One prominent Melbourne cultural commentator is arguing that because the huge, typographical mural is the work of a graphic designer it is not art but super graphics.

As Matt McCarthy of Clear who created Outside Inside Out puts it, it was a once in a life time opportunity, free of the normal restrictions of commercial graphic design.

“When we were called in by the architects, Synman Justin Bialek/Fender Katsilidis, all the energy had gone into The Arkley’s front, which faced the promenade,” he said.

Its back had not been as considered, and the brief was to create a ‘directional facade’ treatment that would be welcoming and appealing for those entering the Docklands precinct from the west side, which is essentially everyone coming by road.

“The brief was open and Karl Fender, a senior partner in FK/SJB, and Ashley Williams, a development manager of the Michael and Andrew Buxton Corporation, encouraged us to take a creative approach.

For a young studio, it was a big gamble to take on such a large project involving architectural scale and materials and demanding structural and technological constraints. The area we had to treat was forty-five metres wide and five stories high and to use type on this scale and for this purpose has few if any precedents in Australia and overseas.

We design for print every day, typography is our signature, but this was our first step into permanence and scale. There was always the anxiety about stuffing up, knowing that if I did I would never drive down this street again.” 

It was the last question McCarthy asked at the initial briefing, “What is the name of the building?” that decided the approach. Says McCarthy, “I was well versed in Howard Arkley’s cultural significance.”

The production process for Outside Inside Out was huge. Every stage had to be approved by seven different parties. It took well over a year to complete, growing and adapting alongside the building’s construction.

“The first challenge,” says McCarthy “was the material and structural constraints of the area we had to treat which includes the car park, which had to be ventilated and have fresh air running through it. Working with the architects we opted for a ‘Picture Perf Process’ which allows for images to be created by holes punctured into sheets of aluminium. The process is computer generated. 

“It works like pointillism, with the images being created by three different sized holes and three levels of tonal contrast. We were the first to use it on such a large scale and for typography.

As type demands a certain definition Andrew Trevillian our senior designer and I had to be on top of the maths and programming so we could work closely with Mike Tinsley from Richardson Pacific who own the process and had not worked with such precision before.

We went for aluminium for its aesthetic properties. We liked its raw materiality and the way it weathers and responds to light and surface play.” McCarthy is rightly proud with the result, which has a raw urban elegance that compliments the precision of Outside Inside Out’s imposing typographical narrative.

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