The Main Building
The original building comprised three main sections – the boiler house, turbine room and switch house. The switch house section faces the River and adjoins the turbine room. The latter adjoins the remnants of the boiler house, the dominant volume of the original complex. The boiler house was demolished in 1984, but its remnant walls have ensured that “the powerhouse is still readily identifiable as consisting of three distinct components” (Allom Lovell 1998, p. 10).
The main building’s external walls “are carefully composed architecturally to form a tripartite division” (Allom Lovell 1998), p. 10). The plain rendered basement walls contrast with the more elaborate treatment of the brickwork above.
The main volume of the building is “strongly articulated to provide a rhythm of vertically proportioned openings and piers” (p.10). The use of restrained decoration, the strongly horizontal parapet and the articulation of the building’s volumes tend to break down the scale of the structure. By contrast the sheer, raw face of the remnant wall on the north west side of the building provides evidence of the vast scale of the boiler house.
The 1999 conversion acknowledges and expresses the various phases of the building’s existence. From its days as the powerhouse for the entire tram network through to its recent years of dereliction, evidence of each era has been selected and retained. The additions to the complex are generally light, framed structures. The entry structure in particular, punctuating the massive boiler room wall, provides a telling contrast between the old and the new.
The site of the demolished boiler room is now a large entry plaza, its boundaries suggested by the low remnants of brick walls. New pedestrian paths link this space with New Farm Park and the new Powerhouse Park on the north east side of the building. A new galvanised steel-framed canopy delineates another path from the plaza to Lamington Street. The one remaining full-height boiler room wall is now the dramatic entry elevation of the complex. The brickwork retains its scars and stains and the insertion of a slender glazed entrance foyer heightens the mass and scale of the wall. A series of morse code emitting lanterns occupies existing openings and penetrations.
The entry leads into the former turbine room, which accommodates most of the performing arts facilities in the complex – a rehearsal room and 200 seat thrust theatre at river plaza/basement level, a 400 seat flexible theatre at entry plaza/ground level and a general performance area in the huge foyer void at the southwest end of the building. The switch room provides a bar and gathering spaces at ground level, with spectacular river views through the large existing windows. A new restaurant will operate in the basement or river plaza level of the switch room, while the Powerhouse administration occupies the top level.
A new concrete and glass extension on the north east of the building houses dressing rooms and the production offices of resident arts companies. Throughout the building, commissioned artworks such as Julie Rap’s Power Walker and Sheridan Kennedy’s Optogemel are interspersed with remnants of old powerhouse machinery and the restless patterns of existing graffiti.
The new built work is robust and functional in keeping with the original.
The Stores building
The Store building is a simple, elegant structure. Like the main building, the walls are of load-bearing brick, articulated into a pier and panel system but entirely rendered. The Stores building accommodates rehearsal space, offices, amenities and a 12m high studio for ‘physical theatre’. It is linked to the entry courtyard via a new access bridge, lift tower and open stair. The main alteration to the stores building fabric is the removal of the existing roof. The new metal-clad roof has been raised above parapet level to accommodate the physical theatre studio.
The Powerhouse has undergone major renovations in the course of its conversion to a performing arts centre. Restoration and stabilisation of the existing building fabric was accorded high priority in the works. It could be assumed that the building is in good condition. Inspection of the building fabric of such a large complex is beyond the scope of this report.