The City of Boroondara’s investment in thoughtful design results in a makeover worthy of an intelligent adult television audience.
nergised workplaces and suburban councils are not always considered in the same breath. An old-world mindset can deny a new-world aspiration. The Melbourne architectural practice Nicholas and Alexander were fortunate to find a client willing to explore the possibilities. The City of Boroondara’s investment in thoughtful design results in a makeover worthy of an intelligent adult television audience. Twelve kms south-east of the CBD, the shire offices and library in leafy Camberwell are a revelation of connections. Nineteenth century civic offices and a bland, 1970s black-box theatre, are home to a vibrant new workplace and community library. Nicholas Daviotis of Nicholas and Alexander Architects provided Peter Hyatt a tour of the new council facilities. He explains how he helped his client realise a more prismatic, technicolour world: Greetings Nick. It’s a rather unexpected, atypical result for most municipal councils. Nicholas Daviotis: Yes it is, but they were ready and willing to go well beyond the basic plot. The envelope has a vitality we’re unaccustomed to, or expect, with such civic buildings. I’m pleased you say that because that was one of our major aims. What were some of the other objectives? The existing theatre was an austere black box. In the conversion we explored what this could become. Could it provide really generous connections and create a wonderful library? In that sort of space you try to embrace light and create vitality to draw people into what is essentially a public lounge-room. What message do you hope the project sends to ratepayers, visitors and passers-by? Hopefully it reveals a certain aspiration for the community of Boroondara and affirms a strong sense of place and identity.
What is its single biggest achievement? The creation of a great place the community can call its own. It’s not a display of council power or wealth. How difficult is it to create a convincing relationship by grafting on new work without overwhelming the old building? We basically added layers. We are respectful of the old and those differences are made very clear. There’s a homage, valuing and counterpoint of its history rather than fudging. Isn’t there a loss of relevance about libraries? Aren’t they heading the way of the mega-shopping centre eroded by the on-line world? People still love to gather and meet socially. A library is also this conduit of knowledge and recognition of the numerous forms of knowledge. Books are specific and contain a depth of knowledge and opinion whereas the Web is a broad, sweeping information base. The library is the ‘real world’ and recognises the joys of holding a book and making conversation. There is also the pleasure of a live presentation by a notable speaker for instance, the pleasure of reading and sharing with children and as a portal to cyber space. It’s a very multi-media experience. Was there any conflict of your ‘house style’ versus client fingerprints? It’s very symbiotic. One relies on the other. They come together here and don’t stand apart. Are you ever tempted to franchise your designs? It’s not an object to mass-produce. It’s a reflection of the process and place in time and of the people involved and the budgetary forces and everything else that comes with assembling a building.