This project is our first studio and gallery building. The couple who commissioned it are practicing artists with a young family. The building is to allow them to engage in the making and consideration of art apart from, but in close proximity to, the domestic environment.
It is a small building located within a long garden, at the opposite extremity to their existing house.
Historically the place of production adjacent the home has been referred to as the shed. This carries connotations of a rudimentary structure which enables many forms of constructive endeavour. In suburban environments it has traditionally been a place dedicated to hobbies, whiling away time, tinkering, and finding enjoyment in the act of making for its own sake.
Our clients understood this tradition and wished to engage in a manner of working which adopts this pattern of habitation. This decision was a deliberately formulated stance against the recent arrangement of our urban spaces in which places for living, for working and for relaxing are all individually defined and compartmentalised. Todd and Cherine instead wanted to meld their work and family lives, to limit wasted time and energy in travelling, and to bring their environmental footprint inward a little.
Our brief was to establish gallery quality internal environments for the production, contemplation and display of art. As such the architecture was required to be robust enough to withstand the impacts of production but then also adequately recessive for the favourable display and contemplation of the resultant artifacts.
The gallery stands largely on the slab of an old shed. There is another in the foreground. On the land located around the building are a series of two and three storey brick walkup flats. Despite the abundance of mature vegetation; a magnificent Blue Gum, a stand of Casuarinas, an old Mulberry and a Banksia, it is an area of surprising density.
The plan mimics the shape of the garden and existing house, in being long and thin. Within,
there are three spaces; the first is for the making of photography and small objects,
the second is for the production of larger objects and display, whilst the third is a small washroom.
At the head of the building is a space for Cherine which is more cerebral and visually connected to the garden and the house beyond. It contains a desk in the large window alcove, which is right out on the eaves line and mirror tinted in that warm brown colour which reminds us of 1980’s curtain wall buildings. We like that this material is successfully reappropriated in the structure. In evoking the generic office block it represents the clearest example of neatly segregated existence the modernist city demanded. A manner of existence in which people were brutally compartmentalised into specific places at specific times, and to which this little building positions itself as antidote.
Cherine’s room is only as large as it need be and includes a wall of storage for large format frames and photographs at one extremity, and at the other, a narrow horizontally proportioned window with internal sliding shutter. Externally this window is expressed as a vertical element and offers a place for display of objects and images. Observed as it is on approach, within the garden and from the house.
Behind that room, the space for Todd is a bit more robust and has large sliding door panels that open the internal environment to an adjacent external space that is of the same size
as the space enclosed. The long space is lit by a roof light which is clad in a translucent polycarbonate sheet. This enables a soft diffused luminance and balances the internal light levels when coupled with the large opening below.
This space shares some affinity with that of a verandah, though less that typical of the bungalow in a garden setting or more recent examples of long autonomous pavilions in a tabula-rasa landscape, and more evocative of our experiences of certain temple and
garden relationships in Kyoto. The limited space, combined with a borrowed view of trees and buildings beyond, the immediacy of a crushed recycled brick ground cover and the neutrality of a high perimeter wall are intended to evoke the spatial arrangement and atmosphere of the famed Roanji temple & garden. Though here with a suburban antipodean directness which is less about mimicry of detail and more about the making of a place for the contemplation of those things just beyond the rituals of everyday life.
The utilization of the long pavilion form, the enclosed verandah, within such a tight context establishes a strange juxtaposition which we relish. We admit there is a slight discomfort in the siting and size of the building when considering the area of garden in which it
resides. The large openings that enable such generosity internally have been very carefully considered to connect to the immediate environment but then block intrusive overlooking from the surrounding dwellings. The experience of approach and the siting of this small shed remind us of another experience from our travels. In this instance of standing below that magnificent flight of stairs within the narrow, vertically articulated chamber at Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library. There we understood with such clarity the power of experience when spatial disharmony is created by the subtle combination of two different proportions, or orders, of space. In this sense, the siting and some details of this little building in Marrickville could be seen to have an affinity with the Mannerist tradition.
In terms of structure and construction the shed is radically efficient. The final cost was in the order of $1700 per square metre, which, given the quality of the craft in the building, is quite astounding. This was partially due to the exploitation of the existing ground works, but also due to the decision to work within the established building tradition, to limit experiments in form making and material technologies, and instead to concentrate our architectural expression on proportional arrangements and the experience of space and allusion.
We are keenly aware of the tradition of the structures of production within the suburban periphery, those places apart from domesticity and so normality, places which exist for purposes of production within areas that are more generally aligned with consumption. In this regard we consider ourselves here to be a kind of sceneographer for the Tom Waits song What’s he building in there?.
The establishment of buildings such as this gallery can be seen as one small part in the remaking of our suburban periphery to enable a richer and more diverse culture. In this we applaud the relatively recent planning law changes that have encouraged the proliferation of backyard secondary dwellings and studio spaces.
As only architecture can do, this little transformation offers a singular example, relating to the specific conditions of a people and a place, about a better way of living and working within a greater system of habitation; a system which we can impact by offering a particular manner of building.