Architects have to deal with different necessities for different customers, every time trying to develop a new perspective. A project addressed to a dance company is an unusual and stimulating challenge: it foresees the integration of diverse types of spaces and functions, for instance, the administrative one, the spaces for athletic preparation, those for exercising the actual dance performance and those for free time and relaxation.
HASSELL studio managed to create a tailor-made world for the Australian ballet company, blending with a soft architectural language in all the spaces.
A Relationship between Dance and Architecture
The common element between dance and architecture is the necessity of space, intended as the physical dimension where they get real. Architecture needs a sequence of empty and solid volumes to create a spatial dimension and host life; dance needs instead a surface that dancers fill with their choreographies creating a living architecture, a structure made of movements. Dance is thus one of those activities for which architecture is created, and at the same time has the purpose of exploring and re-interpreting the architectural space.
A project conceived specifically for dancers has to account for lots of spaces and features that are usually not emphasized: dancers need a lot of facilities merging the necessities of sports infrastructures to the ones of theatre construction.
HASSELL Studio is an international architectural company involving 86 workers, with offices in Brisbane, Melbourne, Shanghai, Honk Kong, Perth, San Francisco, Sydney, London, Singapore. The studio’s aim is the architectural quality through the involvement of experts of a plurality of sectors, from landscape architects to interior designers, to urbanists. Furthermore, they take the present challenges, facing the issues of globalisation, climate change and digitalisation, and they intend their work as more inclusive and socially sustainable. The sustainability target they claim includes the design of exclusively net zero carbon buildings by 2030 as well as a reduction in energy consumption.
As it is visible in the refurbishment of Australian ballet, the projects of this studio are always conceived and realized accounting for all the small details. This is what makes their designs remarkable and always different from one another. They give a clear identity to each building, relating it with its function and its history. This effort results in beautiful projects that care for the people that use them, paying attention to the possible use they will make of a specific space. Ingrid Bakker is the interior designer that took charge of the refurbishment of the Australian ballet, which is considered one of her most successful projects.
Australian Ballet Refurbishment
The project dates back to 2018 and is located in the heart of Melbourne city, at the Art Precinct alongside the NGV, Arts centre and Hammer Hall. The project, considered one of the most rewarding of the studio, cost 13 million dollars and consisted of refurbishing all the Australian ballet facilities. The Australian ballet is one of the leading ballet companies in the world with a 50-year legacy of performance. The project is addressed to the 79 dancers and the 110 staff members and equipped with all the necessary spaces for this kind of activity.
The project comprehends two storeys: one at the street level, the ground floor, and the other under the ground level. On the ground floor, we find the offices, a working open space, archives, a kitchen, some rooms for the music records, and the main dance studio. The underground floor hosts the main spaces addressed to the dancers: the changing rooms, a common room where they can meet and spend their break time, a physio office, a recovery room, a first aid room, a gym, a pilates room, and a point shoe store. Furthermore, apart from some other offices, there is a public café. The two floors are connected through a spiral staircase, which reminds of the twisted ribbon of a point shoe and is wide enough to let two dancers wearing tutu pass.
As the staircase shows, all the architectural language of the refurbishment design continuously recalls the ballet world and every detail is addressed to satisfy the needs of the dancers. The inspiration was the dance company itself, and all the soft and curvilinear shapes recall the elegant movements of ballet choreographies. The materiality and the palette are quite minimal: the material use is functional to all the spaces and the activities they host, being hard-wearing and high performing. The colours used are light grey, salmon, frosted white with some occasional deep navy-blue accents. Part of the floor is made of terrazzo flooring, a composite material consisting of chips of different materials, such as marble, quartz, granite, glass poured with a binder, which is usually polished smooth creating a unique surface. In the case of the Melbourne ballet project, the colour recalls the silk of the point shoes. The point shoe shop, which is visible from the public café, has been defined by Leah Hudson-Smith, Senior Interior Designer at HASSELL, as a “glass jewellery box with a soft pink hue” (Tomic Hughes, 2018). It contains in each unit around 50 pairs of shoes, customized for every dancer.
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Tomic Hughes, D., 2018. The Australian Ballet Refurbishment in Melbourne by HASSELL Studio.. [online] Yellowtrace. Available at: https://www.yellowtrace.com.au/hassell-australian-ballet-refurbishment-melbourne/ [Accessed 27 November 2021].
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