Maitland Regional Art Gallery

By Paul Berkemeier Architect in association with Barry McGregor & Associates

Maitland Regional Art Gallery, photographs by Adrian Boddy. Copyright, all rights reserved.

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

Maitland, the ‘heart of the hunter’, is a river-side city with grand buildings dating back to the early 1800s. Whilst the relatively new shopping malls on the periphery are thriving, the historic civic and cultural centre and retail areas along High Street have lost their prominence over the years. The redeveloped Gallery is the cornerstone of the planned re-emergence of High Street as its civic core.

The new building mirrors the setback of the former church, now theatre, on the opposite side of James Street and adds a new arrival point to the site. The sculpture forecourt draws people into the building by interacting with the adjacent public space, forming the fourth side of a public square between the theatre, gallery and town hall.

What problems did you have to solve?

The Gallery needed to unite the existing complex of two early 20th century buildings. These tell a remarkable story about the rapid change in architectural expression of the time. A richly-detailed streetfront building designed by Walter Liberty Vernon in 1908 in the Federation Gothic style was only partly completed before budgetary constraints halted the two grand wings planned for the rear. Instead, a pragmatic and economic separate building was constructed in 1911.

The new Gallery building reveals this narrative of lost ambition and changes in architectural intent. The half-complete brick walls, in-filled openings and toothed nibs are therefore left visible through voids and openings in the new work.  

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

Prominent artists were engaged from the outset, with a permanent installation embedded in the building fabric.

The team for this project included: the builder Brisland; Taylor Thomson Whitting as the Structural Engineers; Steensen Varming as the Mechanical & Electrical Engineers; Acor Consultants as Hydraulic & Civil Engineers; and Acoustic Studio as Acoustic Engineers.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

The project was realised on a very modest budget measured against the required floor area and facilities. The main gallery spaces in the new building are, by necessity and design, simple and flexible. More complexity and detail was reserved for the spaces that mark the interface between the new work and the original buildings.

While the environmental requirements of visiting exhibitions meant that mechanical and lighting systems could not be compromised, the underlying structural and construction systems and details in the new work utilise conventional, economical industrial techniques by budgetary necessity, beneath an elaborated skin.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

The new complex utilises high thermal mass in its floors and external walls, protected by an insulated, lightweight outer envelope.  Window openings are limited to maintain gallery conditions and contain solar access. Those windows that are present have been carefully considered to frame contextual vignettes and articulate the junctions between old and new.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

While its conversion to an Art Gallery is only recent, the former Maitland Technical College campus has had a strong presence in the fabric of central Maitland for over a century. This new infill work completes the process of adaptive re-use of the site to provide a community building that will invigorate the street and surrounding suburbs. It combines facilities to exhibit permanent and visiting collections as well as dedicated areas for children, art workshops, a gallery shop selling the work of local artists, and a café.