Through the insertion of key dividing elements and the reveal of the reinforced concrete bones beneath its previously concealed surfaces, Oliver Lane is a story of balance and contrast. O’Connor and Houle sensitively weaves in a new purpose to a previous heritage space, allowing its lineage to be celebrated and the next chapter to unfold alongside the building’s past.
In amongst the eclectic inner urban fabric of Melbourne CBD, Oliver Lane is tucked into a Sir John Monash warehouse building, a place with a rich history and an assortment of varied occupation over the years since it was built in 1907. In its original inception, the building was an exploration of reinforced concrete as the primary construction material and was a pioneering effort of its time. Having previously lived in the building, in the same apartment and on the same floor, the owners were familiar with the space and its engagement with the surrounds – the sounds and smells of the city and the access, or lack thereof, to the natural environment. In an effort to reveal the building’s truth, the plasterboard walls were removed, stripping all adornment and celebrating Monash’s original intent for the building. O’Connor and Houle respectfully then layers in interventions that allow an occupation between history and the present.
Listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, Oliver Lane is built by Bass Strait Builders and spans the entire floor as the one home. From the initial stripped-back core, the inner workings of the space then begin to resemble the familiar parts of a home, with a key focus on connection. Living with the heritage meant revealing the rough and rugged concrete shell and inserting refined elements as a counter to the rawness of the space. So often the heritage of a building remains as an external experience, seen and engaged with only from approach. Oliver Lane instead allows that engagement to unfold internally. Felt and seen, the history become part of how the home is understood.
Through removing the existing full-height partitions previously dividing the floor plate, the new spaces are more subtly inserted. Two primary materials comprise these additions, with Canadian rock maple flooring laid throughout underfoot and steel glazed partitions separating zones. The used of glass and steel frames the different space, as with slight level changes, to hint at a function change while still allowing light to pass between spaces. With such a large floor plate, ensuring natural light could be brought as deep into the spaces as possible was key. A light palette ensures the light that enters can bounce off of multiple surfaces and exaggerate the overall feeling of illumination throughout the day.