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Designing The Democratic Workplace With Archier

When Melbourne City Council’s Creative Spaces program found vacant ground-floor retail space below a Southbank residential tower, it enlisted Archier to create a transparent, flexible HQ on the leanest of budgets.

Archier, Creative Spaces, Melbourne City Council, arts precinct, civic design, design democracy, democratic design 

When Melbourne City Council’s Creative Spaces program lucked onto vacant retail space on the ground floor of a residential tower in Southbank, it enlisted freethinking design studio Archier to create a transparent, flexible HQ with genuine civic presence – on the leanest of budgets.

Creative Spaces’ mission is to underwrite cultural production by brokering, letting, sub-letting and developing affordable studios and spaces for creative industries. Its highly successful model, now being embraced by city councils in Sydney and Brisbane, uses partnerships with government, philanthropic, educational and private organisations to secure spaces and a website to link creatives with rental vacancies. Designers like Breathe Architecture have a proud history of going the extra mile, including dumpster diving on weekends, to deliver memorable projects like River Studios in Footscray on the cheap.

The brief for Creative Spaces Guild comprised office space for 15 (including kitchen and bathroom); 15 additional desks to accommodate Melbourne Fringe staff when the Festival is in full swing and hot-desking for outside teams or individuals when it’s not; plus shared event and breakout spaces.

Jack Crocker of Archier says the tight budget made the usual architectural response of bespoke design elements impossible. The team took a strategic, off-the-shelf approach to materials from lighting to storage, balustrades – even the kitchen. But the high profile site and generous street frontage demanded strong design presence nonetheless.

“One of the big things we were all super excited about when we saw the space initially is it has this amazing presence to Sturt Street,” Crocker says. “It’s the heart of the arts precinct. There’s ACCA, the Recital Centre, the VCA’s just there, and there’s a tram that runs down Sturt Street. It has a civic presence as well. We wanted to push that … or not ignore that. So transparency was a big thing.”

Archier used strong, lightweight steel and CLT (cross laminated timber) to create “two floating planes in that volume and not a lot else”, according to Crocker. “All the services and bits and pieces are pushed to the back walls and the two platforms are allowed to float quite freely in that space. They sit off the internal walls, and invite this idea of transparency”, both within and from the street.

Exposed slab, textured concrete columns, raw steel with grinds and welds exposed: Guild celebrates its construction process along with its material palette. The aim was not simply meeting budget requirements and “testing the sweet spot” between Bunnings-style ambience and a fit-out so polished it’s over-designed. Client and architect alike were keen to turn the usual ground-floor treatment of inner city highrises on its head.

“Crappy retail outlet, crappy retail outlet, okay retail outlet, crappy retail outlet,” Crocker says of the status quo. “It was a real opportunity to explore a new ground-floor typology and shake that model up, with the idea that all of a sudden you have a feasible model for young creatives and start-ups to be present, civically present, on the street.”



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