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SJB Architects

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East at Erko
SJB has offices in Melbourne and Sydney. Above- St. Margaret's, Darlinghurst.
Wavy facade much more than skin deep- New St Kilda Apartments
Philip Hopkins July 25, 2011

A new apartment block in Main Street, Mornington designed by SJB Architects.

The Main Street Mornington project reflects the town's nautical character.

ALL long-running businesses should keep an eye on the need for renewal. Staleness, resting on your laurels, can easily creep in. Architectural firms, with new creative talent joining the workforce continually, are particularly vulnerable.

SJB Architects, conceived 35 years ago by Alan Synman, Charles Justin and Michael Bialek, was aware of this. The firm has forged a strong presence in Melbourne — in the commercial, residential and hospitality markets. Its projects include the Royce Hotel, Red Hill House, the Shell headquarters, the Holocaust Research Centre, Tribeca Apartments, work on New Quay, and the RACV Healesville Country Club. Mr Justin became a life fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects three years ago.

But SJB brought new blood on board in 2000, hiring Tony Battersby, who became a director five years later. Mr Battersby has led SJB's design team on several projects, including a new one — Main Street Mornington.

Leo Iazzolino, who had mainly built factories in Melbourne's south-east, wanted to build his first multi-unit residential project. He put out tenders for the project in Mornington township on a site towards the end of the shopping strip and near the beach. SJB won the contract.

"Our design was based on the premise that there was a 'gateway concept' for the main street of Mornington," Mr Battersby told BusinessDay. "We wanted to break out of the traditional two-storey nautical village theme the council generally adopted . . . it needed to have some architectural presence."

Checking out the surrounds, the team noticed a gentrifying laneway and supermarket behind the site. People channelled down the main street, but at the corner site, the energy would just dissipate. People would cross the road to the other side. "The idea was to draw on that energy and channel it back towards the laneway precinct and supermarket," Mr Battersby said.

The result is a building that wraps around the corner from the main street to the laneway, with a northern frontage of retail shops and the Italian restaurant and food store DOC, which spreads table and chairs on to the footpath in fine weather. The 19 apartments have coastal views.

The building's most striking feature is a printed glass, ribbon-like balustrade that sweeps across the entire facade. "We tried to avoid having a typical square-box glass balustrade . . . the idea was a wave-like form that drew you around and created three facades in one," Mr Battersby said. "You experience the arch unfolding as you move around the building, as the one facade."

The council had challenged SJB to come up with an architectural response to Mornington's nautical history. "It became this idea of the coastline, the foaming waves washing up on to the beach, bubble-like," Mr Battersby said.

This was achieved through a "seraphic" treatment — a ceramic paint — on the rear face of the glass. It effectively hides the apartments' outdoor furniture, which is all screened at the 700 millimetre level above the floor. "That dissipates and become transparent at the top, which allows the view out, but you can't see up from below . . . that creates quite a calming effect, and unifies the building," Mr Battersby said.

Each of the different levels of the building leans at a different angle. "We wanted to get a level of dynamism and movement in the facade in a vertical dimension as well as the horizontal wave dimension," Mr Battersby said.

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