Built along Melbourne’s Yarra River in 1889 as a shipping depot, the Goods Shed North has sat derelict for the past 30 years – until a strategy to breathe life back into the Docklands got underway. BVN Architecture was enlisted to transform this heritage building into a dynamic commercial premises – and one great shed was born.
Adaptive reuse is a term that has become a catchphrase of contemporary architecture. The warehouse apartments and shipping container refurbs of the last decade or two have paved the way for a whole new genre of innovative design.
Heritage value is listed in ever more peculiar places and we find ourselves in situations where deserted and derelict shipping sheds are earmarked to house almost 500 employees, eight hours a day, five days a week.
The Goods Shed (bisected by one of Melbourne’s main streets in recent years) is one of four heritage buildings that remain standing in this historically-rich part of Australia’s second largest city. With good reason Goods Shed North is protected by stringent council restrictions on what can and cannot be done in the process of its rejuvenation.
Situated in close proximity to the central business district (CBD), in a neighbourhood that has only recently enjoyed the focus of developers, it provides an essential depth to the setting, a richness that only a piece of history can bring among a skyline of shiny new towers.
The tenants, Vic Urban and the Building Commission and Plumbing Industry Commission (BC/PIC), are influential in the development and construction industry and saw this as an opportunity to lead by example.
Tony Arnell from the BC/PIC, who also chairs Australia’s Green Building Council and the World Green Building Council, speaks of their eagerness to demonstrate sustainable outcomes within heritage buildings.
“We know that the built environment is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” he outlines, “but equally we are aware that if built or refurbished sustainably, buildings can be a major part of the solution.”
With new buildings only counting for two to three per cent of an average city, it is clear that we now need to focus on the remaining 98 per cent – the existing buildings. This is where the positive environmental impact can be greatest.
Ninotschka Titchkosky, principal at BVN Architecture, was instrumental in the development of this unprecedented project.
“Over the last six years, the focus on environmental issues has changed dramatically [in Australia]; in commercial buildings this has been driven by tenant demand,” she explains. “Corporations realise that they need to be good corporate citizens with strong values as part of their brand. Tenants are demanding better environmental outcomes and the property industry has responded.”
Goods Shed North takes sustainability in its stride, but that didn’t come without a price – literally and figuratively. A 6,200 sq m floorplan was transformed into 11,000 sq m of commercial space by the installation of a mezzanine level along each side of the building – accommodating over 450 individual workpoints.
Clerestory windows were individually removed and replaced, to retain the soft pools of light through the central gallery. One end of the shed, which had been demolished by a runaway train in the 1950s, was pulled apart and reassembled brick by brick with renewed structural integrity and a new roof slate was quarried and manufactured especially to match the project.
Elements and materials from the existing structure were chosen for reinterpretation in a contemporary way.
“Taking existing structures and revitalising them means we are able to work within the existing building fabric rather than demolishing and rebuilding,” says Titchkosky. “Old doors we salvaged and hung on the wall of the atrium as a backdrop and two of them were turned into a very large communal table. We had to retrieve them from an old shed where they were stored with thousands of seagulls.”
“With new buildings only counting for two to three per cent of an average city, we need to focus on the remaining 98 per cent – the existing buildings”
Transparency was another key element in the re-development of the building.
As Titchkosky explains, “you can stand at one end of the shed and see the trusses and roof line all the way to the other. The inter-tenancy wall is treated in this way, so it’s almost indistinguishable.”
This lends a true sense of openness, which instantly allows you to feel at ease in the vast space, providing insight into the psyche of the tenant companies, and the lengths that were gone to in order to provide an exceptional home for their employees.
Titchkosky reiterates the importance Vic Urban and BC/PIC placed on fostering collaboration and innovation within the space. In order to achieve this, “the mezzanines have been built into the two wings with the large open spaces and bridges to the centre. This enables great visual and physical connection to the whole organisation. Everyone feels connected.”
Quieter working zones are tucked to either side, on and below the mezzanine platform. “In the BC/PIC tenancy we inserted meeting towers into the central spaces. There are four towers – two made from timber and two from steel. They are wonderful to be in, and some of them, like The TreeHouse, are double storey so you can perch in the upper level amongst the steel trusses for a meeting.”
Other quirks, like the “court-side” giant steps that provide a practical assembly area for presentations and meetings, also inform visitors of the company cultures at play.
However, at its core, this project is an ambitious and serious exercise in sustainability. Materials were selected based on eco-preferred content, low embodied energy, recycled components, minimised volatile compound content, and having minimal amounts of PVC content.
Rubber and eco-vinyl flooring was selected over carpet. Chilled beams heat and cool the space, powered by a tri-generation plant that takes ‘waste’ energy and converts it into chilled or warm water, which is in turn pumped through the beams.
The large roof area was capitalised upon with rainwater collection used for toilet flushing (also supplemented with a grey water treatment plant). Close to 3,000 pot plants are spread throughout the building, and this assists extensively with the improvement of air quality. In the VicUrban fitout new low energy computers and equipment were sourced – and in all cases, fittings, fixtures and finishes consume less electricity and water, and emit little or no carbon or harmful gases.
Even intelligent lighting controls and energy metering systems fit into the long-term vision of this responsible business model.
The question remaining is, “Will there be a Goods Shed South?” The answer is a resounding yes from Titchkosky.
“We are working on it right now,” she exclaims. “A tenant has just been secured and the project of revitalising the south side is now underway. We have learnt many lessons from the north side and so we can approach the south side with the ambition to take it a step further.”