Art House

Review of Grant Pirrie Gallery and Residence, Redfern by Jahn Associates, HOUSES Magazine, Vol.37. 2004.

Being the owner of an internationally acclaimed and highly awarded inner city Sydney warehouse conversion (Grant House, Surry Hills) you would think that Stephen Grant would never want to move.  However strange things happen, and again he has brought in his architect, Graham Jahn, to convert a two-storey ironmonger’s workshop in the next suburb into a contemporary art gallery with residence above.

After scouring the city for a suitable location Stephen and his partner, Brigette Pirrie, chose this site for its corner frontage, wide span, good ‘bones’ and openness to the sky. It had had a fair bit of attention in recent year with some notable architects having prepared designs but none as yet had been executed. Graham’s design was an adaptation of a previously approved scheme. The essence of the idea is a new insertion into an existing framework but with the innards completely reworked.  External walls have been kept and new layers have been superimposed.  From the street, the dignified grey exterior gives little away about the excitement inside.

Entry to the ground floor gallery is through generous pivot doors that engage with the footpath and street allowing the art crowds to flow between inside and out. Council resisted their inclusion at first, wanting a more traditional arrangement of central door with windows either side.  The architect persevered and now council hold them up as a benchmark for contemporary intervention in heritage buildings. The big glass doorshave handles that are the sucker type that glaziers use for carrying sheets of glass.

Ground floor is open plan except for a long linear corridor that runs along the southern wall.  This slot accommodates the back of house space with storage and racking. I t shields the gallery space from direct daylight whilst creating an additional hanging wall in lieu of windows.  During functions, doors slide back into secret cavities at both ends and close off the space.

Further adaptability comes in the form of a large moving display box on wheels that divide the room into various sizes as required.  Small details clad solid panels that swing out on hydraulic arms and boat fixtures.  They are angled to control privacy to and from the adjacent pub.  The zinc clad roof folds up and cantilevers overhead allowing a long horizontal slot of windows without any visible support.  The space at the eastern end was intended as the secondary living space, a retreat from the more public space downstairs.  However at the time of this visit some re-arranging has been going on in preparation for the couple’s new baby who was to arrive home the next day.

Detailing is driven by the contrast of technology and natural materials such as timber and zinc, which have been chosen for their weathering characteristics.  Unique solutions are found throughout: the illuminated square white resin pedestal basin in the en suite bathroom; the perforated steel abattoir flooring used as sliding doors to storage cupboards.

This house is significant architecture and not surprisingly the owner’s love living in it. The only risk is that if they have many more babies they’ll run out of space and have to move. Fortunately they’ve got a good architect to design their next home.