Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards 2018: Kerstin Thompson Architects

Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards 2018: Kerstin Thompson Architects
Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards 2018: Kerstin Thompson Architects

In the lead up to the Victorian Architecture Awards dinner, to be held on Friday 29th June, will be profiling a number of architects who have had projects shortlisted for the awards, in addition to commentary on current issues and challenges within our built environment.

Kerstin Thompson Architects (KTA) - where I worked for five years and continue to admire from afar - has been shortlisted for four awards this year ranging from residential, heritage, interior and educational architecture.

The practice is highly regarded amongst peers for its continued contribution to the built environment, which is not only reflected in the impressive body of work completed to date but also the office's success in consistently recognised for its achievements, particularly over the last 4 years for the following projects:

  • 2017 AIA Commercial Architecture Award, Victorian Chapter for TarraWarra Cellar Door
  • 2017 AIA Residential Architecture Award – New, Victorian Chapter for Seaberg
  • 2016 Eat Drink Design Awards TarraWarra Estate – Highly Commended
  • 2016 IDEA Interior Design Excellence Awards TarraWarra Estate – Highly Commended
  • 2014 AIA National Architecture Awards, Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture – Houses (New) for House at Hanging Rock
  • 2014 AIA Harold Desbrowe Annear Award for House at Hanging Rock
  • 2014 AIA Heritage Award for Wertheim Factory Convrsion – Studio 9
  • 2014 AIA Public Alterations & Additions for Birralee Primary School caught up with KTA founder and Principal, Kerstin Thompson to discuss how the studio continues to design a diverse portfolio of projects, which draw on and make meaningful connections to their context. KTA has worked on a diverse range of projects and typologies over the years - how do you continue to develop original and creative work?

Kerstin Thompson: We approach every project from first principles which is easy when it’s a project type you haven’t worked on before because you don’t have rote thinking to fall back on, but even with repeat project types like our police stations, the combination of a generic brief with wild variations in context and community provides plenty of opportunity for original thinking on each project.

We certainly value the fact that KTA doesn’t specialise but rather maintains a curiosity for any kind of project assuming an alignment between the client’s aspirations and KTA’s core values.

U: The Victorian College of the Arts former Mounted Police Stables is a highly recognised project in the Victorian Architecture Awards shortlist this year. How do you achieve leading design across different realms such as outstanding heritage architecture and interior architecture?

KT: Every project starts with pre-conditions. Even a site without any built form will have strength of context whether this is its ecology, cultural history, patterns of use etc. Our work with heritage buildings is simply engaging with the richness of existing built form and for us this presents a fascinating launching pad for transformation to enable new uses and understandings around a site.

Also, we always approach every project through a clear conceptual intent that guides our thinking across landscape interior, architecture & site infrastructure. For us boundaries between interior and exterior architecture are false.

Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards 2018: Kerstin Thompson Architects
Victorian College of the Arts Former mounted Police Stables. Image: Trevor Mein

U: How have you balanced maintaining what was existing in the space while entirely changing the purpose of the building?

KT: With VCA, as with much of our work on heritage or adaptive re-use projects, we strive for an ease of fit between old forms & new uses. In this case the already cellular nature of the stables as collection of horse stalls, their remarkable light-filled double height voids was a superb fit with studios for 165 arts students; two art students for one horse.

Similarly, with the former riding school this beautifully proportioned and generous space is now a performing arts space which can accommodate a range of performance practices and formats.

U: What was it like working on an education project that is also expected to serve various other functions such as studio and performing arts spaces?

KT: The Stables and entry octagon needed to serve many purposes. Primarily the school’s studio-based philosophy required mixed-mode spaces that could easily switch from studio to exhibition areas. So the design incorporates a series of sliding panels that enable the school to reconfigure itself – for events, exhibitions, seminars and working studios for a range of art practices as required.

U: When working on a new residential project such as Park House, what influence does the existing streetscape and surrounding architecture have on the design?

KT: Of course, all projects need to be responsive to the people and the place for which they are designed. As a counter to the bland contemporary style of much new one-off housing, KTA uses the architecture of new residential projects to reinforce some valued aspect of the locale to achieve a distinctly local character.

In this instance, its location on the edge of a suburban park influenced its form. In its gradual shift of scale from street to rear, Park House wavers between a suburban modesty and grandeur. The house has an enigmatic neighbourly presence and its low-key street façade belies its size.

The draped roof over the length of the plan creates a gentle silhouette beside the park to the east. Holding the eastern façade together is a veil of woven mesh, which softens morning light and allows daytime views out to the park while maintaining privacy.

Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards 2018: Kerstin Thompson Architects
The Park House has been shortlisted in the Residential (New) category for the 2018 Vic Awards. Image: Trevor Mein

U: Can you provide an insight into some of the other projects you are working on at the moment?

KT: In line with my earlier comment, our current range of projects are across many different sectors. We are making a foray into the commercial one with a major redevelopment on a prime Melbourne city block. We’ve also recently started work with Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne on imagining what a new herbarium as part of a nature & science precinct might be like.

It’s fascinating to be working with RBGV again in such a different setting to our former work for the Cranbourne Visitor Centre. Our work on the Riversdale site, part of the Bundanon Trust, for a new gallery celebrating Arthur Boyd’s legacy is another project through which we can pursue our commitment to a more integrated vision for buildings and landscapes in sensitive cultural and environmental settings.

We are also working on a number of multi-residential projects in Melbourne’s inner-north which are exciting for their precinct-wide impact and opportunity. Parallel to that, our ongoing interest in civic projects includes Broadmeadows Town Hall, currently under construction, which will repair and revitalise the currently car park-dominated town centre.

We’ve just received planning support for the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick, which aside from being a very interesting program, also sets a precedent for alternative ways in which heritage buildings can be embedded within new architecture.

U: Through your projects you’re known for breaking new ground. Do you think the intention to break new ground is becoming increasingly common across Australian architecture today?

KT: Depends what we mean by breaking new ground. Sometimes formal gymnastics and façade flamboyance can be mistakenly construed as this, especially in the housing sector, a dress-up of otherwise conventional apartments.

We like to think that it can be more about the invention of new typologies and the sometimes invisible but potent spatial connections that can be forged within our cities and suburbs to create a sense of place and opportunity for many.

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.

Kerstin Thompson KTA Q&A Victorian Architecture Awards Architecture

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