174 William Street, Perth
Airey Taylor Consultants
Department of Culture and the Arts, WA
STATE OF THE ARTS
The late, Perth-born actor Heath Ledger “must have been a bird on the shoulder of the architect” of the new State Theatre Centre of Western Australia, according to his father, Kim Ledger, speaking at the opening of the $100 million facility.
The 575-seat Heath Ledger Theatre is at the heart of the complex, along with a more flexible space, the 200-seat Studio Underground, as well as generous rehearsal and backstage facilities. His sister, Kate Ledger, added that “It’s so reflective of the way he built and renovated his houses, it’s quite eerie.”
Perth-based Kerry Hill Architects was the unanimous winner of a design competition that attracted 40 submissions from around the world.
The Centre’s architecture arises from a dialogue of opposing forces.
• A sense of darkness and light.
• An expression of mass and transparency
• A language that is both robust and delicate.
The building imparts a sense of spatial drama to the experience of attending the theatre.The volumes are clearly articulated, with the two centrally-located theatres stacked vertically, freeing up space for a large courtyard which is both an urban plaza and outdoor event space.
The courtyards and the lower ground and ground floor public areas are paved with Bowral Bricks London Blue clay pavers, including the areas under the spectacular curtain-like Bronze Box.The clay paving creates a solid ground plane that effectively contrasts with the black metal, bronze and Tasmanian Blackwood feature timber that is the Centre’s internal signature.
The foyers are located on the site’s perimeter: these are low transparent volumes that reflect the scale of the surrounding streets and celebrate the activity within. By day, these external volumes rest calmly, with the dark and robust materials forming a protective shell.The layered reflection of glass facades suggests, but does not reveal, what is within.
However, as night descends the volumes begin to glitter and glow; the fly tower takes on a sublime light; the foyers, multi-levelled and veiled in delicate gold screens, reveal themselves to the street; a floor of glowing glass reaches out below a suspended canopy.
A generous staircase leads to the Heath Ledger Theatre, a curved timber drum that peels away from a panelled concrete shell.Within is a world of warm timber and gold hues. Balcony seating wraps the curved walls, heightening the sense of intimacy and interaction.
Studio Underground is located below the Heath Ledger Theatre, isolated acoustically and structurally. Descending from the entry level, one enters a subterranean world of striated plywood and dark bricks – Bowral Bricks Bowral Blue.This softly-glazed brick shimmers and refracts light.“Brick is an appropriate material for Perth,” comments project architect, Simon Cundy.The same bricks also line the substantial light-well and feature in walkways, bars and some internal open spaces.
Studio Underground’s interior celebrates the robust, industrial language of grids and trusses that are a requirement of a flexible performance space.A large opening connects it to the primary rehearsal room, extending performance possibilities.
A series of passive systems reduces the building’s energy consumption.The space between the two theatres is utilised as a thermal labyrinth, preconditioning outdoor air before it is processed by the air conditioning system.A sophisticated system of vents allows the foyers to be naturally ventilated. Daylight penetrates deep into the building through the use of skylights and transparent facades, reducing dependence on artificial lighting.
“I think we’re a little bit humbled by all this and very grateful to all the people of Western Australia,” said Heath Ledger’s mother, Sally Bell.“It’s just an amazing tribute.”
The State Theatre Centre of Western Australia won the prestigious Emil Sodersten Award for Interior Architecture at the 2011 National Architecture Awards. It also won the 2011 President’s Design Award, Singapore’s most prestigious design accolade, and a 2011 Australian Engineering Excellence Award.
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