by Sunena V MajuDec 19, 2022
Australia has finally welcomed its first (and only) purpose-built LGBTQIA centre emerging with pride within a busy neighbourhood of St. Kilda in Victoria, Melbourne. Conceived as a series of interconnected tubes wrapped in a concrete skin, the Victorian Pride Centre has been conceived by two Australian architecture firms, Brearley Architects and Urbanists (BAU) and Grant Amon Architects (GAA) as a place to invent the nature of new futures, while honouring and celebrating the brave – and at times difficult – past of the Australian queer community at large.
Back in 2017, a national survey in favour of marriage equality led to the parliament of Australia passing the bill to legalise same-sex marriage, a significant milestone in the struggle for equality of the LGBTQIA+ community. Subsequently, the Victorian Pride Centre (VPC), a not-for-profit organisation, received funding from the Victorian Government to build Australia’s first purpose-built LGBTQIA+ centre, and held an open architectural competition for its design in Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda the same year, which was won by BAU and GAA in January 2018.
The Australian architects' ambitions comprised of creating a deeply welcoming and safe place, an appropriate landmark of Australia’s cultural progress, and a flexible workshop for driving campaigns of equality, liberty, and inclusion further. “Spirit of place, concepts of becoming, and the notion of building the unfinished, drive the design,” relays BAU.
Almost five years in the making, the Victorian Pride Centre hosts a myriad of resident organisations and welcomes dozens of groups for meetings, events, and projects. The cultural centre also provides a public working hub, health and welfare centres, bookshop, theatrette, archives, roof terrace, and a gallery, followed by a café, rooftop pavilion for events as well as a community garden planned to come up later this year.
Building the Unfinished
Amplifying the client’s brief, BAU and GAA carried out workshops with user groups and the local indigenous community for the project. St. Kilda’s queer history unites many LGBTQIA+ communities, the learnings from which include abstracting cultural traditions of "the exotic, the exuberant, the surreal, and the in-between" for the Australian architecture. “The Fitzroy Street strip, the beach, the baths, Luna Park, Catani arch, Esplanade vaults, dance halls, and other histories, all inform this process,” they add.
"The VPC is increasingly inspiring many people to visit and explore. With the slide-up door open, the building is seamlessly integrating the streetscape, concierge desk, Pride Gallery and Forum, making the centre highly accessible, welcoming, and part of the neighbourhood," shares the client, The Victorian Pride Centre. The VPC carries a vision of a world where every LGBTQIA+ person has a place where they are welcomed, valued, respected and celebrated. This is underlined by their purpose to “connect, support and amplify LGBTQIA+ voices, resources, services and groups so that our communities are cohesive, resilient and thrive.”
While an architect might look at the elements of a space such as a door, a window or a railing as just that, an element, it is vital to acknowledge how a seemingly simple selection can convey a deep and meaningful message to those who will eventually use it. The door is not just a door in this scenario – it is also a catalyst in the building’s purpose of opening itself up to those who want to enter, those who seek comfort and help; it is also symbolic of bonds, where the built forges a relationship with the city and its people, a friendship that extends between the man-made and human.
An evolving series of conceptual tubes becomes the abstract armature for the Victorian Pride Centre, where circular and oval cutouts articulate the form of the building, maximising interaction with the urban envelope and achieving a distinction of its own. The adopted framework also generates an overarching order, in tandem with providing significant architectural forms and spaces for a building that celebrates and fosters inclusivity. The forms also act as a shaded portico on its street-facing ground level, transforming into sculptural terraces on the subsequent floors.
“Most importantly, these conceptual tubes are then acted upon by extraction of the specifics of the brief; the more the internal program disrupts the tubes, the more the forms and spaces of a coexistence emerge. These emergent and surprising outcomes embrace difference, diversity, and inclusion. The resultant sense of constant becoming, of a work-in-progress, embodies the ongoing struggle toward equity, freedom and fellowship,” elaborates James Brearley, Founder and Design Director of BAU.
The circular cutouts also provide the building with skewed shadows as visual breaks, while terraces decorate the street-facing façade, with a full view of parades, events and marches held on the street.
The Victorian Pride Centre also aims to see beyond the conventional uses attributed to itself, by challenging norms and hierarchies, to create a flexible and evolving program. Circulation and way-finding radiate from the central atrium, which provides legibility, natural light, a performance stage, an informal amphitheatre, and a dynamic focus at the heart of the building.
The dramatic, elliptical atrium is crowned with a skylight, and is also generous in its aesthetic and its reach, with white painted metal swirling majestically, uniting all the six levels of the building, as well as demarcating zones and representing the tubular form inside in abstraction.
The client says that the atrium takes on an extroverted, public identity by becoming both, a place for performance (from speeches to photoshoots to DJ sets) to a place of wonder and reflection. “The rich variety of textures and materials, offering a tactile experience, is creating a feeling of comfort and sanctuary for users and visitors. There is a great sense of possibility, so important in LGBTIQ+ spaces.”
The structural and non-structural fabric is clearly articulated within the 6,200 sqm building with an L-shaped plan, explaining what is permanent and what can be changed easily. The interior design combines raw structural concrete and exposed services (for aesthetics and reduced material usage) with warm materiality of timber, coloured ceramics and velvet curtains. “These coexistences further the notion of an aesthetics of inclusion,” the architects inform in an official statement.
Smaller tenancies included in the building resemble laneway shopfronts. A sacrificial timber framework integrated within these shop fronts along with hanging rails and track lighting above walls enable tenants to adapt and experiment with the spaces, enabling the emergence of authentic self-expression within the commercial and office areas.
The Victorian Pride Centre reinforces an atmosphere of a work in progress, much like the stories and ongoing advocation worldwide, for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex, asexual and queer communities. Built for this community and beyond, the building also stands as a symbol of inclusivity, pain and loss, struggle and small victories, and it becomes so by setting a course for a future filled with hope, where inclusion and equality need not be fought for.
Name: Victorian Pride Centre
Location: 77-81 Fitzroy St, St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia
Ground Floor Area: 6,200 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Client: Victorian Pride Centre
Architect: BAU Brearley Architects+Urbanists (BAU) and Grant Amon Architects (GAA)
BAU Project Team Competition: James Brearley, Steve Whitford, Jens Eberhardt (Partner in Charge), Fonarri Chen, Charles Hu
BAU Project Team Documentation: James Brearley, Steve Whitford, Jens Eberhardt (Partner in Charge), Fonarri Chen, Prague Unger, Adrain Coleiro, Manny Houdek, Tammy Li
GAA Project Team Competition : Grant Amon, Stephen Herbst, Estelle Peters, Karen McMull
GAA Project Team Documentation: Grant Amon, Stephen Herbst, Tony Trajikoski, Yiyang Xu, Bruno Rabl, Junbo Qu, Roberta Caione, Millicent Baddeley
Local Council: City of Port Phillip
Town Planner: SJB Planning
Project Management: Case Meallin / Bates & Co
Quantity Surveyor: Slattery
Structural Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Hydraulic Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Facade Engineer, Traffic Engineer, Fire Services, Fire Engineer: WSP
Acoustic Engineer: Resonate
ESD Consultant: Hip v. Hype
Building Surveyor: Checkpoint Building Surveyors
Landscape Architect: BAU Brearley Architects+Urbanists; Thompson Berril Landscape Design
Contractor: Hansen Yuncken
Lighting Consultant: Schuler Shook
Structural Concept Engineer: Peter Felicetti
Suppliers: Shape Shell - atrium pre-cast shell; Auscast Constructions - pre-cast concrete facades; Fade Australia - acoustic plaster