Richards and Spence
A new interpretation of the classic bricks-and- mortar retail space has created a polished shopfront with modernist echoes.
Amid the elegant prosperity of the James Street Precinct in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, the bar for well-designed retail spaces is uncommonly high. Rubbing shoulders with brands such as Jardan, Living Edge, ECC and Space, it is particularly important – and challenging – to stand out.
So, presented with a brief for refurbishing an existing single storey office building for an international retail tenant on Wandoo Street, just off James Street, architecture practice Richards and Spence had their work cut out for them.
“Our strategy was to strategically edit the existing façade at low level to create a continuous glazed retail shopfront,” the architects explain, “At high level, the existing building is sheathed with a new articulated façade.”
This surgical approach efficiently retains the original structure to accommodate multiple interconnecting tenancies internally, while externally each tenancy receives an individual entry and abundant vitrines. A new brick and concrete awning structure at the second storey updates the appearance of the ensemble, while the need for work and new materials overall is minimised.
The architects were also conscious of their context; “The new building interface responds to the pedestrian nature of the James Street Precinct,” they comment. The site is constrained on all frontages and retail space is prioritised at ground level. The new awning structure is designed to provide protection to pedestrians and shopfronts and offers an opportunity to include landscaping in the form of a hanging garden.
Materially, the architects sought to extend the fabric of their earlier project at 19 James Street: “We sought to capitalise on the use of brickwork as the defining material for the precinct. The selection of the Austral Bricks ‘La Paloma – Miro Grande’ in cream acknowledges a local precedent for brickwork and a rich tradition of ‘bricks-and- mortar’ retail high streets, while at the same time re-launches the material in a contemporary milieu. The resultant building conveys a sense of longevity of construction, character and occupation, while contributing to and enhancing a vibrant retail environment.”
The brickwork intersects with split face stone at the base of the building and concrete structural work in the awning, and coupled with the building’s crisp, orthogonal lines, generous volumes and plentiful fenestration, creates a distinctly modernist feel – a striking and unusual character for contemporary retail spaces, where softer, safer styles are preferred. Garnished by arid planting, the illusion of mid-century California is complete, and makes for a compelling space.
On the topic of bricks, the architects reflect that “Structural brickwork has been superseded by more efficient structural systems which, over time, has limited the use of brick to suburban applications. However, brick remains one of the few materials that is appropriate for all building scales and typologies. We believe we are again embracing brickwork as a building material in a larger context.”
In particular, they enjoy using bricks as they offer “a durable and sustainable solution – it is a material which is both structural and a finished surface. As one of the oldest of all building materials, it also lends a cognitive echo of tradition to new construction, irrespective of form or detailing.”
And with regards to this specific project, the architects feel that “in a context such as Brisbane, where much of the early inner city building stock was demolished in the 1980s building boom, the city is no longer grounded in a layer of heritage which may otherwise establish local street character. We would like to see a widespread use of bricks as the default material for basic ‘infill’ projects as well as for signature structures.”
Naturally, a vision such as this relies on strong support from local providers. On this note, the architects comment that not only did Brickworks “provide support during all stages from design to procurement,” but also, that the company “have a long-term ambition which manifests in an ongoing commitment to design and development of brick construction in our country.”
And, while Richards and Spence’s proposal is ambitious, given their work to date, and provided they receive the right support, progress will undoubtedly continue.
The go to magazine for architects!