Dangrove through the eyes of the architect
Walking up the unassuming stairs of an industrial storage facility in the industrialised streets of Alexandria, you’d be forgiven for registering a gasp as you reached the top. Dangrove Art Storage facility, as it’s aptly named, is not only the home of Judith Neilson’s collection of art, it is also a living, breathing work of art itself.
Once inside its spacious, welcoming interior, you notice immediately that this is more than a storage facility. With Dangrove, architect Alec Tzannes took Judith Neilson’s brief to create a home for the most extensive privately-owned collection of Chinese contemporary art and made a sustainable fortress that allows for a multitude of creative expressions and performances.
Alec Tzannes’ vision for the project begun with his brief from Judith Neilson. A large amount of storage capability, the requirement for an outdoor garden, administration area, library, security parking, and loading, and the whole building was to be entirely flood-proof. The primary function for the facility was that it would be versatile and multi-faceted, and the art itself was to be stored in a way that was completely accessible and continuously adaptable.
Alec Tzannes is highly complementary of Judith Neilson as a client. He said: “It takes a great client to make a great building. Judith provided a very clear and inspiring brief and was fully engaged for the duration of the project. Judith’s constant pursuit of excellence and her empowering support of new concepts and ideas is very rare. She is unwavering in her commitment. I’ve been an architect for a very long time, and I’ve never experienced such an inspiring client and creative client-architect relationship”. He adds: “Judith should be celebrated for what she has done for architecture and the city of Sydney”.
The project was orchestrated over five years with the construction taking two of those years. Alec shares that the initial stages were primarily concerned with the science of building and how to meet the primary functionality of the structure. Since the limitations of time and cost had been relaxed, the ability to focus on the mechanics of design was less restricted. The brief was that everything possible would be done in order to meet the specifications, and that coming in under time and budget was not the goal. A project of this nature requires a client who is appreciative of the design process and knows how to command the entire team as a whole. Dangrove is purpose-built, and for this reason, it required precise details.
Alec’s overarching achievement with Dangrove is that despite its practicality, it has an unequivocally high-quality design outcome. Alec says of his building, although highly practical and adaptable, is also “forming beauty out of functionality” and that the science of the design is one of its most attractive features – rendering it poetic. To see the building through Alec’s eyes is most remarkable. As he walks through its vast, purposeful spaces, he seamlessly moves from informative stories of the practicality of sliding doors to more affectionate notes about the impressive human scale of the building. Although a building of deeply practical constitution, Dangrove is steeped in familiarity and warmth.
Alec’s insights in sustainable design helped to shape a structure that is built with a 100-year lifespan in mind. Using materials that could quickly be taken apart, and repurposed should the building need to adapt or change its purpose at any point. It is designed to produce lower carbon emissions, hence leaving a smaller footprint than other buildings of its kind. A feature that contributes greatly to this is the roof of the Great Hall clad in an innovative polycarbonate double wall system that allows natural light into the Great Hall but blocks 99 percent of UV rays. The utilities are exposed to allow for easy replacement or maintenance, meaning the entire building could be retrofitted easily and quickly without any adaptation of the exterior. Although traits like these match the overarching aesthetic of an industrial construct, Dangrove still reserves a gentle softness, made possible through its open-plan garden and hidden library along with a myriad of details that soften its grandeur.
Alec is proud of his achievement. The warmth and reverence he uses when speaking about the building only makes you want to explore it. His knowledge of its poetic intricacies makes it come alive with beauty. As a storage facility, Alec has more than succeeded the brief, but with Dangrove he has achieved so much more. It is a seamless integration of its light-industrial surroundings, a sustainable and environmentally sound addition to the Sydney architectural landscape and a legacy for the owner, the architect and the knowledge held inside its walls.
“We were asked to design a state-of-the-art working building with a 100-year life, that would store the client’s growing collection for a minimum of 50 years, and at the same time, an exceptional experience of viewing and interacting with art for both staff and visitors.
“What we have done here is bring the potential of art and architecture together, in a new form,” he continued. “Our aim was to reinterpret what a functional art storage facility does, creating a new typology that would also serve other collection-related purposes.”
And what does Alec say of his design vision? “Always leave a place better than you found it… design ‘with’ the landscape or the precinct you are building in rather than ‘against’ it.” and with Dangrove, that is precisely what he has achieved.
Photographs by Ben Guthrie