NH Architecture, Snøhetta to reimagine Arts Centre Melbourne’s Theatres Building

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Arts Centre Melbourne designed by Roy Grounds, completed in 1984.

Arts Centre Melbourne designed by Roy Grounds, completed in 1984. Image: Mark Gambino

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The design team is interested in opening up the Theatres Building to the forecourt.

The design team is interested in opening up the Theatres Building to the forecourt. Image: Mark Gambino

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The interior of the State Theatre designed by John Truscott.

The interior of the State Theatre designed by John Truscott. Image: Mark Gambino

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The interior of the State Theatre designed by John Truscott.

The interior of the State Theatre designed by John Truscott. Image: Mark Gambino

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Arts Centre Melbourne has appointed NH Architecture and Norwegian practice Snøhetta to design its vision for the future of the Roy Grounds-designed Theatres Building.

The project will include critical infrastructure upgrades within the Theatres building and the replacement of the State Theatre rigging system.

The Theatres Building was completed in 1984. The building was originally designed to have theatres and a concert hall underground. But the discovery of an underground river forced a redesign of the building. In 1979, theatre designer John Truscott was appointed to redesign the Roy Grounds interiors for the Theatres Building and Melbourne Concert Hall (now Hamer Hall).

“Given the building was opened in the early 1980s, there’s a whole range of activities that need to be done to bring the building up to current code compliance and also to bring the three performance venues – State Theatre, Fairfax Studio and Playhouse Theatre – up to the current worlds best practice for technologies and fly towers,” said Hamish Lyon director of architecture and design at NH Architecture.

“The second half of the project, which is under the reimagining category, is to build on the custodial qualities that we feel towards the Roy Grounds building and John Truscott interiors.

“At a design level, [we want to] open the building up a bit for a bit more public and community engagement.”

The design team is interested in opening up the Theatres Building to the forecourt. Image:  Mark Gambino

Lyon said the project team recently visited the Oslo Opera House designed by Snøhetta and completed in 2008 and was inspired by its “very open and democratic” perception thanks to its building form that allows visitors to walk into it, on top of it, and across it.

“There’s a desire to see if the [Theatres Building’s] front of house, public spaces and arrival sequences could be made a little bit more open, friendly and also have some capacity to bring daylight into some of the interiors, so you feel the inner world of the Theatres Building and the outer world of the forecourt and St Kilda Road are connected,” said Lyon.

“That said, we have to be respectful of the original Grounds and Truscott idea that this is a building that is deliberately buried in the ground. It will be an interesting balance between retaining the original idea, but providing a bit more openness.” 

Lyon said the design will be “a combination of some bold moves but also respecting the fact the building is obviously under Heritage Victoria’s protection and we as designers are aware of the legacy work of Roy Grounds and John Truscott so that’s the a beginning position and then we’ll work from.” 

The interior of the State Theatre designed by John Truscott. Image:  Mark Gambino

The design team are also interested in commissioning bespoke artworks, furniture designs, carpet designs and local crafts, in the same way that the original designers did when the Theatres Building was first built. “We’re very keen to reimagine and revisit that in a contemporary setting so we should be able to connect with local designers and local craftspeople and create a whole suite of new things that reflect contemporary culture. [We’d like to] revisit and recapture the sense of optimism when the building was first built.” 

NH Architecture and Snøhetta also worked together on the Reimagining Arts Centre Melbourne’s Masterplan, which is yet to be publicly released. In 2017, the Victorian government committed $40 million towards the project. The Arts Centre masterplan is part of a broader redevelopment of the arts precinct, masterplanned by ARM Architecture and TCL. 

The redevelopment will include a stand-alone contemporary art and design gallery for the National Gallery of Victoria, NGV Contemporary, and a new creative arts hub housing the Australian Performing Arts Gallery and the Australian Music Vault.

The government has committed $208 million over two years to kickstart a philanthropic fundraising campaign for the NGV and the Arts Centre.

The Arts Centre forecourt will also be home to a new café, the design for which was the subject of a design completion won by Cumulus Studio. Lyon was the jury chair of that competition.


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