A theatrical performance

04 Sep 2012

The Glasshouse: Arts, Conference and Entertainment Centre in the Australian Regional Town of Port Macquarie Proves Its Worth

The Glasshouse: Arts, Conference and Entertainment Centre comprises a 600-seat theatre, 600m2 Regional Art Gallery, studio theatre, conference centre, Council offices, shop, visitor information centre, caf/bar, commercial kitchen, educational facilities, community workshops and public foyer located in the centre of Port Macquarie, a rapidly-growing coastal city north of Sydney, Australia. The project brief was to establish the Glasshouse as the pre-eminent performance and exhibition arts facility in the region. "it is one of the most beautiful venues I have been in certainly in Australia, but around the world just a fantastic facility". Richard Evans, Chief Executive, Sydney Opera House.

The design is based on openness and accessibility. The welcome to all citizens is heralded by the ribbon-shaped glazed first floor foyers that wrap around the sculpted form of the tall auditorium, swelling outwards, offering views of the Pacific Ocean and extending the public way inside. The foyer and building expression is generated by the contrasting orders of the city grid and the voluminous theatre shell, with its level 3 echo, the glass 'skirt' cantilevering over the town's main street. Shaped voids and overhangs are created to facilitate street shade, airflow and an exciting architectural journey from street to auditorium.

The design anticipated significant archaeological relics from the convict era, in the form of footings of a series of 1820's cottages. They were not fully revealed until the existing buildings were demolished, and once exposed the footings were preserved and revealed to the public in the basement and interpreted on the ground floor of the foyer.

Efficient planning allows the building to accommodate a range of users; important for a regional facility where operational costs are a key factor in the long-term viability. The gallery is located to share the foyer space of the theatre, allowing exhibitions to fill the public spaces of the building and, in low-visitation days, the centre to be operated with minimal staff. The building was inspired by and utilises the abundant local timber that the Hastings community proudly remember as the same used in the Sydney Opera House. The Upper Foyer and Gallery floor comprise five locally sourced Australian hardwood species, welcoming the natural impurities of some timber and increasing the amount of the tree that can be used. The Auditorium is a semi-traditional proscenium horseshoe, with a fully equipped lyric stage and fly tower. Operable sound-screens enable the space to be used for classical concert music. It is here in the auditorium that the multivalent qualities of timber, acoustic and aesthetic, are fully exploited. The rear panels, known as ‘the twisters', provide a range of acoustic requirements for the reflection, dispersion and absorption of sound that embrace the audience and form sculptural cliffs in the subdued lighting. The orchestra pit is hydraulically raised and lowered to increase the flexibility of the space. All sightlines have been computer modelled, and the sound performance designed to exacting standards.

"I can't think of any other that's as beautiful and complete as this complex. It's extraordinary: the warmth of the theatre, the acoustics. Your voice literally goes to the back wall and comes back and hits you in the forehead. It's very, very hard to build them and it's very hard to find them to work in as an actor". Sandy Gore, renowned Australian stage actor.

The location of the building was determined, after a detailed Options Study by TZG, taking into account environmental concerns as well as proximity to retail, restaurants and accommodation. "It's excellent for tourism, it's a new market to attract, not only a Sydney market, it's a catchment area of about three hours around. Someone might be in Coffs Harbour and see what's on at the Glasshouse and come down for the performance and stay overnight and that's good for all the businesses, not just accommodation as they go out somewhere to eat, no doubt they'll have to fill up their car with petrol, so it's a great boost". Kathy Balodis, Chair, Mid-North Coast Regional Tourism Organisation.

In a cutting-edge local environmental initiative, water is extracted from the Hastings River, passed through a series of heat pumps, providing heating and cooling for the building's Air Conditioning system, and then returned to the river at the correct temperature. Passive ventilation of the building is enabled by a system where air enters below the foyer via a plenum, penetrates the mezzanine through grilles and leaves via a Ventury exhaust system at the roof.

The building's commercial and architectural success has been endorsed by a ground-breaking 3-year cultural partnership formed between the Glasshouse and the Sydney Opera House. The Open House program provides regional audiences with previously unattainable cultural and education programs and events while affording the Opera House a second space with world class facilities. Open House adds to the already increased level of tourism and business that the Glasshouse has generated in this developing regional centre, concurrently reinvigorating the town centre and according a sense of pride for the local community. "The realisation of the Glasshouse has been a lengthy process and the architects are commended for their tenacity in meeting the many technical, political and financial challenges with ingenuity and exceptional skill". Australian Institute of Architecture Awards Jury Panel.

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