Templestowe Reserve Sporting Pavilion

August 25, 2011

Zero carbon, water-neutral and iconic – a suburban sports club by PHOOEY Architects proves that small projects really can deliver big impacts.

The nature of ‘community’ in the Australian suburb is often questioned. Dependence on the car, lack of infrastructure, the demise of the milk bar in favour of the servo, the dominance of shopping ‘lands’ as opposed to local shops – all have eroded the potential for people to actually meet and talk. Sure, new suburbs have a ‘learning hub’ and the odd pagoda next to a lake, but when it comes to the complex formation of suburban community, the sporting pavilion is the last bastion.

The traditional salmon brick shed of my childhood weekends and 18th birthday parties has reached its use-by date, and in a cycle of suburban renewal, many local authorities are seeking to replace sporting facilities – particularly in the older suburbs within a 10-kilometre radius of our urban centres. These are home to remnant baby boomer empty nesters, but also those of their children that have returned to the suburbs after being priced out of the inner-city – all grown up and back to the ‘burbs, but perhaps with an agenda about creating a sustainable community for their children.

PHOOEY is an architectural practice built on a sustainability agenda, led by partners Peter Ho and Emma Young (hence PH..EY). A critical component of their work is concerned with ameliorating the wastefulness of building construction – through the re-use of building materials, but also through a strategic understanding of the elements that make up their architecture and how waste might be avoided in its creation. The heavily published and lavishly awarded Children’s Activity Centre at Skinners Playground confirmed the promise of this agenda, as first demonstrated in their early Port Phillip EcoCentre.

Templestowe is a firm middle suburb of Melbourne. Not too far out of town on the Eastern Freeway, in the flood plain of the Yarra, it was developed in the 1970s and presents as a tableau of rolling hills and clinker brick veneer. Its cul-de-sacs show some signs of gentrification, but the larger blocks seem to be resisting development. At the bottom of the hill, the Templestowe Reserve becomes a hive of activity on the weekends and during mid-week training sessions, with wide fields and courts for a variety of sports. Council’s ambition for the Reserve’s new pavilion was that it allow the pair of adjoining ovals to function simultaneously, but the aspiration from the architects extended well beyond this brief, as they sought to use it as a record of the suburb through its sport.

‘We took a variety of different approaches to celebrate the history of the club,’ states Ho. ‘We saw it as the opportunity to use the architecture to create spectacle, with the building itself being able to do a bit of a ‘Mexican wave’ by using different types of iconography.’ The architecture of the new pavilion is dramatically expressive, with an exuberant white steel frame launching from the solid clinker brick of the building volume proper, grabbing at the air. Essentially a collection of change rooms, toilets, a kitchen and a function/ committee room, this is bulk standard stuff done exceptionally well. The planning is smart, but it is in the formal language and materiality that the building comes to life.

‘The memory becomes more about people,’ says Young. ‘[It's] about its past players, football players, cricketers and people like Betty Stacker, the local tea lady, who has been there through it all over the past 50 years since she was 16. It’s about people who come together in the building to tell a story of who is important to this club.’ It emerges that the expressive white steel frame is in fact a third order abstraction of Betty’s autograph.

From the carpark, the building’s hulking form conveys a sense of grandeur far beyond its purpose, its weight anchoring it in the surrounding sea of asphalt and lawn. The steep sawtooth pitch of the roof gestures to the form of the 1970s suburb, while the ‘Big V’ references the chevron of a football jumper. The tiers of the stands allow a small crowd to look big; and place a sense of occasion firmly on the players, who must charge through the change room door through a brick ‘banner’. Here, the traditional crepe paper banner that national teams run through at the beginning of a game has been translated into textured figures in offset brickwork. The presence of past heroes has been cleverly cast into the skin of the new building.

‘The translation from the local club to the national level is about being able to run through the banner, about being able to be part of the Mexican wave in a great grandstand,’ says Ho. ‘So it’s about creating that kind of drama and atmosphere through the architecture. Local clubs don’t have banners as they don’t have the money, but it’s a unique element of Australian Rules Football, so it deserved to have a place in the building.’

Beyond the architectural expression, though, there is a serious zero-carbon, water-neutral agenda. The previous brick building was demolished and its debris used to form a labyrinth under the building to assist with passive cooling in summer. Recycled red bricks were brought to the site and the raw galvanised steel, concrete, colorbond and absence of applied finishes confirms the commitment to the greater life and maintenance of the building. Young explains, ‘The bigger questions we ask in our practice often revolve around how you revalue the things that you throw away. How do you transform something that is rubbish? And for us it’s a question of how you make it manifest the architecture, how it might become valuable through its use. This process causes us to re-evaulate these elements and considers them no longer as rubbish, but as beautiful and delightful. It’s not like we don’t do that in our culture, in vintage fashion, or manufacturing or industrial design.’

Unlike the architects, the only things that the club committee saw of value in their existing building was the memory of premierships and the banners that celebrate those achievements. In response, PHOOEY created a community room that could hold the honour role, the memory of the different jumpers, the autographs of the players, and a ceiling from which the premiership banners could be hung. At moments, the building becomes a piece of memorabilia, immortalising connections to its past in the manner of the Long Room at the MCC or Lords in London, which both recently sold squares of their monographed carpet saved from a skip by a fan.

‘We considered how we might represent that wider sporting community and how that might instill or generate a certain quality in the club rooms,’ says Peter. ‘The original idea was to have a Templestowe Cricket Club logo screen printed on recycled carpet tiles. This changed as the project developed to the point where we now have the final representation of ‘CC’ made in recycled carpet tiles. We like the fact that someone might draw a parallel with the MCG and understand how important the carpet is in that place as an identifier.’

So after this effort, and the struggle that a public building for multiple ‘stakeholders’ always ends up being, has the community embraced the architectural agenda? ‘As the club president said to me, “Peter, you guys have created the Sydney Opera House of sporting pavilions for us, and that’s how everybody in our neighbourhood knows our club.”‘ Ho continues, ‘They are going to put it on the membership card and that to me is its success; that accessibility and that the building has helped generate an identity for the club. It means the club will be able to grow, that more people will now come to this local icon in their little community. It’s great that architecture can play a role at this scale.’

Martyn Hook is associate professor of architecture at RMIT University, a director of iredale pedersen hook architects and the only person he knows in Victoria who supports Fremantle.

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