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Raising the barre: Conrad Gargett’s Queensland Ballet

A new home for the Queensland Ballet is not only aesthetically beautiful but filled with every amenity to help support and encourage the dancers and the dance.

Raising the barre: Conrad Gargett’s Queensland Ballet

As new homes go, the spacious premises of the Queensland Ballet is a fine example of purpose-built architecture at its best. Designed by Conrad Gargett, the sparkling 13,500 square metre interior affords the dance company every facility and amenity but also provides connection for the public and the surrounding location.

The concept for the adaptive re-use project began some 10 years ago with a design that grew into the enormous re-build as funding increased. The original boot factory, that became the home of the Queensland Ballet in 1991 is known as the Thomas Dixon Centre. Originally the internal footprint was some 2500 square metres but space was tight for the 67 dancers and 112 creative and enabling staff, let alone for future expansion and a community engagement and education program.

Conrad Gargett designs Queensland Ballet

Senior associate at Conrad Gargett, Tamarind Taylor, was project lead. She and her team retained, re-worked and totally expanded the heritage building into a multi-functional interior. It supports a new promenade, a 350-seat theatre, two new dance studios and an upgrade of another existing four; there’s the extended wardrobe department, health and wellness facilities, company dressing rooms and lounges; not to mention a rooftop bar and even an event space.

Work in progress and soon to be completed is a new café, the Bunker Barre, housed in the former World War Two air raid shelters off Raven Street.

Conrad Gargett designs Queensland Ballet

This is a place that enhances the day-to-day of all who reside within. It’s a place that can be utilised not only by the Queensland Ballet dancers and administration staff, but also theatre groups and the community and there is connection through viewing windows and platforms that reveal the inner workings of the ballet.

As Taylor explains, “It’s really about revealing all the behind-the-scenes aspects, even in the boardroom area – on one level you are in line with the tension net with views across the production, rigging and lighting zone, then a few steps down in the room, you can enjoy balcony seating with prime views to the performance. The intent is to demystify a little bit of what goes on and showcase all aspects of a Queensland Ballet performance.”

As a project located in Queensland, materiality, wherever possible, has been locally sourced. Wonderful timber grains and hues imbue the interior with warmth and bricks add texture while the surrounding landscape has been drawn into the spaces represented by the greens and pinks of the Queensland blue gum.

Skylights lining the promenade edges ensure there is maximum natural light and large-scale deep picture windows into the costume department reveal the making and allow for exhibition of ballet paraphernalia or temporary art installations.

Corridors are two tutus wide and all the spaces and rooms are generous in size. A special inclusion is the carpet in the theatre and boardroom designed by Australian Waanyi multi-media artist Judy Watson for Brintons that is unique, created especially for the Queensland Ballet.

The idea of the ballet, of dance and flow, is represented in details such as the gauzy copper mesh tulle-like fabric inserted into glazing units which performs as a curtaining effect to the dance studios.

The building comprises six floors, two below ground and four above and the above ground levels are accessed by a geometric staircase – white on the underside, honey timber on the steps with brass handrails. This stair provides the connecting thoroughfare within the building and links people and departments but is also a fine architectural inclusion.

The basement levels provide carparking and Raven Street level access to the Bunker Barre Café, while the ground and first floors contain the promenade and theatre lobby, the Talbot Theatre, costume and production workshops, enabling office, dance studios, dressing rooms, the consult and treatment rooms and a large ice bath.

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Level two houses the creative offices, boardroom, and access to the enormous tension net that covers the theatre and allows technicians to easily access and move lighting from above. The costume store is on level three and the rooftop contains a spectacular roof terrace, bar and kitchen and events space with views of Brisbane city.

There are some other stand out artistic inclusions within the project such as the installation by Australian artist Jamie North. The work, Ensemble, 2020, consists of three segmented columns, sited in the forecourt and adjacent garden. It is both an ensemble in the collective groupings and also within each column and comprises a series of cast concrete blocks suspended one above the other.

Conrad Gargett designs Queensland Ballet

Another feature is a transfixing video artwork designed by Japanese-based, TeamLab. This work has a 365 day-long loop and is configured to the locality, time, date and season with evolving scenes of a garden in real time on the big screen.

Titled, Continuous Life and Death at the Now of Eternity II, 2019 AP 1, it is a sensational video work that provides a constantly changing aspect and adds a visual breath of fresh air.

The new home of the Queensland Ballet was not without its challenges. Working with Heritage and attaining the rigorous International WELL Building Standards required determination, adaptability and creativity. Hazardous materials were encountered and, at one stage, while digging foundations, oil was struck courtesy of unmarked buried fuel tanks.

However, Taylor and her team persevered and the result is a beautiful reincarnation of a factory that is now perfect in both appropriate form and multiple function. As a place to dance, practice and learn, the new home for the Queensland Ballet is a paragon and raises the design barre for excellence and creativity.

Conrad Gargett

Chris Wardle

Conrad Gargett designs Queensland Ballet
Conrad Gargett designs Queensland Ballet
Conrad Gargett designs Queensland Ballet

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