KTA lends its design nous to 'The Stables'

Kerstin Thompson Architects (KTA) have transformed the former Victoria Police Mounted Branch stables on Southbank into world-class teaching and learning facilities for students of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Music following an $18 million make-over.

The refurbishment is an exemplar of adaptive re-use and continues KTA's affinity with working with the fabric of heritage structures, since its inception in 1994. The stables were purpose-built in 1912 as part of the old Police Depot, which included a hospital, barracks and drill hall.

The Stables within their Southbank context. Image: John Gollings

The Stables were officially open on Monday 14 May by Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley, who said the re-purposing and redevelopment of The Stables was part of a long-term plan to transform Southbank into "one of the world’s leading arts precincts."

The University of Melbourne’s acquisition of The Stables site was made possible through the significant support of the State Government, with the $18 million refurbishments undertaken through the significant support of generous philanthropists including The Ian Potter Foundation, The Myer Foundation and Martyn & Louise Myer. 

The Stables feature a new visual arts wing with 170 studios and flexible exhibition spaces and the former riding school has been converted into a 260-seat multipurpose arts wing for theatre, dance, music theatre and music performances.

The heritage features of the former police stables had been maintained through the preservation of its bluestone mounting yards, red brick façade and iconic octagonal roof and skylight, formerly referred to by Mounted Branch staff as ‘The Dome’.

The iconic 'dome' has been preserved within the 8m refurbishment. Image: Trevor Mein

The Former Mounted Police Stables and Former Riding School have been transformed to VCA’s School of Art. Once home of the horse is now home of 150 under- and post-graduate students. One of the largest metropolitan stables, this heritage-listed building is significant for its police use and distinguished by cellular organisation of its stalls, sublime repetition of structure and light-filled volumes by way of clerestory windows. Its bones formed an ideal fit with the university’s need for studios and a performing arts space.

An urban cornerstone of the university’s Southbank campus, the distinctive form of the octagon marks the intersection of Dodds and Grant Streets. It hinges the two wings of the facility into a v-formation to create the southern end of the central Courtyard. The Dodd Street wing – former stables – is dedicated to studios and the Grant Street wing – former riding school – to performing arts space. It’s linked with the existing Grant Street theatre via a new steel canopy. The ground floor of the octagon forms the ceremonial entry and access to both wings and the campus Courtyard. Exploiting its geometry, it can be divided into seminar, exhibition and event spaces as required through a series of sliding panels.

- Kerstin Thompson Architects

KTA's transformation of the stables involved a series of interventions to the heritage fabric which required a delicate balancing act of careful conservation and restorative works to existing floor surfaces and stall fronts, and significantly more transformative changes in the sectional qualities of the space in order to accommodate new programme.

Staff offices, seminar rooms and a central conference room characterised by the now-revealed original steel trusses, are located at the first floor, with an oculus framing the structure from the entry below.

The original double-storey central void was partly in-filled to accommodate upper level studio spaces, utilising the higher ceilings and natural light afforded via the clerestory windows with circulation moved to the perimeter. 

New studio partitions provide the school with adaptable spaces which enable flexibility of use as exhibition space, for example outside of their everyday use as studio space.

According to the architects, one of the most significant challenges was the integration of building services. The adopted solution worked two-fold - it ensured minimal impact on the original heritage fabric and provided place-making opportunities for the Courtyard by locating much of the plant within a series of brick-faced panel 'urban blocks'

Other key projects in the Southbank campus redevelopment include the recently-opened Buxton Contemporary, and a new state-of-the-art nine-storey building for the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music – The Ian Potter Southbank Centre – which will open in 2019.

Kerstin Thompson within the refurbished Stables. Image: Giulia McGauran

Click here for an in depth tour of the building by KTA principal, Kerstin Thompson.

Lead image: Trevor Mein

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