Project Bulletin September 2021

A ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Opportunity

George Huon, Principal of BKK Architects, describes the Whitehorse performing arts centre project as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity. Here he answers questions about what inspired the design, and how it achieves Council’s vision for an accessible, flexible and contemporary venue for the whole community.

Q What was exciting about this project?

This is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to design an enduring asset for the Whitehorse community. We were excited by the project brief which required a whole-of-precinct approach and provided great opportunities to think about how architecture and landscape can work together to create places for people to enjoy in different ways, inside and out. Melbourne’s COVID experience has reinforced for us the importance of buildings like this in celebrating theatre and bringing people together for shared experiences in a broader cultural sense.

Q. What inspired the design? 

Generally, we start with the site and its physical, historical and cultural qualities. Given the unique parkland setting, our initial approach was to consider how the building might shape, and be shaped by, the parkland, to create distinct public faces and places. We also think about the way people might enjoy different moments within and around a building – buildings are for people, after all!

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Q. How are Council’s goals reflected in the design? 

Council wanted a centre that would provide a range of opportunities for different cultural, community and business uses. We have designed a building that is genuinely flexible and can operate at different scales – from large theatrical events and festivals to community performances and functions. 

The original centre was much loved and there was a strong sense of community ownership of the building and its history – we hope the new centre honours this history while creating opportunities for new users and audiences.

Q. Why did you choose bricks? 

The City of Whitehorse has a long history of brick (and tile) manufacturing, so we wanted to acknowledge that history, industry and craft. We also wanted the building to have a distinctly textured and crafted quality, and brick provides that perfectly. There is a sense of permanence and robustness associated with brick. It also has a ‘civic’ quality but with a contemporary look and feel.

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Q. What do you love most about the design? 

Much time has been invested to ensure that the interior spaces have a sense of texture and warmth. People loved the intimacy of the original building and we are extremely proud that the design has maintained this sense of intimacy. We love how the building will accommodate smaller human-scaled moments, places for people to meet, and then open up for some surprising “wow” moments. 

Q. How have you accommodated the many uses of the precinct? 

Understanding the needs and aspirations of stakeholders, as well as technical requirements, influenced the siting and shape of the building. The new soundshell will continue the tradition of Carols by Candlelight and events in the natural amphitheatre will be enhanced by the building’s sweeping, curved western façade. New carparking areas are designed to be highly functional with landscaping and tree plantings to soften hardscaped areas.

Q. What sets this design apart from other similar facilities? 

Buildings of this scale can sometimes feel cavernous or institutional. We have worked hard to strike a balance between intimate, subtle moments and larger spaces with a theatrical quality. The spaces inside and outside the building will reveal themselves in surprising ways. The building contains a range of diverse functions; each space has its own identity while being part of a cohesive whole. 

Q. In a few words, describe the essence of the design

Contemporary, warm, inviting, surprising. 

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The countdown is on! 

With completion of the open double storey car park, the stage is set for the start of construction of the Whitehorse performing arts centre later this year. Details about the construction program will be provided in a future edition of the Project Bulletin.