State recognition for GPAC design

Forest: The timber columns in the foyer, built by Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, Heyfield, act as _an ode to the local timber industry. Photographs John Gollings



TRARALGON’S Gippsland Performing arts centre, or GPAC, has made the regional prize shortlist in the 2023 Victorian Architecture Awards.

The awards program celebrates the top architectural outcomes across the state, spanning categories of public architecture, sustainable architecture, interior architecture and more.

This year’s shortlist includes some standout projects in Gippsland and its surrounds, including Gippsland Performing Arts Centre – ‘a landmark 750-seat centre informed by the deep, sometimes unheralded affinity for the performing arts that exist in regional Australian life.’

Shortlisted in the regional prize category, Architect’s Jackson Architecture and Katsieris Origami: Architects in Association worked together to create a welcoming gathering space for the community.

In late 2017, Jackson Architecture and Katsieris Origami Architectures, in association won a design competition and was appointed the principal consultant for the Latrobe Creative Precinct.

The pair’s vision was to connect the past, present and future by drawing on the Valley’s rich timber history for construction.

“In partnership with local industry, creates an exemplary precinct of iconic timber construction. It showcases a new era of engineered timber capability, imagination, production and construction in the Latrobe Valley and Traralgon,” Jackson Architecture posted on its website.

The Victorian Architecture Awards enables public and peer recognition of the innovative work of the institute’s members, and promotes architects and architecture across Victoria and Australia.

Regional Prize Jury Chair, Justin Noxon, said this year’s regional architecture category showcased a wide variety of commendable projects from around Victoria.

“Acknowledging their regional communities and contexts, these projects demonstrate outstanding architectural solutions, each delivering highly considered and well-executed responses to their unique circumstance. With an enormous diversity in scale, typology and setting, the shortlisted projects share a common commitment to architectural excellence in regional Victoria,” Noxon said.

The building design of Gippsland Performing Arts Centre provides a welcoming and safe community gathering space for the sharing of local culture and creativity. The venue’s open plan design and glass structure actively seek to break down barriers to engagement and enjoyment of the performing arts. The design connects the natural landscapes and patrons with a shared workspace that overlooks the creative precinct.

The Gippsland Performing Arts Centre is the centrepiece of the Latrobe Creative Precinct on Kay Street, Traralgon. The precinct cost amounted to $38.5 million, with $10 million each from the state and federal governments and $18.5 million from Latrobe City Council.

The design of the Performing Arts Centre combines a performance facility with the attributes of a Country Hall. In recognition of the region’s rich history of timber manufacturing, the design uses local timber from Australia Sustainable Hardwoods in Heyfield. The entry hall expresses this with tree-like, mass-timber columns supporting the roof, mimicking that of a forest. The design also promotes community engagement by modifying existing buildings and the outdoor space to create a new public realm.

The project creates a dynamic and exciting precinct through its unique architectural design, establishing Traralgon as the significant cultural hub in the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland region.

Speaking to the masterminds behind the project Sarah Jackson, director of Jackson Architecture and Paul Katsieris, the founder of Katsieris Origami, the pair felt rewarded by the recognition.

Mr Katsieris said, “It’s a great feeling (to be shortlisted) because it brings recognition to an area of Victoria, mainly the Latrobe Valley that is not often recognised, so it’s a really nice feeling.”

Ms Jackson and Mr Katsieris have known each other since university, so the pair enjoyed working on this project together.

Ms Jacskon explained that she “might’ve called Paul (Katsieris) and said, do you want to do it together,” and Mr Katsieris said that he “jumped in with both feet” at the offer.

The architects explained the challenges of working through a tight budget and design constraints that made prioritisation key in decision-making.

“We had to prioritise key elements … our main priority was to get the performance box to be a world-class theatre to which the local schools and local theatre clubs and aspiring thespians feel like they were in a world-class space,” Ms Jackson said.

Mayor of Latrobe City Council Kellie O’Callaghan congratulated the firms on their work, and said GPAC had, in a short space of time, become a landmark feature in Traralgon.

“It is a community-informed design, one where we had to give a lot of consideration to what was the history of the precinct and what it had been used for, but also what the communities’ expectations were,” she said.

“The use of Gippsland timber was a real priority for us when we designed and built the facility, it’s pretty hard for anyone to miss those beautiful tree-like columns that support the structure at the front of the building, and it’s also a bit of a talking point for the community to reflect on local industry and what it means when we create these significant pieces of community infrastructure.

“We are really proud to be able to see the community has enjoyed it so much but also to be able to see that recognition from an architecture perspective; we certainly think it’s a beautiful building, but we’re biased, but it’s great to see that there’s a potential for recognition of this beautiful community inspired piece of architecture that sits in the CBD of Traralgon.”

Latrobe City Council loves the building so much that they’ve moved their monthly council meeting to GPAC for the rest of the year.

Council voting on the decision on Monday, May 1 cited the inadequacy of the Morwell headquarters room, as more locals attend the monthly meetings.

World-class: The GPAC theatre design is truly stunning.