By Dr Jenny Wilson
QUT Executive Dean, Mandy Thomas, is justifiably proud of the new addition to her faculty. The new $90 million complex, dedicated to creative and performing arts disciplines, to be officially opened by the Queensland Premier next month, represents the endpoint of a six year project to expand QUT’s Creative Industries precinct.
Although the most striking feature is the six-story predominantly glass building designed in partnership by Richard Kirk Architect and Hassell, the complex includes other single level buildings: a 450 square metre glass fronted visual arts building which can, with the aid of movable partitions, accommodate multiple studio classes at once: a large open-sided fabrication workshop: and a digital visual studio equipped with graphic tablet devices that allows students to ‘hand draw into the digital domain’. Next door is an art gallery housed in a heritage building that recalls the site’s history as a military training barracks.
The six-story centrepiece shines out high above QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus with glass walls that afford passers-by glimpses of dancers practicing in one of the three Harlequin floored studios. Each floor has open plan staff and student kitchens surrounded by cleverly designed chairs that create privacy ‘nooks’. The first and third floor includes practice and performance studios with theatre quality rigging, lighting and retractable seating for 80.
The whole precinct is supported by the Production data network allowing real-time interconnection between performance spaces, recording studios, art galleries and seminar rooms. Head of Studies Greg Jenkins explained: ‘This digital backbone can transport audio, video and data from anywhere in the precinct to any number of other spaces within the precinct, to other QUT facilities and to the wider world beyond.’ According to Gene Moyle, Head of Dance: 'The interconnectivity between all spaces in the building regarding audio, recording, visual and technical production capabilities, means that a variety of disciplines whether dance, music, drama, film or interactive visual design, can connect in real-time to create a transdisciplinary shared performance in both live, digital or virtual reality dimensions. Whilst specially designed studios cater to specific discipline activities, a range of interdisciplinary studios, black box performance spaces, and the Creative Lab easily enable collaboration and the ability to enable innovative teaching and learning practice, research and performance opportunities.'
In one of the ‘black box’ immersive R & D labs, Deb Poulsen, Senior Lecturer in Communication Design is setting up a new interactive exhibit for CreateX. Her enthusiasm for the building is palpable as she explains that bringing all the creative departments together has forged a ‘creative pressure’ that is being realised in multidisciplinary collaborations between staff and students who previously would not have connected. Gene Moyle agrees: ‘the physical and technological integration enables practitioners and educators to do things that weren’t previously possible’. Head of Visual Arts, Courtney Pederson is responsible for leading a staff and student team to curate the changing program of artworks that will showcase staff, student and practitioner works across the whole site.
Throughout the building are strategically located visual display panels with ever-changing twitter and Instagram feeds. The light and airy feel continues through the seminar rooms and staff offices, all glass fronted and open plan, until the fifth floor which contains a warren of music control rooms, live rooms, isolation booths, practice and performance rooms, all interconnected and ‘wired’ to the production data network and stacked to the brim with an array of technical recording, PA and video projection equipment. All are connected to the main control room with its ‘producer’s retreat’ - a glassed balcony room suspended from the fifth floor’.
The top floor of the building has been designated for commercial and community partnerships, with glass offices, meeting rooms and two shaded outside patios, complete with expansive views across the city.
With regular performances, exhibitions and the co-located La Boite theatre, the Creative Industries faculty has always played role in the cultural life of the local Kelvin Grove ‘urban village’, but Mandy says ‘we have become much more engaged with our local community since we moved in’. The residents from the aged care facility next door were one of the first groups to tour the premises and student performances for residents are already being planned.
So, as a new build, what have been the teething problems? Mandy laughs: 'the only issue we have found is that we can’t do life drawing in the visual art building - the glass front makes it far too open. But if this the extent of our teething problems I think we are doing fine!'
Our thanks to Mandy Thomas for hosting my tour; Greg Jenkins for technical information; Gene Moyle for commentary; and to QUT Creative Industries staff and students for their time and input.