Review of fitout by Suters Architects, Jones Bay Wharf, Pyrmont, ARTICHOKE Magazone, vol. 08/02 September 2004. 

Pyrmont has been a focus of architectural and planning discussion overthe last fifteen years. Its unique peninsula location adjacent the Sydney CBD and its abandoned industrial heritage landscape left it a prime site for what urban designer’s call an, ‘urban village’. A provocative idea, however intangible that term may be. Consequently every expert committee and master-class has prepared a study for the suburb’s ‘vision’. Time has passed and the reality has come out in the wash.  New apartment buildings have arisen alongside original industrial structures, many of which have been retained, as have warehouse and wharf buildings. Whether that be for restrictive heritage legislation or floor space bonus incentive, the result is that a diverse albeit white collar suburb has arisen that bears some resemblance to the urban designers’ dream.  For a time, Pyrmont looked to become the dot com mecca, however the tech wreck took care of the geeks and a wider range of professional and commercial users are progressively moving into the area.

Jones Bay Wharf is a finger wharf from Sydney’s working harbour history and lies on the eastern side of the Pyrmont peninsula. It was the recent subject of an ‘adaptive re-use’ overhaul with Bates Smart as the architects, transforming it to a series of refurbished tenancies that kept a strong sense of the building’s origins. Typical of finger wharves, there is a central circulation path that extends the length of the wharf and leads to nowhere. All the tenancies have their entries off the central driveway so an overlapping of pedestrian and vehicular traffic is somewhat awkward. The tenancies themselves are sealed off from the roofed central driveway for security and noise isolation and duly air-conditioned.
Nonetheless the building operates much more successfully with commercial tenancies than with residential apartments where, as seen elsewhere in this city, developers have shoe-horned living spaces into poorly accessed, inappropriate volumes without cross ventilation.

Suters Architects were looking for a space to combine its two Sydney offices. They were attracted to this space for its proximity to the city though still detached. As well as its waterfront siting there was also the appeal of the chunky heritage stuff. The precedent came from their Newcastle office which is housed in an historic bond store on the industrial waterfront.  In many ways, the architecture was already there so the challenge for Suters was to insert their interventions without confusing the already texturally rich space. All the original structure is exposed and the high spaces maintained. Sprinklers and services pipes have been painted black and brown to disappear into the ceiling space although all still visible. The undersides of timber floors and herringbone struts are all on view. As Dino DiPaolo, a principal of Suters Architects and project architect for their fitout admits, they didn’t have to do much. “We did all the white stuff”, explains Dino. He is referring to the simple white high gloss joinery and workstations that were inserted into the space. Only a few new walls were required. It is a restrained approach that contrasts the old with the new. An effort was made to detach new from existing and consequently most of the joinery is pulled away from the old walls. This creates a multilayered space where the various interventions can be understood.

The tenancy occupies two structural bays on the lower levels of the four storey building. These two bays have been divided into public and private spaces respectively. The public zone houses the entry, reception, meeting rooms and kitchen while the private bay accommodates the open plan office spaces. The open plan nature lends itself to the heritage qualities of the space.  An original timber slatted screen divides the two spaces along the line of structure. Presumably built for securing goods, it was required to be preserved as a heritage item. Not an overly onerous condition as it subtly screens the spaces and is a finely scaled backdrop element that provides a foil to the slick reception area.

The space is dominated by the big cantilevered white reception desk which seems to occupy most of the space and shoots the cleanest of horizontal lines from front to back. It is so generously sized that more than one group can use it simultaneously. The desk sits on a timber platform raising the level for the receptionists behind and also giving a visual separation from the existing floor and fabric. This theme is used throughout, whereby old and new are clearly articulated.

At the rear of the space are two meeting rooms. The smaller room of the two is a quiet room for confidential meetings. It is glass-walled with pulldown blinds for privacy. The larger meeting room across the full width of the bay opens through large glass sliding doors to the wharf and waterfront. Artworks that have been supplied by various artists selected by Suters, adorn the wall. Every two months an exhibition complete with opening night is held in the space. For Suters the motive is partly commercial but also an opportunity to assist young artists and utilise a suitable space. It seems a clever model for corporate life.

The room is closed off from the reception area with a large sliding door on an easy track system. The door stiles are large aluminium commercial frame sections full height which give a robust simplicity to the detailing.

On the other side of the screen a series of workstations runs down the middle with cabling neatly hidden under the desks in a central trunk. Big floating shelving units define and fill the double storey space and provide some privacy and definition of space. The mezzanine above crosses both of the bays and leaves a large void space from where ‘management’ can look down on the staff below. The opportunity for the odd bit of internet ‘downtime’ is greatly diminished in this slightly intimidating arrangement.  The mezzanine has more office space and some informal meeting tables as well as built-in bench seating adjacent the upstairs kitchen.

In modifying this space as their own, Suters Architects have created an office which, due to its success goes some way to explaining the compelling question: how do architects afford real estate as good as this?