Photography: Brett Boardman and Peter Murphy

The new ‘Martian Embassy’ has opened in Sydney, designed as a fusion of a whale, a rocket and a time tunnel, an immersive space of oscillating plywood ribs brought to life by red planet light and sound projections.

Designed by LAVA (Laboratory for Visionary Architecture), the embassy is for The Sydney Story Factory, a not-for-profit creative writing centre for young people in Redfern, Sydney.

The project was a collaboration with production company Will O’Rourke and their creative partners The Glue Society, who developed the Martian concept, which was road tested with kids of all ages.

Chris Bosse, Asia Pacific director of LAVA said: “It's the stuff great stories are made of - think of Moby Dick, H. G. Wells' Time Machine and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick”.

“The concept is to awaken creativity in kids, so the design acts as a trigger, firing up the engines of imagination. It’s an intergalactic journey - from the embassy, at the street entrance, to the shop full of red planet traveller essentials, to the classroom. By the time kids reach the writing classes they have forgotten they are in “school”.”

“Using a fluid geometry merging the three program components [embassy, school and shop], a computer model was sliced and ‘nested’ into buildable components. 1068 pieces of CNC-cut plywood were put together like a giant puzzle.

“We used technologies from the yacht and space industry to create the timber ribs. Edged with Martian green, the curvy plywood flows seamlessly from reception desk to shop shelves to tables and benches. Walls, ceiling and floor, space and structure, become one element.”

A mix of Martian essential oils infuses the tunnel to inspire young imaginations, whilst the sounds and lights of the red planet animate the space.

Martian passports, alien money, 1kg cans of gravity, abduction kits and SPF 5000 sunscreen are just some of the 'Made on Mars' gift products sold in the Martian Embassy store.

“We had a lot of fun creating the first diplomatic mission from inner space”, added Bosse.

A the Sydney Story Factory volunteer tutors help students to write and publish stories. Free programs target young people, from marginalized, Indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds, but are open to everyone.

It was inspired by 826 Valencia, a creative writing centre for young people started by novelist Dave Eggers in San Francisco in 2002. A Pirate Supply Store fronts the centre, selling everything the working buccaneer needs: peg legs, eye patches, parrot feed. There are now eight chapters across the US, each with its own unique themed shop. In 2010 novelist Nick Hornby opened The Ministry of Stories in London, behind Hoxton Street Monster Supplies.

Philips Lighting has donated a range of state of the art LED lighting solutions towards the creation of the Sydney Story Factory and Martian Embassy. “Our mission is to improve people’s lives through meaningful innovation. With the creativity and collaboration of Xenian and Arup, the Philips LED lighting technology now creates a Martian environment which will inspire children to write and create.”

Designers from global consulting firm Arup designed how the Philips LEDs would work with Philips Color Kinetics distributor Xenian donating the commissioning of the lighting solutions.

The installation includes 220 ColorFuse Powercore LED modules to provide professional-grade colour mixing to give the space a colourful and dynamic ‘Martian feel’.

“The Arup design team are proud to have had the opportunity to creatively assist in the development of this remarkable community asset,” said Tim Hunt, lighting designer at Arup.

“The facility encourages creativity and we believe we have helped design a space which will fire the imagination.”