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Could Breuer’s Australian factory building become an arts and architecture hub?

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney has hinted that it may be interested in purchasing the former Torin factory building in Penrith, designed by the late American modernist Marcel Breuer, for use an “arts and architecture hub.”

Speaking to 9News in Sydney, MCA director Liz Ann Macgregor said, “One of the most iconic architects of the 20th century Marcel Breuer has one building in Australia and it’s here in Penrith.”

Marcel Breuer is best known for his Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

His 3,800-square-metre factory building in Penrith for Torin, a manufacturer of air-moving equipment for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, was listed for sale in June 2016 and is still on the market for $3.7 million.

The former Torin factory building by Marcel Breuer, 1976.

The former Torin factory building by Marcel Breuer, 1976.

Image: Max Dupain, originally published in Architecture Australia, Vol. 66, No. 3. © Penelope Seidler

“I would like to see it brought back into use as an arts and architecture hub for the capital of the west,” Macgregor said.

Completed in 1976, the factory was designed in collaboration with Harry Seidler, who acted as the on-site supervisor, and Bruce Rickard as landscape architect.

The factory is one of nine Breuer designed for the Torin Corporation, which are located mostly in North America, with one in Belgium and one in England. A tenth building was completed by Breuer’s practice after his retirement.

The building was added to the NSW State Heritage Register in 2009. According to its statement of significance, “The Torin building in Coombes Drive Penrith differs from the early Torin Corporation buildings which were more classically gridded modernist work. The Australian example is a strong expression of the powerful sculptural mode of Breuer’s later career.

“The Torin building in Penrith is a good example of the way in which Breuer’s design raised his buildings to a new modernist aesthetic level which ensured there was economy in plan form, bold architectonic expression and the repetition of industrial elements as either extruded sections or pre-cast elements.”

“The main [south] elevation is bold in its architectural composition consisting of almost windowless cuboid forms of rough-textured concrete block and precast concrete.

“The sloping form of the northern walls of the service cores were a departure from the horizontal/vertical lines of the building, giving dynamic lines to the composition of the building forms.”

The building is made of a steel-framed structure with concrete block, precast concrete and an outer skin of split-face block. In the design statement, which was published in Architecture Australia in July 1977, the architect described the building as consisting of three basic components, a high-rise storage unit, a two-floor structure and a well-equipped laboratory.

Its heritage statement also described the building as “a powerful work, a fully resolved three-dimensional architectural expression, which is monumental in its bold geometry.”

ArchitectureAU contacted MCA for further details of its interest in Breuer’s Torin building but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

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