Hill Thalis Architecture

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Architype Dialogue presents

Philip Thalis

What was the most difficult issue about working on an adaptive reuse project or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?

Like many cities, Sydney is dotted with disused, dilapidated or mutilated former theatres. How to adapt such buildings while respecting their fabric and retaining their scale? The Majestic strives to be an architectural exemplar of imaginative adaptation, combining viability with conservation, inserting livability while respecting the building’s tough character.

Theatre buildings however are large singular volumes, generally shutting out the light, designed for seating crowds. So at the Majestic, the challenge for us was to insert many intimate, light-filled apartments without loosing the authentic scale and robust presence of the original building, which had already been altered a number of times.

Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?

The architect’s role is constantly evolving, constrained by burgeoning regulation, subject to severe financial constraint, challenged by clients who demand the seemingly impossible. Indeed we advised the clients not to buy this former theatre, as we thought it too fraught to adapt. Luckily our clients insisted, forcing us to confront how best to transform the derelict building.

All the apartments are given a powerful relationship to the existing fabric. Following the structural bays’ rhythm, dramatic openings are meticulously cut through the solid brickwork of the lane, side and rear elevations. Allowing light, air and outlook, new openings have large-scale aluminium screens which echo the former plaster screens. The original trusses are exposed in the loft apartments. The large painted sign high on the rear facade is adapted, with new sliding panels concealing bedroom windows behind. We could not have conceived of such moves in a new building – this adaptive project broadened our thinking about the character of urban housing.

How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?  

City living is one of humanity’s constant challenges, renewed and reappraised in every city across each century. Imbuing quantities with qualities, good urban housing must accommodate with dignity the most people in the limited space available.

Humans love cities because they are so adept at adapting to circumstances. The unusual situation offers new possibilities, and people want to make housing their own. Set in a gritty urban neighbourhood, the transformation of The Majestic will show that otherwise unwanted, large and awkward heritage buildings can be sympathetically and profitably transformed.

In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

Our practice has long combined practice, teaching and research, always focused on the material conditions of architecture and the city. The Majestic challenges notions of type, as it imposes a cellular residential typology within the singular volume of the theatre type. Obviously we are well aware of the contemporary fascination with hybrid types, in which fresh architectural propositions emerge directly from the clash of place and programme. Rather than being confined to the silos of hermetic theory or research, we are interested in academia and practice – that both broadly engage with the pressing realities of society and the planet.


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