John Wardle and Durbach Block Jaggers collaborate to design Phoenix Central Park

Sydney's Phoenix Central Park combines architecture and artistic fields as the gallery is designed by John Wardle Architects and the performance space by Durbach Block Jaggers.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Nov 04, 2020

Designed by Australia-based John Wardle Architects and Durbach Block Jaggers, Phoenix Central Park is a gallery and performance space located in Chippendale, Sydney. The coming together of the two architectural firms to create an icon for the city opens up multiple possibilities for creative collaborations that can help create masterpieces for future generations, in this case serving the field of arts. The profession of architecture has long forgotten the idea of collaboration and this project possesses a perceptive example of the magnificent results it can bring about.

Following the vision of the noted arts philanthropist Judith Neilson, the building is a partnership of architecture and artistic fields. The two architects bring their designs together linked by a courtyard and garden - John Wardle Architects have designed the gallery in the east wing while Durbach Block Jaggers designed the performance space. “The intention is to have the spaces working together, to have visual arts interwoven with the performing arts,” says Neil Durbach, principal architect at Durbach Block Jaggers.

The gallery and the performance space are separated by a courtyard and garden | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
The gallery and the performance space are separated by a courtyard and garden Image: Trevor Mein, Courtesy of John Wardle Architects

Each architect has explored his own language of material and forms within the building typologies. Inherently, both the gallery and the theatre need to be separated from the outside world to control light, humidity, temperature and acoustics. Here, the gallery and theatre buildings are in a unique dialogue through their function, and their proximity.

The co-authored project has been guided by open discussion by both architectural firms. The project is perhaps a more compelling proposition for the input and insight of the other. – Durbach Block Jaggers

The designs and the architects’ styles are bound together by one consensus that they agreed upon - a continuous external skin of brickwork that encloses everything, designed by John Wardle and Neil Durbach. “Iteratively, with conversation and debate, both rigorous and polite, with irreverence, humour and respect,” shares Durbach. “Through this exterior surface the idiosyncrasies of each interior emerge and erupt in windows, doorways and portals. A defining element exists in the dialogue between gallery and theatre, inside and outside – an exploration in how a building can be two things at once, both/and as it were,” he adds.

  • The gallery is composed of a series of varied height volumes | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The gallery is composed of a series of varied height volumes Image: Trevor Mein, Courtesy of John Wardle Architects
  • The staircase in the gallery space | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The staircase in the gallery space Image: Martin Mischkulnig, Courtesy of John Wardle Architects

The Gallery by John Wardle Architects

The gallery has been designed as a complex stack of inter-connected volumes, accessible via multiple staircases and bridges. Each volume has been assigned a unique character to cater to individual settings while also retaining an awareness of the overall ensemble. Neither like a house museum nor like a public gallery, the sequence of spaces choreographs a journey from intimate rooms for the display of single works to expansive areas to showcase collections cast with walls of concrete painstakingly made on site. Unexpected views, natural light drawn from above, and stairs of material inventiveness bring curiosity. A field of skylights in low-height wide spaces provide a dramatic appeal from the darker atmosphere. Being angular and sharp, they reflect and filter the light creating a soft radiance.

  • The gallery has a series of modulating spaces to serve varied types of exhibits | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The gallery has a series of modulating spaces to serve varied types of exhibits Image: Trevor Mein, Courtesy of John Wardle Architects
  • The thoroughfare area in the gallery space | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The thoroughfare area in the gallery space Image: Trevor Mein, Courtesy of John Wardle Architects

“Marked elements of surprise in the gallery that one would not miss, have been created through the expression of ‘containment’ and ‘release’,” says the team at John Wardle Architects. Set around circular windows, the oculi are the focus of internal spaces while at the opposite reaches of the gallery below the garden is a small cave-like chamber with a single ocular skylight. “The intention was to create intimate spaces for quiet contemplation of a work whilst maintaining a tenuous link to the fluctuations of the day from above,” they add. The brick surface facing the street has been pressed inward to create a circular dimple. At the centre of which is a large oculus window, and a smaller offset window.

  • The performance space is one volume designed as a singular bell-shaped clearing | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The performance space is one volume designed as a singular bell-shaped clearing Image: Martin Mischkulnig, Courtesy of Durbach Block Jaggers
  • The performance space designed like an Elizabethan theatre | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The performance space designed like an Elizabethan theatre Image: Julia Charles, Courtesy of Durbach Block Jaggers

Performance Space by Durbach Block Jaggers

The performance space has been designed as a singular bell-shaped clear volume, created by stepped and contoured timber ribs, embedded in a fabric of lobbies and circulation. 

