Studio 217 is located in the partly subterranean basement of heritage-listed Craigston, and is a tiny space – barely 32m2 – tucked off the main carpark.
The studio reconfigured an existing internal space that has undergone change over time, being used first as part of the general carpark, then as enclosed storeroom, caretaker’s accommodation and finally a solicitor’s office, before its present use.
Dark, cave-like materials and finishes reinforce the basement location. There are eight storeys of building above, and a partly lowered ceiling creates a sense of compression.
The underlying geology of Spring Hill, in particular the layered, tilted rock strata, is expressed using strong horizontal lines interrupted by sloping planes.
To minimise the impact of potential water ingress formply was used extensively, the dark colour enhancing the cave-like atmosphere.
Research through the Queensland Herbarium uncovered a list of tree species endemic to Spring Hill pre-European settlement. White Mahogany was on the list, and recycled timber boards of this species appear on the surfaces where people sit or lean, and on the underside of the low ceiling band.
The project stripped plasterboard wall linings, removed floor tiles and a suspended ceiling to reveal the concrete slabs, columns and brick walls. These are part of Craigston’s pioneering construction: built in 1927 it was Brisbane’s first ‘high-rise’, and reportedly one of the first uses of reinforced concrete.
The timber studwork supporting the old plasterboard was donated to a friend, who used it on his own construction project. MDF, two-pack and volatile finishes were deliberately avoided. Brick walls were cleaned by soda blasting, which is less aggressive than sand blasting.
Low-VOC paint was applied to the ceiling, and the exposed concrete floor finished with tinted penetrating oil. Plywood shelves and recycled timber boards have been left unfinished.
Numerous functional requirements were accommodated, including overnight guest accommodation, a piano, extensive library, a collection of seed pods, lino-printing facilities, and drawing board and design studio for two.
A raised platform enabled a desk at window sill height, taking advantage of morning light for detailed work. The space below houses a slide-out bench seat and bed.
Enclosing the piano within the joinery enabled a perched seating platform, and sliding cabinets contain collections and conceal artworks and the building structure behind.
Apart from task lighting at the desks, lighting levels are deliberately low. Lamps are concealed, with light ‘leaking’ into the space through cracks and crevices.
Previous occupants enlarged an original window to create a new doorway, and within this the new sliding door is the main evidence of new occupation visible from outside.
The external courtyard provides the sole access to the studio, as well as pedestrian access to the carpark level of the building for residents. It was previously paved flush with the internal studio floor, and inadequate drainage resulted in frequent inundation.
New infrastructure was installed, and the external level lowered. The pavers were reused to construct new steps, and sandstone steppers reclaimed from previous Craigston use were added. Broken bricks salvaged from an internal renovation in the building were smashed with a sledgehammer over several weekends, and used to create a permeable mulch layer.
Undoubtedly the most important people involved in making Studio 217 a reality were our builders, Rob and Chris Hogerheyde, from RAM Constructions. From start to finish they were extraordinary, achieving their customary craftsmanship and attention to detail in very cramped quarters. They even made an art installation to welcome us home after an extended holiday!
It goes without saying that without them, our studio wouldn’t be half the place it is today. Thanks, guys.
Studio 217 was a design collaboration by Amalie Wright and Richard Buchanan. It was recently awarded a Small Project Architecture Regional Commendation at the Brisbane Regional Architecture Awards.
Except for 'before' and 'during' construction shots, all photography by Christopher Frederick Jones.