Using gutsy materials and colours in a heritage shell, Sydney architect John Cockings creates new offices for a publishing company with in a colonial bond store.
A view of the rippled wall.
*Not in every dictionary, ‘palimpsest’ refers to a postmodernly popular view of history as layers of new expressions of belief over old.
It is rare in architecture that the designer is given free reign. Rather, the architect begins with a set of constraints which, when viewed positively, become challenges that allow rapid focus on issues which can shape a response. John Cockings + Associates’ interior fitout for Lansdowne Publishing in the Argyle Centre of Sydney’s The Rocks is an example. Although its freestanding boxes and floating screens-dressed up with colour-at first appear an obvious response to a heritage shell, it is a pragmatic response to restraints set out by both the client and the building’s owner, the Sydney Cove Authority (SCA).
Lansdowne Publishing’s previous office was located in another SCA property. The decision to move a greater number of staff into a smaller space across the road made it necessary to restructure the workplace from a cellular arrangement of offices to an open plan incorporating as many workstations as possible. Although SCA was to pay for several big-ticket items, the budget for the client’s work was capped at $70,000-and the schedule was just 10 weeks. The authority’s new rules for fitouts dictated colours for the building shell and precluded fixing into walls, frames and rafters. These issues precipitated a decision to retain or reuse much of the space’s previous fitout, notably some partition walls and steel doors and frames. Time and budget also dictated a palette of inexpensive materials: plasterboard walls, MDF joinery and paint.
Several enclosed offices retained to the north were allocated to Lansdowne’s head company, Kirin Publishing. Remaining space is organised around a central circulation zone strongly defined by a row of original timber columns and a new curved display and storage wall clad in acoustically rated sheets of Ripple Sound perforated aluminium. Other insertions include an acoustically isolated and skylit meeting room, a storage cube and privacy screens suspended from the roof beams.
To reduce the expense of workstations (pricey for even the most basic and inelegant off-the-shelf systems), Cockings custom-designed them to the needs of his client. Included with every desk is a ‘book tower’ which serves as a notable design element and reinforces the notion of the fitout as a kit of parts. The office library is also transformed into a backlit display within the curved central wall. With the storage cube and adaptation of a small room downstairs, Cockings has doubled the storage available in the company’s former, larger, office.
Colour and lighting are synthesised to considerable effect in key areas, including shelving, a glazed `shopfront’ bookcase, light slots under the meeting room’s ceiling and an eerily orange fan occulus inside. Except for some halogen downlights in the meeting room, all these effects are achieved with concealed fluorescents.
In response to Lansdowne’s request for a contemporary interior, Cockings specified a palette of colours which allows the building to read as a neutral background to fashionably clashing blues, pinks and citrus yellows. Although perhaps a little too reminiscent of Mathias Sauerbach’s widely published London house of more than three years ago (inspiring a rash of lime green and hot pink interiors around the world), Cockings maintains that these colours strategically highlight the inserted nature of the new elements, in a way which draws the visitor’s eyes to the back of the space.
With this project, the architect has produced a workable and bold office interior in keeping with current approaches to recycling significant heritage structures. Rather than being daunted by imposed restrictions, Cockings has transformed constraints into opportunities, resulting in an intelligent resolution of the client’s concerns and circumstances.