wWhen Sigmund Freud visited the Parthenon as a young man, he found that it disturbed his sense of reality. Something about its sunlit columns and delicate geometry seems unreal. Despite its sheer size, perched above Athens, it was a site of intimacy and play. The good doctor can sense her many ghosts, from the corpses dropped by the Ottoman invaders to the Greeks of ancient times who gathered to sing, kiss and pray.
Far from Athens itself, the Parthenon is being rebuilt in it Melbourne, Australia as part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s annual architecture commission. Temple of Boom was designed by Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang, who conceived of the project during lockdown. The structure is made of glass-reinforced concrete and rises from the NGV gardens like a stately piece of Meccano. It invites the audience to reflect not just on the beauty of the Parthenon, but on its complex history.
“It’s this thing that’s been around for 2,500 years,” Newman says. “This extraordinary life has been lived in so many different guises, from a temple to a passage locker to a church, a mosque, a home for unmarried women, and an ammunition depot. It’s a complete rabbit hole in terms of research and interest. The background of the chart was using this very powerful symbol that means many different things.” for many people.”
In the early 19th century, Thomas Bruce, better known as Lord Elgin, facilitated the removal of marble carvings from the Parthenon statues and pediments. He brought them across rough seas to the British Museum, where they are still housed today. Almost immediately after their arrival on the English shores, a campaign began Parthenon marble He returned to Athens. A bitter argument broke out, one that still rages: Was this vandalism or were the sculptures obtained legally?
Last year, the then British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, issued a flat refusal to return the sculptures to Greece, while the British Museum stated unequivocally that it would only ever loan them and expect them to be returned.
When conceiving Temple of Boom, how much of this discussion is at the forefront of Newman and Tsang’s minds? “It was certainly a bit of a reflection, but it wasn’t over the top in terms of being educational about it,” Newman says. “An important aspect of this building is that any way you think about it or discuss it becomes incredibly loaded. It’s probably only a matter of time before the British Museum and the British government agree to return. There is very little argument on the preservation side. Our project is part of the discussion.”
Aiming to expand the way we might see the Parthenon, Temple of Boom features local Melbourne artists who have painted the structure in layers. Walking between the columns, your eyes constantly flicker between plants and silhouettes. Some of the colored squares have an eight-bit video game influence, a nod to the site as a replica; The skaters are swinging through, shouting something about Snoop Dogg. The space feels edgy, festive, and a little campy.
I spoke with artist Manda Lane, whose work adorns much of the structure, and she told me of her fondness for the Greek myth where the goddess Athena plants an olive tree next to the Parthenon. “I was really struck by how the olive tree has such a deep-rooted root system that can resist fire or conflict. I really like the idea of a force of nature. If it’s not suppressed, it will emerge in amazing ways,” she says. “My work raises a question: How can we facilitate public space and architecture in a way that enables the free flow of the organic growth behavior of plants?”
On the outskirts of the Bom Temple, a group of children are weeding through sidewalk cracks. They raise the grass one by one to the sun, before tossing it at each other. The game has started. One of the boys runs towards the Parthenon before stopping dead. “It’s so good,” he declares, checking each column as his friends realize what they’ve been missing. They nodded their heads silently, waiting for something to happen; Let the light change, time pass, and the building speak.