Adelaide Studios

September 18, 2013

Grieve Gillett and Cox Richardson Architects combines the restoration of a Heritage-listed asylum administration building with a new addition to deliver a series of state-of-the-art film and production studios in Adelaide.

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An existing Neo-Gothic, former asylum administration building provides the current residence of Adelaide Studios for the production of television and film. With a somewhat chequered and intriguing past, the building – located at the former Glenside Hospital complex – is set amongst a Heritage-listed diaspora of buildings once used to treat the mentally ill. The western aspect at the site’s Fullarton Road entry point is now home to the clerical areas necessary for the operations of the studio’s tenants, whereas the east accommodates a new build incorporating film studios, creative suites for filming, postproduction and animation, as well as subsequent ancillary logistical programs.

Similar colour palettes and sight-lines visually connect the buildings


The overall site was once a rigorously, rectilinearly planned 134 acres, but as land was parcelled out and sold to various developers it has since been reduced to 75 acres. Intended to be a self-sufficient zone – producing wheat, farming sheep, harvesting a mulberry tree plantation, etc. – the site still has glimpses of the original planning strategy – namely its east–west axis running through the clocktower in the administration building. Grieve Gillett, the Adelaide-based architect of record, working on a managing contract with Cox Richardson Architects, Sydney, have valiantly tried to reinvest this axial route, strengthening its visual connections and its arterial possibilities for circulation.

External courtyard along the extant axis


The clocktower, a grand 32-metre spire, becomes the primary design driver to reinforce the axial route. Interestingly, while the clocktower is a defining feature of the building, it is no longer necessary in a world where the digital clock has almost made clocktowers redundant; it does, however, become an antiquated yet poetic visual connection. The studio spaces are intentionally removed as a visual competitor; indeed the studio’s height does not rise above the two-storey annex buildings to the rear of the clocktower.

Minimal connection at the intersection between old and new


Steve Grieve, partner at Grieve Gillett, was largely responsible for the forging of stakeholders involved in heritage, existing mental health facilities and the arts and culture scene. Grieve, a notable figure in the local arts culture, was able to cajole and convince the stakeholders that the coming together of such seemingly disparate fields was a viable option. But the project was not without issues synonymous with undertaking a restoration project of this nature. Extensive surveying of the existing building was required to identify where replacement or reinforcement was needed; internally this is best noted in the timber trusses in the lounge areas, which were warped and irrevocably contorted. Through the inclusion of added bracing and replacement of certain trusses, the lounge areas have been restored to their full structural capability.

Film studios – internal space


The building was once at the height of construction technology, with the inclusion of fireproof detailing, internal ventilation flues, and multi-light cast iron windows with opening casements small enough to prevent escape, plaster-lined trussed internal walls, composite steel and concrete floors and ceilings, together with a corrugated iron roof system. This is not to mention the exquisite detailing of the bluestone masonry, dressed sandstone and incised mastic work, all of which are examples of the skilled colonial builders.

Robust, contemporary materials


While much of the external fabric of the building has not suffered too much in terms of decay or weathering, internally the various inhabitants have, over the years, created an ad-hoc arrangement of internal partitions, lowered ceilings, bulkheads and services. The removal of such features revealed characteristics that the architects were at pains to maintain and restore, such as exposed steel beams, original paint schemes and decorative floor tiles. High pressure sand blasting helped strip back the layers of dirt from the bluestone and sandstone; sadly, however, budgetary restrictions have limited the amount of such restoration to select areas.

Given the demands of a production studio, it was critical to integrate all new services into the existing Heritage-listed building – in what were previously storage areas flanking the entrance lobby.

Arterial axis demarcates the site


Restoration work was necessary at the clocktower – requiring a seismic upgrade providing steel bracing – together with “tying each floor to the perimeter walls, [which was] a challenging task due to the original fireproof construction of steel and lime concrete floors,” according to Grieve.

The arterial axis was originally planned to segregate female and male patients in the mental health wards. It is interesting to consider the techniques employed to treat the patients at this time: the need for fresh air, light and tranquillity are set in contrast to the tight cellular spaces for containing the patients. However, the preserved plan arrangement offers the perfect spaces for small, individual studios. Joe Agius, director at Cox Richardson, suggests, “both the old and new architecture have a robust, no-nonsense character, resulting in an experientially rich and stimulating environment. Three courtyards link old and new, providing breakout spaces away from the intensity of filmmaking and further defining the axis.”

The film studios continue along this axis, with sight lines drawn from the existing structure identified in the brick-snap panelling and off-form concrete finishes.

The clever use of contemporaneous textures allows the new build to be reflective towards its existing elder but not overbearing or imbued with pastiche. There is a sense of proportion and attention to detail, the new stands alongside the old without conjoining too obviously so as to become competitive. The aesthetic difference between the cubic form of the Grieve Gillett and Cox Richardson new build is distinct in context with the existing building.

Internally, at the studio’s lobby and waiting area, the corridors have a consistency of material with full ceiling-to-floor height precast Brighton Light cement concrete panels, coming from outside to in, adding a sense of stark grandeur. The concrete and timber fins that striate vertically on the exterior elevations of the facade further this inflection. Such subdued moments carried through to the internal spaces of the theatres and production suits, reinforcing a material consistency and appreciation for the existing structure. The use of Spanish-imported Prodema exterior timber panel covering systems provide a visual warmth, softening the connections and intensifying the preservation of the old through the incision of the new.


The existing building’s Neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival style is in itself an act of preservation. Not insofar as it preserves or restores existing structures as it stands, but that in its inception in 1872 it was the referencing back to a bygone age and somewhat derelict use of the sixteenth century Gothic style. The Neo-Gothic comeback was based on the idea of eradicating the then present penchant for Neoclassical movements that were prevalent in mid-eighteenth century Europe.

Today, however, the building represents a different form of preservation – the conservation of a building and its style. As it stands it is an exemplary example of masterbuilding techniques in its complex stonemasonry detailing, decorative entablatures and pointed arch lintels. Somewhat poignantly, in its current guise, the existing building with its new addition is actually more successful in its programmatic use than its original. Where once style was preserved to create an institution that was to the detriment of its patients, now, through building preservation, it has become a state-of-the-art film and television studio facility.

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