Within the concrete and glass walls of architect Robin Gibson’s original Mayne Hall a dramatic timber clad insertion provides display space for Queensland’s second largest art collection and Australia’s first National Self Portrait Collection: The James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre.
The project realises the intentions of many of the university’s early masterplans to have an Art Gallery in a prominent location on campus. Mayne Hall opened in 1973 and named in recognition of the generosity of donors Dr James O’Neil Mayne and his sister Miss Mary Emelia Mayne, was originally designed by Robyn Gibson. For 25 years the building had played an important role in university life as the venue for graduations, concerts and examinations, however declining public use and insufficient space for graduations provided an opportunity to address the need for a new facility for the Art Museum.
The client’s agenda for the project was to provide a facility to support the Centre’s mission to promote the University Art Museum and the self-portrait collection, foster awareness of Australian contemporary visual culture and to present an innovative and viable public program for the benefit of the University and wider community. This meant building a facility to museum best practice for climatic and security control, to preserve the growing collection and enable access to more significant loans from other institutions.
The architects recognised the importance of creating a new distinctive visual identity for the centre, whilst preserving the building’s envelope and recognising its cultural history. Wilson Architects were commissioned in April 2002 to realise the Hall’s transformation in the Mayne Centre.
The conceptual starting point for the project was to appreciate the core “bones” and logic of the existing fabric so as to reinvigorate and reorientate one’s experience of the building with the careful insertion of new spaces and uses. A bold timber clad form is inserted into the existing volume creating tension around the edges of the hall that greatly enhance the appreciation of Gibson’s use of natural light. The inserted 2 storey ‘pod’ which houses the gallery space was conceived as a dynamic fluid counterpoint to the existing rigid geometry of the existing building. This concept also addresses issues of controlling the natural light in the galleries and delivering the sophisticated level of services required.
A simple intuitive circulation path through the galleries is articulated by the play with light and texture. Insertion of the pod created the opportunity for dramatic spaces between the new and old that allow the visitor to read the original volume and experience dynamic spatial changes while moving through the gallery. The gallery is unique in its utilisation of views out of the building allowing the visitor to frequently re-orient themselves within the broader landscape.
From the exterior the transformation is subtle; a contemporary rejuvenation. Neville Matthews’ window has been conserved reclaiming the transparency of the upper section of the window and the luminosity of the coloured panels. The dominant mission brown steel beams and fascia has been painted a soft steel grey and the brown tinted glazing replaced with a structural glazing system of high performance glass with a soft grey tint. The slight modification of the fenestration to the south including the removal of a metre high air conditioning duct has opened up views to Forgan Smith Building and inside the gallery. New storage spaces and offices were located to the west so as to minimise the impact on the Forgan Smith forecourt.
A long pond in the forecourt surrounded by a monoculture garden is a subtle means to shift emphasis to the building’s entry without modifying the envelope and the series of fountains, which spray into the pond, animate the space.
Inside the gallery the palate is subdued. The stained hoop pine battens that wrap the pod are a textural counterpoint to the vertical striations of Gibson’s external concrete panels. On the ground floor a dark grey carpet with soft loop pile was chosen for acoustic and ambient reasons. The mezzanine gallery’s spotted gum floor gives a move lively sense to the spaces intended to house temporary exhibitions. From the mezzanine, visitors can view over the naturally lit northern concourse or take in views of Forgan Smith through windows punctuating the southern protective wall of the pod. In the foyer a staircase has been left as a curious remnant of the old hall’s balcony. The staircase was transformed into an incidental gallery for the curated exhibition of artefacts and objects from the Universities many collections.
The concert pipe organ which is a focal part of the hall’s history, has been retained with the provision to hold performances for approximately 100 people. The skin of the pod is modulated to create favourable acoustics for organ music while addressing the needs of the gallery users.
Perhaps cognisant of the hall’s opportunities, Wilson Architects have inadvertently realised a couple of Gibson’s original concepts in the scheme. The redesign of the air-conditioning system allowed the northern alcoves which are gently lit with clerestory windows, to be utilised for art display. By flanking the organ with partitions and accounting for the advantages of 24 hour climate control the architects were able to reinstall Gibson’s clerestory lights which once washed down the stages proscenium.
Upgrading the facility’s services in a building where cables were imbedded in concrete walls and captured in inaccessible ceiling spaces proved challenging for the design team. Mechanical ducts, service cables are concealed within the display walls rising over a new 600 square metre plant room (25 times the size of the original plant room) carved out of the Brisbane tuff under the old hall floor. The existing timber floor was sold for recycling to make way for a new concrete floor that would accommodate the load of the Museum’s scissor lift and provide moisture and acoustic separation from the under croft.
The design and construction of the project has taken 2 years, completed within a construction budget of $6.5M. An additional 1415 square metres of floor space was created in the scheme making the facility a total of 3100 square metres. The program includes 220 metres of display wall in 1350 square metres of public gallery, and 190 square metres of collection storage.