Similar to an Elizabethan theatre, the volume focuses on the circular design, where the round surface can be seen from many vantage points. A projecting balcony punctuates the volume, creating an alternate stage or viewing box. The circulation has been kept direct or through a set of stepped landings, scaled strategically to arrest movement and create an inviting feeling. The over-scaled gold window allows glimpses and light from the street in an otherwise dark space. The theatre has been lined with timber fabricated from digital templates in the factory and assembled on site. Above, a meeting space for artists and its companion garden courtyard have been modelled to capture unexpected planting, local vignettes and sky views.

  • The balcony area in the performance space | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The balcony area in the performance space Image: Elin Bandmann, Courtesy of Durbach Block Jaggers
  • The upper level meeting space for artists accompanied by a courtyard | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The upper level meeting space for artists accompanied by a courtyard Image: Tom Ferguson, Courtesy of Durbach Block Jaggers

The outer brick surface has been maintained as a binding element for the overall building, that finds a singular expression to contain the diversity that lies within. The bricks themselves are long and flat, akin to a stacked stone and emphasising the mortar joints. A thin veil of mortar has been washed over the bricks to exaggerate the continuity of the surface. This surface has then been dimpled, twisted, cut and vaulted around openings where the inside and outside worlds meet. Durbach Block Jaggers has created this wall design, curves and steps for a street garden and a multi-figured ‘cloud window’.

  • The Ground Floor plan that shows the performance space by Durbach Block Jaggers on the left and gallery by John Wardle Architects on the right | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The Ground Floor plan that shows the performance space by Durbach Block Jaggers on the left and gallery by John Wardle Architects on the right Image: Courtesy of John Wardle Architects and Durbach Block Jaggers
  • The section that shows the gallery in the background and performance space being cut through | Phoenix Central Park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The section that shows the gallery in the background and performance space being cut through Image: Courtesy of John Wardle Architects and Durbach Block Jaggers
  • The section that shows the gallery and performance space being cut through | Phoenix Central park | Durbach Block Jaggers John Wardle architects | STIRworld
    The section that shows the gallery and performance space being cut through Image: Courtesy of John Wardle Architects and Durbach Block Jaggers

The overall idea echoes the primary intention of the Phoenix Central Park: to be an artistic hub where visual and performing arts are in constant dialogue with one another. The project possesses an example of collaborative efforts, open discussions and creating a society together keeping architecture as the medium.

  • The courtyard that separates the two spaces | Phoenix Central park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The courtyard that separates the two spaces Image: Trevor Mein, Courtesy of John Wardle Architects
  • The gallery space | Phoenix Central park | Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects | STIRworld
    The gallery space Image: Trevor Mein, Courtesy of John Wardle Architects

The project has won various awards such as NSW Architecture Medallion, Sir Arthur G. Stephenson Award for Commercial Architecture 2020, John Verge Award for Interior Architecture, and the Think Brick Award’s Horbury Hunt Commercial award for 2020 among others.

“Phoenix is a project that confers on our profession a certain hope; that latent in our culture is something important to the human condition and architecture might be the medium to express it,” mentioned the jury citation for the NSW Architecture Medallion.

Project Details

Name: Phoenix Central Park
Location: Chippendale, Sydney, Australia
Completion date: December 2019
Designer/Architect: Durbach Block Jaggers Architects and John Wardle Architects
Architects for Performance Space: Durbach Block Jaggers
Architects for Gallery: John Wardle Architects
Project Team for Gallery at John Wardle Architects: John Wardle, Stefan Mee, Diego Bekinschtein, Alex Peck, Luca Vezzosi, Adrian Bonaventura, David Ha, Ellen Chen, Andy Wong, Manuel Canestrini, Meron Tierney
Project team for Performance Space at Durbach Block Jaggers Architects: Neil Durbach Camilla Block, David Jaggers, Simon Stead, Anne Kristin Risnes, Deb Hodge, Xiaoxiao Cai, Adam Hoh
Project size: 717sqm
Site area: 1185sqm
Levels: Ground floor + 6 levels – three above and three basement levels
Typology: Public / Commercial
Project Manager: Aver 2015-2017; Colliers 2017-2019

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