Lacoste + Stevenson reinvigorates Rushcutters Bay Park with a compact addition to the existing grandstand and a neat kiosk next door.
The revitalization of the Reg Bartley Oval grandstand and surrounding park with associated facilities is like the proverbial “pulling a rabbit out of a hat.” Lacoste + Stevenson has turned what was potentially a dry and lacklustre brief, involving basic amenities, into an experience that charms through its simplicity and thoughtfulness.
The reconciliation of old and new invariably poses questions of adjacency, context and history, where the degree of differentiation is critical to attaining both individuality and connectivity. A greater part of the project involved the restoration of the existing 1920s grandstand and inevitably the result is somewhat invisible, as new replaces old in the same form. The success or otherwise of such projects always rests on new additions. In such situations, the burden of expectation can easily unravel the best intent and ultimately the employment of what may be called “good judgment” is critical. Arguably the desire for difference, within a historical context, can sometimes trigger too much amplification and the overwrought, or alternatively a reductive gesture that is too weak to hold its own ground. For Lacoste + Stevenson judgment appears to take the form of assessment and reassessment, a critical reading of place and the insertion of a response rather than the imposition of form. The result is finetuned buildings that are specific and enticing in their materiality and expressive in their subtleties and nuances.
Located in various parts of the park, the new buildings each have a different relationship with their adjacent structures. The small, two-storey amenities buildings at the rear of the grandstand, comprising toilets, change rooms, fire stair and office, are nestled into the deep verdure of the western end of the park. Separated from the main structure by a simple yet delicately detailed mesh walkway, each building stands alone, not subserviently but in a respectful dance of engagement and distance. Placement here has been carefully measured and judged, the spaces between seen to be as important as the built. Their slender verticality is a result of this consideration. The park is allowed to have continuity in and around, a gesture that otherwise would not have been afforded by a single building mass. Partial views of the grandstand and the appreciation of interstitial space is felt as an important counterpart to built form. The buildings are constructed of the same timber profile as the existing grandstand, with a natural stain finish on the top two thirds and the lower third painted. Carved into the boards, small leaf-like motifs used with deftness and considered restraint proclaim the use of “decoration” as a distinctly modern technique, an abstracted echo of the decorative woodwork of the timber stand. Such gestures add a level of delight to the structures as sunlight articulates the interior and the patterns formed on the floor and walls provide an entertaining distraction. Through such elements, coupled with emulation and delineation of material, the tension of the modern in relation to its historical “parent” is resolved. Each can stand alone and be understood within its respective time period. It is this mixture of the deliberate and the visceral that makes these small buildings engaging, their mundane function not deterring Lacoste + Stevenson from their determination to make them memorable.
The timber-clad kiosk situated adjacent to two of the tennis courts elicits several themes and responses. Consisting of two interlocking rectangles with curving corners, the kiosk subtly reflects the surrounding Art Deco buildings of nearby Potts Point. Clad in vertical timber, the small, single-storey pavilion sits within a large timber deck occasionally punctuated by mature palms. A pergola of thin steel columns and stainless steel mesh envelopes the building, an inverted extension and play upon the enclosure of the tennis courts. Here, building, structure and nature are blended, with the intention that the kiosk visually retreat within the context of the park as the vegetation matures. Perhaps this is a slightly idealistic projection, but the concept of nature completing architecture is a well-known position. Consequently the romantic undertones cannot be ignored – the evocation of a 1920s aesthetic, complete with honey-brown leather seats and frameless glazing, conjures images of lazy Sunday afternoons with sun filtering through trees and a few hours whiled away with a game of tennis in between beverages, surrounded by palm trees and creeping vines. In the context of a preserved and revitalized parkland setting, the seductive effect on the psyche of this interplay of nature and architecture is all the more provocative. It is probably true that Lacoste + Stevenson did not intentionally set out to create such a scenario. However, it is testament to their skill and ability to create spaces and structures that ignite memory and begin to enter the realm of what the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard called the “poetics of space.”
Understood within the broader context of Lacoste + Stevenson’s oeuvre, such manifestations make sense, as their continual interest in differentiation allows for a versatile vocabulary that is responsive to place, time and occasion. It also reminds us that small projects usually require the greatest effort and that the collection of disparate parts into a cohesive whole, without the stamp of obsessive formality and fuss, is harder still.