- Article by Online Editor
- Photography by John Gollings
- Architect Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp
The malaise of social infrastructure design in the mid-20th century, dominated by the continual propagation of archaic planning concepts and poor aesthetic criteria, has delivered a rash of unfortunate architectural legacies. Police stations in particular have been markedly undernourished pieces of architecture in recent years.
Modern tradition has dictated the separation of the function of policing from public view, with the unfortunate consequence of propagating a distrust in this most critical of public services. Police stations have become defined by cramped and dark foyer spaces, with little or no visibility into the administrative areas of the building. This experience does not reflect the changing image and function of policing, where the emphasis is now on community participation and public transparency.
The new Bayside Police Station was inspired by a desire on the part of former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Christine Nixon, to reconnect policing back to the community, and Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (FJMT) has re-imagined the police station as a highly interactive community hub and sustainable workplace. The new building is in line with the practice’s more recent projects, which have sought to define an open and layered approach to built space, crafted in rich and well-considered detail. These virtues, together with the completeness and clarity of FJMT’s work, have assisted in connecting the Bayside Police Station back to its community, while promoting a calm and respectful public image for its police force.
Located in the heart of Sandringham Village, the Station is the home for a new regional police facility that brings together traffic management, uniform branch, crime investigation and regional response units under one roof. The brief required a new armature that was civic in nature and capable of accommodating approximately 100 collocated personnel. In response to this, FJMT developed a concept around a sequence of double-storey internal framed open spaces that would in theory combine to drive the public realm all the way through the centre of the project.
On arrival at the building, one is immediately struck by how this concept has been able to deliver on its promise. A two-storey archway statement is clearly articulated in a manner not too dissimilar to a classical portico, fronting the main forecourt and defining the formal entry point into the building. The arch is formed by two robust in-situ cast concrete sidewalls and completed at the top by a scalloped timber-capping element, which seemingly rolls out from the double-height foyer behind. The use of concrete within the archway establishes a strong and forthright demeanour, which defines the project and its function as a civic entity. However, it is the signature of the timber element at the top that subtly introduces a warmer, more human dimension and a dialogue with the beachside setting of Port Phillip Bay.
A low-scaled terracotta box is positioned in the middle of the building, denoting the public entry point, but also helping, via the use of red brickwork, to contextualise it with the surrounding houses. This crisply detailed form is fully detached from the archway, so that light and views can extend around its sides. The first point of contact with the building is through the entry air lock. This area has been slightly over-scaled, to allow it to double as the after-hours lobby and reception point. The space features a fully glazed roof incorporating a system of mechanically operated blinds, which help to modulate the incoming natural light. Moving through the full-height glazed doorway, a double-height volume extends upwards to facilitate vision up and through the building’s interior while providing a panoramic view of the open sky beyond. This generous space has a calming and welcoming demeanour, which sets the tone and powerfully connects to the brief’s aspirations for a high-quality, open public interface. A carefully detailed bentwood seating and write-up console unit neatly organises the space and ensures an ordered and clean appearance.
The vast majority of day-to-day interactions with the public are mediated by the foyer space and entry air lock, and so it is critical these spaces make a good impression. The use of glazing and natural materials here has succeeded in creating an environment that intuitively builds trust and respect and suggests a genuine shift away from the old police station model. This level of transparency and porosity is an enlightened and brave measure in the post-9/11 era, which has seen a significant rise in security considerations for public institutions.
Immediately behind the foyer, also fully viewable from the entry, is the ceremonial heart of the facility, the main atrium space. This space acts as the central circulation spine, but it also forms an interactive hub space for police and community. The double-height volume is finished off at high level with a row of curved timber roof lights that draw southern and northern light into the space. These sculpted forms effortlessly hover over the space – an uplifting, humanising spirit in the heart of the building. The forms also visually connect back to the main entry archway gesture and serve to extend the phenomenological transparency of the building.
The attention to detail, the placement of the generous staircase at the end of the building and the fully integrated exhibition panels all signal the prominence of this as the primary ceremonial community gathering space. This is a noble place which significantly raises the standard of the work environment for the occupants and goes a long way to creating a sense of unity and decorum. It also acts as a transition zone, allowing interaction between staff and general public, as well as unifying the disparate policing divisions within.
A key objective for this project was to establish an Australian excellence standard of environmentally sustainable design and to meet the 2007 Section J targets for energy efficiency and sun shading. The sustainable features for the project were important, as Victorian Police are seen as role models for the wider community. Human comfort and control and the development of a strong connection to the local setting have been blended with key engineering and architectonic features, which support a holistic approach to sustainable design. Specific ESD initiatives include rainwater harvesting, solar hot water and intelligent lighting control systems; however the main thrust of the ESD strategy was developed through the intelligent planning of the building. The back of house functions that necessitate more security, and which require limited natural light, were co-located and planned with a more closed outlook to the west. The open plan and cellular office spaces were positioned to the east with the internal atrium in the middle providing high levels of natural light and amenity to the heart of the building.
The overall facade strategy has also been carefully considered, incorporating high thermal mass materials interwoven with a large-scale external metal grate screening and landscaping device. These combine to create a high performance external envelope.
The metal grate screen requires special mention as it intelligently resolves the inherent need for privacy and shading while simultaneously supporting views and light. The system is elegantly detailed and is positioned away from the building footprint to allow a strip of vertical landscape to sit in-between. This move promotes greater privacy and a greener, more naturalised workplace interface.
The balancing of layers contrives to delicately embed the police station into its suburban setting, while still retaining a modest but purposeful signal of the station’s public function.
FJMT has tackled this challenge with surety and poetic judgment, and the new police station is an example of how sound and sensible decisions carried out with precision and rigour by a highly skilled architectural studio can create a first-class architectural result. The office’s adherence to a set of coherent beliefs, as manifest also in a string of recent educational and civic works, have combined to create a polished result, and one that will surely become a new precedent for this oft-forgotten building typology.
The first large-scale work to be completed by FJMT’s Melbourne studio, headed by Geoff Croker, this project reaffirms the capacity of FJMT’s cerebral, intricate design process to deliver high-quality, sustainable buildings of enduring benefit to the public.
Kristen Whittle is an architect born in the UK and educated at SCI-Arc in the US. Following his collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron he became a design director of Bates Smart Melbourne in 2007. His current projects include the 171 Collins Street office tower, Royal Children’s Hospital (jv BLBS) and Crown Metropol hotel.