When Fitzroy landmark, The MacRobertson’s Chocolate Factory, was converted it became an early and local example
of the industrial apartment building typology. Rather than delivering a series of homogenous units, the redevelopment, which took place between 1998 and 2003, divided the various warehouse spaces into apartment ‘shells’ surrounding a voluminous central atrium. The ‘shells’ were sold to the public with only the most minimal of amenities – no more than a connection point for plumbing, fire services and power – with the understanding that occupants would be responsible for their own internal fit-out.
The result was great variation, experimentation and architectural design tailored to the individual. A search through back- dated real-estate listings results in a trove of era-specific design responding to, or turning away from, the raw conditions provided at handover.
Kerr by SSdH is the latest iteration. Occupying a split-level, mezzanine-style apartment and providing a young family with a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, the design plays homage to history while being decidedly contemporary. Within the original apartment shell, newly added elements sit as defined objects, achieved by treating ‘leftover’ spaces and surfaces with uniformity. Old wall and ceiling linings, trims, materials and details are stripped back to expose original materials and structural framing and an application of white unifies what was, subsequently giving the ‘new’ its own platform through contrast.
Each new element has been designed to emanate atmosphere through a playful interaction with light (or lack thereof), materiality and spatial devices. The use of single materials and minimal details is critical too – defining these ‘objects’ from the original and each other. Joins are minimised, door handles integrated, junctions hidden and fixtures carefully selected to create as seamless a surface as possible. This helps to avoid a sense of clutter, which can so easily make an already small space feel smaller, and allows for a focus on grain, texture and tone. The result is honesty - to materiality, to history, to constraints. A project for everyday occupation.
Where the previous fit-out concealed, Kerr by SSdH works hard to preserve and expose. This not only provides a greater sense of volume but celebrates the texture and history alive here, yet which is so difficult to achieve in a new construction. It reflects SSdH’s focus on making architecture that considers context/s; tangible, measurable and situational.