“Latrobe City Council (the client) was keen to see an innovative use of timber, so our entry (for the NGV) was a good starting point,” says architect John Doyle, who worked closely with NAAU’s co-partner architect Ben Milbourne and associate Evie Blackman.
The NAAU team was fortunate to work with a building that came with great ‘bones’ a red brick pile once used as council offices.
However, a number of additions had been made over the years, some structural and others able to be easily removed, such as signage.
“The building occupies a fairly prominent corner in the street (corner of Hazelwood and Commercial roads), with the precinct including the town hall and the county court,” says Doyle.
With previous renovations, there was a disconnect to these buildings, along with the pedestrian areas nearby.
NAAU repositioned the main entrance to the intersection of the two streets, now located in the same place as when the building was first erected in the 1930s.
However, this strategy was tempered by creating a double height timber lined alcove that protrudes to the street.
“It was important to create a sense of protection from the often fierce winds coming from the south along Hazelwood Road”.
The other changes made to the Latrobe Street Gallery were to enlarge some of the windows, including deep window reveals that double as seating in some areas, and create greater transparency to the street.
Outdoor-seating for the new cafe, for example, services not only those going to the gallery, but those working or visiting the area.
One of the other problems with the former arrangement was the gallery was too segmented, including a need to walk down a long corridor to reach a set of stairs that leads to one of the primary galleries on the first floor.
“Even the cafe suffered from being too enclosed and concealed behind the gift shop,” says Doyle, who virtually gutted the ground floor and opened up the lobby/reception area.
However, in doing so, the ‘carcass’ revealed irregular ceiling heights and extensive electrical equipment.
“We knew before we even started that this would be the case and so our scheme included acoustic treatment that would also act as a visual barrier across part of the ceilings,” says Doyle.
Almost 1,000 timber baffles were made, arranged in a grid-like pattern.
Instead of creating a uniform grid, NAAU strategically arranged the modules, with greater intensity above the most heavily trafficked parts of the lobbies and galleries.
“When you walk down a passage, people rarely look up in the same way as when they’re standing in a lobby,” adds Doyle, who compares this process to ‘spreading butter’, keeping it lighter on the edges.
The gallery’s reception area was also completely reworked, as it had been previously tucked into an alcove that most people simply walked past.
Now it has its own identity, with chunky glulam beams stacked like logs of wood.
The floors in the gallery were also reworked, given walls had been removed, with polished concrete floors in part.
Although taking away walls is relatively easy to achieve, creating a sense of cocooning within a gallery is another matter.
While some galleries can be chilly and pristine white, the Latrobe Regional Gallery has expressed the beauty of timber in, as included in the initial brief, in an innovative way.