With 17 concrete pipes stacked to create a three story façade, there’s no missing Techne Architect’s redevelopment of High Street’s Prahran Hotel. Techne Director and Project Architect Justin Northrop discusses the long relationship and adventurous nature of client Sand Hill Road, working with 7 tonne concrete pipes and the ability of architecture to capture people’s imagination…
Even for a contemporary pub, the High Street façade is certainly one of a kind. Is it true the client’s brief was to offer both a more conventional design and a design never seen before in an Australian pub?
Yes it is true, though like most projects we tend to present a range of ideas at the start of a project. In this particular case, the client immediately jumped at the most exciting idea and let us run with it.
Did you suspect they were going to go for the more achievable (and assumingly more affordable) design? It can’t be too often that a client says let’s be adventurous.
Actually we expected the client to go for the most adventurous idea. We have been working with Sandhill Road for a number of years now and the rapport with them is very strong. The client really enjoys the process and trusts us to work with them to achieve amazing results. The adventurous nature ultimately comes from a mature relationship that the team has and a client that really understands their business and how great design fits into the business model.
Was a façade comprising of stacked concrete piping something that had been thought about before this brief?
No, it was new thinking within this office purely for this project. It stemmed from initially thinking about how to incorporate art deco circular motifs into the design which are prevalent in the original part of the pub at the front. The pipes idea was an evolution of design thinking that moved from simply being a graphic consideration to a structural and programmatic solution. Collectively, the team quickly realised that we had established a design concept that was quite original and we all channeled our research and development into making it a reality.
What was involved in establishing it was a feasible design response for this site?
Naturally, it was a step by step process for all of the requirements of the project, but understanding and working out the constructability of the stacked pipes came from the collaborative efforts of our project Architects, the builder (Visual Builders), structural engineer (Parkhill Freeman) and the pipe manufacturer (Humes).
Can you give an overview of materials required to realise the design?
There are 17 pipes in total, each 2.25m diameter. The weight of the pipes vary from 2.5 tonnes to 7.4 tonnes each.
How was the design constructed? Were the pipes brought in whole? How were they moved and stacked in to place?
The standard drainage pipes with customized steel reinforcing and connection points were individually pre-fabricated in a factory in Laverton, transported to site by truck and craned into position. The façade was put together in stages over a few days.
Was it a challenge finding a builder who was able to execute this design? Did construction go relatively to plan and schedule?
It wasn’t difficult finding a builder. Tony Lewis and his team from Visual Builders work on all of Sand Hill Road’s pubs. The pre-planning of the pipe fabrication and coordination with Humes to use their product in an entirely new way was the most difficult part – once the pipes arrived to site as scheduled the installation happened fairly easily. It was a swift and gratifying part of the construction phase to witness.
The pipes are more than just a façade – they are part of the internal design as well – can you elaborate?
The pipes are more than just a façade because they are spaces that people occupy as booths for drinking and dining. They are the primary windows of the space giving natural light and outlook from the interior spaces and they provide the defining decorative and graphic motif to the space in a very strong and purposeful way.
What other key elements are present in the internal design of the site?
- The central courtyard with its hanging garden elements and Chinese elm which allow the spaces to breathe and give softness through foliage.
- The bar with its recycled pipe front.
- The suspended half pipe central booth
Melbourne’s hospitality market is extremely competitive and new venues continue to open. How important is distinctive design for a pub or restaurant in this current marketplace?
It is a very competitive market and operators have to be doing a great job in all facets of their businesses, however distinctive design is so important because it can be so compelling for people. All the design basics have to be right in terms of comfort and functionality, but architecture has the added bonus of capturing people’s imagination and draws them back over and over again…
The Prahran Hotel
82 High Street, Prahran VIC 3181
By Matt Hurst