THE WHITE RABBIT GALLERY: ROLLS ROYCE SERVICE DEPOT TO 21ST CENTURY GALLERY

When Judith Neilson needed a gallery to share her growing collection of cutting-edge contemporary Chinese art with the people of Sydney she searched for the perfect site in Chippendale, which was just beginning to undergo something of a renaissance. The building she found was next to the old Carlton United Brewery, which was to become one of the largest urban renewal development sites in Sydney’s history.

The large freestanding brick warehouse in Balfour Street, a former Rolls Royce service depot dating back to the Second World War, was converted by William Smart of Smart Design Studio to become four floors of gallery space, a tea house, theatrette, library and office space. A dramatic staircase rises between the ground and second floors, providing intriguing glimpses of the works displayed on the ground floor. A glass lift rises from ground to third floor, which also houses a library and open loggia in addition to the exhibition space.

The textured brick shell of the former industrial warehouse is complimented by crisp, modern alterations to create an exciting gallery experience and a robust backdrop for contemporary art. A three-storey space at the entry provides for the display of specific sculptural works and installation works in the collection and brings the dramatic play of natural light into the deepest parts of the building. Fluorescent light tubes are incorporated within sculptural window boxes that replace the aluminium warehouse windows, becoming modern white installation elements that diffuse sunlight through the skin of the building. A new, flat, white roof sails over the building parapet to cap the original structure and mark this special new cultural place in Sydney’s inner city.

Once opened to the public in 2009, and with two exciting exhibitions ‘The Tao of Now’ and ‘The Big Bang’ in 2010, the gallery indeed entered Sydney’s cultural life with a bang. Ten years on it has continued to be a space where everyone is welcome to discover Neilson’s extraordinary collection.

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