Finalist 2022

Collingwood Yards

Fieldwork / Contemporary Arts Precinct Ltd. / SBLA / McCorkell Constructions

Collingwood Yards delivers a vibrant, mixed-use precinct of cultural and artistic production, with an open interface to the public.

Collingwood Yards transforms the institutional buildings of Collingwood Technical School into a mixed-use precinct for the arts – a place of cultural and artistic production with an open interface to the public. With the arts and creative sector typically priced out of the inner-north due to rising property prices, Collingwood Yards represents a new spatial and organisational model to sustain creativity in our inner-city communities. Layered with studios, public spaces, hospitality venues and retail tenancies, the project harnesses urban space to foster collaboration, inviting the public to engage with the multi-disciplinary pursuits of Melbourne’s creative community in diverse and evolving ways.

Design Brief

The establishment of Contemporary Arts Precincts Ltd, the social enterprise who now manage Collingwood Yards, was formed as a charitable social enterprise with a vision to transform the site into a sustainable, permanent, and affordable home for artists and independent arts organisations across disciplines. The project was driven by a desire to maintain creative talent in the inner-city, to simultaneously support the arts sector and strengthen the identity and spirit of the broader community. The built outcome sought to reflect and anticipate the city’s changing economic, environmental and social conditions, offering vibrant, shared spaces that could continuously support the needs of the arts community and public. Design interventions were conceived as vehicles to guide and facilitate human connection, by chance or intention, while maintaining scope for the site to evolve unexpectedly over time, offering positive and lasting impact.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Fieldwork’s cross-disciplinary expertise and inherent understanding of the artistic process allowed a rigorous design strategy to be developed, underscored by a strong belief in the value of art. Fieldwork undertook a strategic analysis of the suburb’s urban ecology to understand the site and its surroundings, examining what stood to be lost or gained in the site’s new incarnation as an arts precinct. Fieldwork actively engaged with local community members with experience in community and arts organisations to define the project’s core objectives and push the boundaries of the brief.

Diverse perspectives on workspaces, studio practice, collaboration, real-life exhibitions and human interactions in the digital age were collated into a publicly accessible journal, sharing valuable urban research insights with the public. Fieldwork then focussed on creating a two-way dialogue between Collingwood Yards, the streetscape and the wider community, cutting new incisions into the precinct to frame warm and inviting entry points. Fieldwork was driven by the aspiration to redefine and deepen the public’s engagement and understanding of art, not as a product to be framed and consumed, but rather, as a living, breathing and inseparable part of contemporary life. To this end, the design team considered how circulation and choreographed opportunities could engage the public in the entire process of artistic production, from early, experimental interrogation to more advanced stages of their work.

Fieldwork collaborated closely with Collingwood Yards to consolidate the project’s spatial program and selection of tenants; as the mix of tenants was rationalised, so too, were the spaces that house them.

Design Excellence

Collingwood Yards celebrates and bolsters Melbourne’s identity as a thriving, creative destination. Skilfully designed from a macro to micro scale, the community-centric design celebrates the inherent cross-pollination that comes with people sharing places and ideas. The porosity of the site presents an open invitation for public exploration and engagement with the arts, acting as a facilitator for creative and cultural production. As the first precinct of its kind in Australia, Collingwood Yards is a strong exemplar for adaptive and mixed-use, cultural precincts in Victoria, Australia and abroad. The project demonstrates the value of engraining arts and creativity in our inner-city communities, drawing on existing building stock as a vehicle for community activation.

By creating a dedicated, accessible and affordable home for creative pursuits, Collingwood Yards performs as a positive agent for change. The project demonstrates that retaining creative talent in the inner city benefits the broader community, with the precinct itself offering amenity, entertainment and an evolving creative narrative for the community to actively partake in. Additionally, demonstrating innovation and design excellence on a more physical level, main circulation routes were externalised for visibility and to increase public engagement, however, are also the main methods for universal access. Centring the lift shafts and fire stairs as the main design intervention on site, turned the pragmatic into the poetic, and ensured that these spaces could be enjoyed by all. Now home to more than 50 creative studios, entwined with retailers, galleries, cafes, bars and meeting spaces, Collingwood Yards is testament to Fieldwork’s expertise in mobilising creative urban spaces to create thriving community environments. The project sets a new standard for creative communities in Australia – positioning architecture as a medium to foster new ecologies and welcome the public into the process of artistic creation on a granular level.

