Once a piano factory...

Project review > Werth the wait @ Studio Nine Richmond

Best known as the home of GTV-9 for a good part of half a century, the first stage of Lend Lease's Studio Nine development on Bendigo Street in Richmond has been completed, with residents recently moving in. Designed by Kerstin Thompson Architects (KTA) the project involved the adaptive re-use of the former Wertheim Piano Factory building into 34 Heritage Apartments, a yet to be fitted out City of Yarra community centre (due to open in late 2014) and a couple of retail offerings - one of which is accessed via a new breezeway space linking Bendigo Street with the new internal Studio Square.

Having worked on the project for a good part of three years while at KTA, I was fortunate enough to see the project through from inception to just before completion and as the title of this article suggests - I believe it was worth the effort.

Brief history

The Heritage listed, Federation Free-style Wertheim Piano Factory was designed by architect Nahum Barnet for German-born Hugo Wertheim in 1909, becoming the first piano factory to be constructed in Victoria and the largest in Australia, employing 300 workers and producing 2,000 pianos per annum. Its construction was part of the movement away from the importation of goods with local manufacturing favoured, which in turn led to Wertheim's reputation for producing fine pianos. The foundation stone laid by then Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin on the 21st of October 1908 is still visible from Bendigo Street.

The red brick building features rendered mouldings and detailing, a terracotta roof and dual double storey turrets flanking a single storey spine topped by a gabled roof. A rendered curved parapet once adorned by the names Wertheim and Heinz today carries Studio Nine Richmond.

In March 1935 the building became the new domicile of Heinz, retrofitted to become a tinned food factory. Initially employing 75 workers and beginning with production of bottled horse radish, by 1948 Heinz was producing over 13 million cans a year at the facility. Despite adding further floorspace and equipment Heinz had ultimately outgrown the site and in October 1955 sold the Bendigo Street site to GTV-9.

Occupying the facility from 1957 to 2011, it soon became known as 'Television City'. Television productions such as The Graham Kennedy Show, The Don Lane Show, Nine News, In Melbourne Tonight, Hey, Hey It's Saturday, The Footy Show (AFL) and many more were filmed, adding to the site's already rich history.

For more information on the significance of the Wertheim Piano Factory see the following:

Design methodology

We started by looking at the building - what key aspects needed to be retained, conserved and restored, what needed to be transformed.

Inside, in the courtyard, we had more latitude for dramatic changes. They are still changes that are subtle, but retain the key attributes of the original building. Some apartments will have upgraded steel-framed windows … it was about making the building work thermally and acoustically. Looked at from the outside, every apartment has its own variation, is not uniform. Each apartment has its little quirks.

Kerstin Thompson.

The strategies employed consisted of addition, subtraction and restoration. The primary facades along Jago, Bendigo and Khartoum Streets were restored with as few new architectural interventions as possible. These were limited to new decks, fences, privacy screens and A/C enclosures. The turrets and Bendigo Street mezzanine apartments all feature steel windows - the remainder being powdercoated aluminium frames.

Additions and subtractions were made to secondary facades facing Studio Square which had been altered over the course of the building's life - openings re-instated, new openings made and new structures added. These were designed to contrast and compliment rather than imitate or compete with the existing fabric.

To allow for the provision of a new vehicular thoroughfare to the western side of the heritage precinct about 20m of the southern wing once housing Studio 01 was demolished as well as a number of the roof trusses which over time had become compromised structurally. The new western facade to the south wing was recessed to signify that it was once a longer structure.

The restoration process involved demolition of ancillary and non-significant structures, layers of paint were stripped away, hard plaster cleaned and repaired, brick piers rebuilt, brick work re-pointed and restored while new terracotta roof tiles and roof sheeting were laid. Paint colours were picked in consultation with Bryce Raworth and Heritage Victoria but for the most, concrete mouldings, cappings and ornaments were left unfinished save for a lick of sealant.

Project team

Please enjoy the photos from my walk around in the slideshow below.

Restored parapet to Bendigo Street with new development signage.
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