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October 13 event review: Architecture talk: Adaptive Reuse and High Density Housing-MR at Marrickville library

Location: Marrickville library for the AIA On Show talk series

Speakers: Guy Lake from Bates Smart and Philip Thalis from Hill Thalis, curated by Michael Zanardo and Kieran McInerney.

Topic: high density adaptive re-use in Marrickville

Due to conflicting demands (read: football training), this was the first of this series of talks I’ve managed to make it to this year, and I’m glad I did. I hear that numbers have fallen slightly, but the turnout was still about 30 people, which for a Wednesday night event in Marrickville is pretty decent. I was eager to hear the presentations as I’m really interested in both Marrickville (where I live) and the adaptive re-use of industrial heritage. The format of the night was two single project presentations followed by a short question and answer section.

The first presentation was given by Guy Lake and focused on a recent (ongoing?) project by Bates Smart, The Gantry. Located in the block bounded by Parramatta road, Australia street and Denison street, The Gantry has repurposed an existing industrial site (the Fowler Pottery works) for residential use. From the project description on the Bates Smart website, the redevelopment included the retention of 2 heritage buildings, the construction of three new buildings for a total of 191 new apartments across several building plus landscaping and commercial and retail space.

Final photos aren’t readily locatable, but it looks like an really interesting precinct coming together. From my scribbled notes:

  • Whole site is prone to flooding, so massive engineering required at ground level.
  • Where existing heritage facades were kept, the paint on the brickwork was removed, then apartments pulled back from edge to get more light in and bonus heritage features.
  • Cuts made based on existing geometry – three apartments per ‘bay’.
  • Existing trusses have been refurbished and retained, but with the roofing peeled back to make an arcade for the public.
  • Verandahs are glassed in – this effectively provides an option for indoor/outdoor use and when fully closed acts as an double glazing for acoustic control.
  • Heritage walls were much more ‘defensive’ at ground level than is usually encountered – but this is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Interiors featured mirrored glass splash backs and lots of sliding doors, especially to bedrooms.
  • New building mimics form of the older one [this may be incorrect – my notes are not great]

The second presentation was by Phillip Thalis, of Hill Thalis. In his introduction, Thalis mentioned that he grew up in an apartment and along with most of his practice continues to live in one. Having established his multi-residential bona fides, he proceeded to present an informative and insightful look at the on the Majestic project, the adaptation of the old Petersham theatre/roller rink into residential apartments. The project has been profiled on ArchDaily (with plans) and I swear I read about it in a dead tree magazine, although I cannot now find the reference.

The site was originally a large theatre, which was morphed into a roller skating rink. I was one of  many in the audience who has fond memories of the space as a roller rink (the image of a 50 year old ‘bear’ in a pink tutu doing a skating cartwheel does tend to sear itself rather permanently in one’s mind).

Most interesting to me was the discussion about the constraints around the New Canterbury road facade, which caused some of the earlier reservations I had about the project to slide into a new focus.  The facade needed to be kept for heritage reasons and the brief called for the ground floor to be commercial/retail (and if I’m honest, at least part of my reservation is from the current ground floor tenant’s hideous advertising choices). These two factors explain to some extent why the residential entry has been pushed to one side. Further constraints included a requirement that the existing form be kept, which at 22m deep was a challenge for providing amenity (Thalis acknowledges that for the first time they have created internal bed rooms). As well, the influence that the far too often unacknowledged stakeholders such as the client, builder and financier can play in executing a project was also mentioned.

It was interesting to see the parallels between the projects. Both stripped paint to expose existing brickwork, both pulled new insertions back from the edge of the building, both made efforts to retain existing trusses, both used balconies to act as additional noise buffering to deal with traffic noise.  Both used similar tactics on the apartments themselves: extensive sliding doors, mirrored splash backs and internal  insertions (this last trend seems to be everywhere in residential and repurposing projects at the moment, to my utter delight).

For both projects, there was a focus on retaining fabric and form rather than space. While I understand this approach, there is a delight in the retention of former industrial spaces that residential retrofitting can rarely accommodate.

All in all, an interesting night of thoughtful presentations. Thanks again to Michael Zarnardo and Kieran McInerney for organising.

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