2023 Architecture Commission (This is) Air by Nic Brunsdon

A giant inflatable sphere – which literally breathes throughout the day – has been selected as the NGV’s 2023 Architecture Commission. Making the invisible visible, (This is) Air, developed by Nic Brunsdon in collaboration with ENESS, draws attention to one of the universal and defining features of life on Earth: breathing air.

Utilising air as a building material, the commission will morph and change throughout the day as it expands and then releases air in a natural rhythm. A poignant study of air and time, the fully inflated spherical structure will stand over 14 metres tall, evoking a sense of uplifting optimism.

Throughout the day, the structure will ‘exhale’, releasing gusts of air and forming an array of cloud-like configurations, before filling to capacity once more.

The structure invites audiences to consider humanity’s relationship to this essential and yet invisible element. By making air seen, heard and felt, the work highlights our connection to and dependency on air – a finite resource whose quality is becoming increasingly affected.

This year’s Architecture Commission forms part of the 2023 NGV Triennial exhibition, which brings contemporary art, design and architecture into dialogue, offering a visually arresting and thought-provoking view of the world today. Three key thematic pillars of MagicMatter and Memory anchor the NGV Triennial, with Brunsdon’s architectural concept responding to the thematic pillar of Matter. This theme seeks to draw together nature, material and making, reminding audiences of the interconnected frameworks of biology, geology and physics while highlighting their relationship to and reliance on natural systems.

Throughout the summer months, (This is) Air will be the location for a myriad of public programs, performances and more in the NGV Garden.

“The annual NGV Architecture Commission offers a platform for Australian designers and architects to realise an ambitious new work of ephemeral architecture that pushes their practice into new and surprising frontiers,” said Tony Ellwood AM, Director of NGV.

“Since its inception in 2016, these imaginative structures have created a place for the community to come together, and many of these commissions have gone on to win some of the world’s most prestigious design and architecture awards. This series truly exemplifies the NGV’s commitment to uplifting Australia’s outstanding design and architecture practitioners and showcasing their achievements to a global audience.”

“The idea for this project was conceived by the architect during the global pandemic, when the air we breathed was suddenly at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” added Ewan McEoin, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, Design and Architecture.

“Taking the form of a giant inflatable sphere, this living structure inhales and exhales before our eyes, giving presence to that omnipresent yet invisible element that connects us all. Air can be understood as part of our global economic, social and ecological realities. And yet, the quality of air we breathe varies depending on where and how we live. Air is universal, yet clean air is not.”



Since its debut in 2016, the annual NGV Architecture Commission has enlivened the NGV Garden, creating a place for community, programs and events, as well as respite from the summer sun. Ranging from a pink pool inspired by Australia’s inland salt lakes to a thought-provoking meditation on the architectural legacy of Traditional Owners, the 2022 Architecture Commission marks the series’ seventh iteration.

The NGV Architecture Commission has previously been designed by Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang (2022), Taylor Knights + James Carey (2021), Yhonnie Scarce and Edition Office (2019), MUIR + OPENWORK (2018), Retallack Thompson and Other Architects (2017), M@ STUDIO Architects (2016), John Wardle Architects (2015).

For the NGV Architecture Commission 2023, ten practices were invited to submit design concepts that responded to the aspirations of the commission brief while considering the NGV Triennial thematic pillars – MagicMemory and Matter. The ten invited practices were: Five Mile Radius and Julia Watson (QLD), GFA2, Supercontext and Dean Cross (NSW), Nic Brunsdon (WA), Office MI—JI (VIC), OFFICE of CULTURE, TECHNOLOGY and ARCHITECTURE (VIC), SPRESSER and Peter Besley (NSW), Studiobird / SIMONA (VIC), supermanoeuvre (NSW/ACT), Taylor and Hinds with Dr Lois Peeler AM (TAS), and Youssofzay Hart with Zena Cumpston (NSW).



Nic Brunsdon is recognised as one of Australia’s leading architects. In 2015 Nic won the Australian Institute of Architects Emerging Architect Award, first for Western Australia and then nationally.

He is a past nominee for the 40 under 40 young business leaders award, a nominated thought leader for the City of Perth, the 2015 recipient of the Dulux International Study Tour for Emerging Architects, the 2017/18 recipient of the Gil Nicol Biennial International Study Bursary, and a founding Board Member of Activate Perth. He is the current Chair of the Perth Centre for Photography which is one of Australia’s leading arts organisations. He is also the Director of the urban program Spacemarket, which pairs disused spaces with useful people, and has worked on policy formation and development at all three levels of government.

The studio’s work has recently received recognition at the World Architecture Festival, Houses Awards, INDE awards, Loop Awards, and Australian Institute of Architects Awards programs, most notably winning both the public vote and master jury awards at the Dezeen Awards for the world’s best hospitality project. The studio is committed to servicing the Asia Pacific region through its offices in Perth, Denpasar, and Melbourne.


The NGV Architecture Commission 2023: (This is) Air will be on display as part of the NGV Triennial 2023 from 3 December 2023 – June 2024 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Free entry.

The 2023 NGV Architecture Commission is supported by The Hugh D. T. Williamson Foundation.

The NGV Architecture Commission Design Competition process is developed and delivered by CityLab. Registrations for the 2024 NGV Architecture Commission are now open. For the tenth annual NGV Architecture Commission in 2024 there will be an open format comprising of a two-stage design competition open to architects and multi-disciplinary teams. For more information visit citylab.com.au

More information: NGV.MELBOURNE

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