Design Innovation

While the heritage-listed buildings of Collingwood Technical School are of social, historical and architectural significance, by 2016 the site was a vacant remnant of changing vocational training trends. Demonstrating innovation to foster the initiatives of Collingwood Arts Precincts Ltd (CAP), Fieldwork de-emphasised the school’s historic but imposing Art Deco entry with an incisive cut through the Johnston Street façade. Its stainless steel, micro-perforated cladding, refracts and mirrors the existing buildings, streetscape and community, creating a poetic dialogue between old and new. Fieldwork forged a more muted connection to Perry Street by crafting an external arcade to a rear bluestone laneway.

Stripped of typical signifiers of building entries, each pathways offers a porous route to the precinct’s broad central courtyard; a flexible event space, protected by a canopy of plane trees. To formalise the separate buildings into a cohesive cluster of tenant spaces, Fieldwork designed three vertical circulation nodes; sculptural objects for universal access. These routes attach to the old buildings as external structures, visually inviting the public to traverse the site with a sense of autonomy; a valuable interface to not only consume art but observe and participate in its creation. The lift shaft’s brickwork references the Technical School’s heritage palette, reworking the garden bond laying pattern in a gradation of charcoal to warm white.

External stairs are clad in contrasting galvanised steel grating, with branched forms, careful detailing and exuberant landing extensions transforming elements of code compliance into objects of beauty. Given Collingwood Yards operates as not-for-profit, Fieldwork was cognisant of using robust, enduring materials. New windows and doors are differentiated from original features using graphic black steel framing and golden orange glass – a contemporary take on historic bottle glass discovered on site. Interior corridors are relined with blue marmoleum floors and matching doors, echoing the site’s institutional past.

Design Impact

Collingwood Yards facilitates the social ambitions of Collingwood Arts Precincts Ltd (CAP). Low ongoing operational costs and successful commercial tenants allows rent to be subsidised for artists and art studios who reside in the precinct, supporting the broader goals of CAP: to develop a new model of providing affordable and sustainable arts space in Australia. In 2021, the Bank of Melbourne committed unique financial support to the landmark site’s transformation, forming a creative residency program designed to support artists and small collectives. Furthermore, the Collingwood Yards First Nations Studio Residency offers a free space for 24 months to a single artist or duo. Studio space is currently over-subscribed; testament to the project’s success and the public appetite for affordable, inner-city creative workspaces.

Collaborations continue to flourish amongst creatives, while the grounds have played host to a series of public events, such as Melbourne Fashion Festival, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Melbourne Design Week, PHOTO2022, Open House Melbourne and more. The precinct’s hospitality venues, including Hope Street Radio and Runner Up, reflect the vibrancy of Melbourne’s restaurant and bar culture, creating additional social glue that binds the greater precinct. Delivered on a modest, $11M budget, Collingwood Yards offers immeasurable social impact.

In a gentrifying Collingwood, as culture becomes more dissipated and less diverse, Collingwood Yards gives visibility to the whole lifecycle of art – making the artistic process less remote and more relevant to the social and cultural fabric of the city. Relaxed and open, Collingwood Yards’ architecture embraces the plurality of contemporary art and life, facilitating complexity in a site with its own history and layering. The precinct’s creative and cultural production forges a nuanced and evolving civic legacy of shared authorship, underscored by minimal interventions, precise incisions, accidents (of the artistic kind) and creative collisions between artists and the public.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

With around 40 percent of the world’s carbon created by the construction industry, Collingwood Yards presents a compelling alternative. The project capitalises on the extensive embodied energy of existing building infrastructure, favouring adaptive re-use over demolition and construction. The integration of passive design principals improves energy efficiency, while a focus on robust and sustainable design tenets elevates performance and experience.

Key sustainability initiatives for the project include:

  • Passive architectural design that favours natural ventilation and cross-flows to reduce energy consumption. Additionally, existing windows were sealed to reduce infiltration and improve thermal comfort during the colder months.
  • Existing materials were adapted and reused on site as much as possible, including the existing timber floorboards which were salvaged and retained.
  • 30kL rainwater tank that provides non-potable water for irrigation, as well as efficient fixtures and fittings selected to minimise water wastage.
  • End-of-trip facilities including showers and bike parking provided on-site to promote active transport measures. Furthermore, only 3 car parks are provided on site for temporary use, further encouraging visitors and tenants to use public transport. -All new works met low Volatile Organic Compound levels in line with best practice guidelines.
  • Hazardous materials identified in the existing building were removed or treated according to relevant Australian guidelines, and all new wall and roofing complies with the minimum BCA requirements.

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