The Australian Ballet Refurbishment in Melbourne by HASSELL Studio.
As one of the world’s most renowned ballet companies, The Australian Ballet has been synonymous with effortless beauty and powerful performance for over 50 years. HASSELL has recently completed a 13 million dollar refurbishment of their facilities, located in the heart of Melbourne‘s Arts Precinct, alongside the NGV, Arts Centre and Hammer Hall. The breathtaking interior champions the Australian landscape with bespoke detailing, raising the spatial experience to the same level as the Company’s critically acclaimed performances.
Catering for 110 staff and 79 dancers, with capacity for future expansion, the new interior deftly combines multiple spatial typologies ranging from workplace, public café, specialist medical facilities, common room and dancer’s change room. A large dance studio was designed to fit the stage of the State Theatre where the Company regularly performs.
With this project, HASSELL explores a series of unique needs of their client and celebrates their legacy. The central ribbon-like steel staircase connecting the two levels is just wide enough for two tutus to pass each other. The clever use of materials throughout the interior forms a balance between delicacy and strength as a metaphor for the dedication, athleticism and prowess of the Australian Ballet performances. Custom terrazzo flooring created in collaboration with Fibonacci Stone plays a central role in the public spaces, offering a visual reminder to the shape and silhouette of the ballet shoe.
The minimalist approach to the interior architecture, with its interplay of frosted glass and fluid lines, creates the illusion of a performance stage, where the space acts as a backdrop for the dancers themselves. The subdued colour palette, with accents of striking navy, draws inspiration from the seasonal shifts in the Australian landscape and soft, silken textures of dancers’ ballet costumes.
While capturing the heart of the Australian Ballet Company and maintaining a delicate harmony between the permanence of material, HASSELL successfully balances both the prowess known to be at the heart of dance with the permanence of its materials used within its interior.
We caught up with Leah Hudson-Smith, Senior Interior Designer at HASSELL to talk more about this beautiful project.
+ What was your design inspiration for The Australian Ballet refurbishment?
The design for the project responds to the client brief – they were keen to reflect ‘Australia’ in The Australian Ballet fit out so we looked to ques from the natural landscape. The repeated soft circular forms talk of both dance and nature and the colour palette, a soft light backdrop with bold staged accents forms the base of the company’s ever evolving artistry.
The concept of the ‘stage’ was integral to the planning and material choices also. We were keen to expose parts of the ‘behind the scenes’ workings of the company but still keep an element of mystery and magic. We did this by creating deliberate sight lines from public access areas to key elements like the pointe shoe store, and masking other elements with frosted glass pavilions within the space. The layers of glass give only a ‘hint’ to the activity within the facilities – revealing only silhouette forms keeps the mystery and privacy for the dancers and still invites the curiosity of the public.
The design is also closely related to the 2018 Australian Ballet marketing photography + campaign of the company (example of which is shown below).
+ Your approach to materiality is quite minimal in this project, with each colour and finish playing a key role within the interior, especially in the public spaces. Could you talk us through your selections and your decision-making process, and how important this was in your overall design strategy?
The Ballet company has so much colour and life themselves. We saw the building as a canvas or stage for their personality to take the centre stage so we intentionally wanted the architectural envelope of the interior to be minimal and consistent throughout. The space required a unique combination of facilities – integrating medical, musical, athletic and conventional workplace type spaces, the material choices had to be hard wearing, high performing and functional in nature. We used the colour palette of these materials to soften the space throughout, adopting a minimal approach – frosted white, light grey and salmon hue with an occasional bold accent of deep navy blue.
+ You worked with Fibonacci Stone to develop your own bespoke terrazzo for this project. Can you tell us a little bit about this process, and give us some insight into the story behind this special colour?
We were really keen to have something special and bespoke for the flooring. I worked with Michael Karakolis from Fibonacci Stone to develop a beautiful terrazzo tile inspired by the silk of the Ballet dancer’s pointe shoe that was so integral to our overarching design concept. We referred to the pointe shoe throughout the design to emphasise the athleticism and hard work that goes into the amazing productions performed by the Ballet. The Terrazzo really ties it all together and marries the two levels together at the ribbon stair where the custom glass joinery displays the dancer’s point shoes.
+ What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this project to life?
Like any commercial project there are always challenges, but we kept the design intent at the forefront in every conversation. There were certainly elements we had to fight for and some things we had to let go of, but at the end of the day the result is a beautiful space with state of the art facilities and I hope it helps to keep the Ballet at the forefront of the World’s leading Ballet companies.
+ Is there anything new you learned?
Wow, we learned so much about Ballet! I really had no idea how much hard work and dedication was involved in each production, it’s such a specialised art form that takes a huge team of people to deliver, years of training and dedication. They dare to be different and we attempted to capture that spirit in the design of the project.
+ Any other interesting facts about this project you could share with us?
The point shoe store tells a story – each of the glass boxes in the custom joinery unit is home to the shoes of one individual dancer, they can have up to 50 pairs of shoes! The pointe shoe store is visible from the public café and looks like a glass jewellery box with a soft pink hue. As the dancers travel away from Melbourne on tour, they take a number of shoes with them. The shoe store depletes and grows throughout the year thus displaying the lifecycle of the Ballet Dancer’s tools.