Ode to Joy – Ian Potter Southbank Centre by John Wardle Architects

Words by Rose Onans
Architecture by John Wardle Architects
Photography by Trevor Mein
Build by Lendlease
Interior Design by John Wardle Architects
Heritage Architect RBA Architects
Heritage Architect Conservation Consultants

Stroll past the Ian Potter Southbank Centre and you may find yourself compelled to peer into one of the small dimple-like portholes or the great oculus set into the side of the immense concrete building. It is precisely this kind of engagement with the public that is at the heart of the design by John Wardle Architects.

Through the windows, the inner workings of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music can be observed, offering a direct insight into musical performance and rehearsal. The arched entry is another gesture of openness at street level that makes the otherwise imposing concrete facade seem like a raised curtain, pulled up to offer a way inward. And most playfully of all, thousands of small Japanese ‘egg’ tiles that stud the vast exterior prompt an almost child-like impulse to stretch out a finger and touch.

For the musicians learning, rehearsing and performing within, the Southbank Centre accommodates for the singular focus they require while also emphasising the camaraderie of engaging with others. The necessary acoustic separation between practice spaces is upheld, but sound is allowed to drift through the common areas so that the building is permeated with music. Taking this even further, external space for performance – whether impromptu or organised – draws musical activity beyond the walls and into the public domain.

In a rare combination of the monumental and the approachable, the Ian Potter Southbank Centre is an ode to the many joys of music.