘zone’ where they are no longer in a classroom environment, where creativeness can flow freely and where a lot of the classes are tailored to expression and conveying ideas that may not be suitable for a school classroom. The actual ‘Martian Embassy’ at the front of the store acts as a portal, transporting the children to a world where the imagination is without bounds, where kids get their Martian passport stamped when they enter. It also acts as a supplementary revenue raiser, helping to fund the centre.

This concept is not a new one; it’s based on a few similar projects around the world including San Francisco, Chicago, Brooklyn and London that all employ the classroom with a twist concept.

As far as Arup’s involvement is concerned, we were initially contacted by Chris Bosse from LAVA (Laboratory For Visionary Architecture). Arup has worked with LAVA on a handful of other projects (including the Beijing water cube) and have a long standing creative relationship. LAVA got on board through a Production company called ‘The Glue Society’, the creative brains behind the project. This sums up the relationship between all involved, purely professional relationships coming together for a little fun, a little experimentation and a great cause.

The Glue Society suggested a handful of ideas for the space and conducted surveys at local schools to see which the children preferred and that’s how the ‘Martian Embassy’ came to life. The creative brief from the client was to make it as exciting and extraordinary as possible, and to achieve this goal took a lot of collaboration between all parties involved as everyone wanted to express so much and sometimes ideas got taken away with the evocation of the creative spirit.

There were 1068 pieces of plywood that not only had to be fitted together, but first had to be twice painted; a full community effort was taking over 10 days. From here on the volunteers, contributors and design team were all hands on, to the point where I had one Australia’s most respected architects helping me screw in speaker brackets. This was the vibe of the project, where everyone was more than keen to lend a hand, no matter their profession or salary.

As designers, Arup then got other companies on board. We started asking for donations of equipment, and from there anyone that heard about what we were ‘creating’ were asking to help out in any way possible to the point where I was receiving phone calls from people wanting to donate gear. We had donations from a number of companies including Sony, Syntec and Phillips, all of which were fully behind the project and even sent some of their senior staff down to lend a hand. All in all it took 7 months from council approval to opening night, a mammoth effort from all involved.

I spent many late nights installing equipment and I’m sure others did as well. We designed a custom soundscape, playing ‘the sounds of mars’ through a fully customised 22 speaker system, with each speaker independent to the other. We also installed a full projector/screen setup for the kids to playback their home made movies in front of the class. Arup also designed the fully immersive colour changing lighting scheme that transports you into a foreign world.

I received an email from Cath (one of the founding partners) just last week saying that in the 6 months since it’s been opened, they have had more than 600 kids through the doors who have expressed their creativity in a variety of different ways.

There are countless ‘good news stories’ that have come out of the Martian Embassy, both in design and in the community itself.

Have any questions? Please leave a comment below.

Here are some photographs of The Martian Embassy taken by John O’Callaghan in 2012 >

The Martian Embassy John O'Callaghan 1

The Martian Embassy John O'Callaghan 2

The Martian Embassy John O'Callaghan 3

The Martian Embassy John O'Callaghan 4

The Martian Embassy John O'Callaghan 5

The Martian Embassy John O'Callaghan 6