The Round is a new hub for performing arts and culture in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
It replaces the previous Whitehorse Performing Arts Centre on the same site.
It hosts performances, events and conferences, and welcomes local community and business groups, artists, school groups, performers and patrons. It caters for professional-standard artists as well as community ones.
BKK Architects have designed and delivered it in collaboration with Kerstin Thompson Architects. It features:
The spaces are hardworking and flexible: full of architectural and AV functionalities to make them configurable for multiple uses. They balance everyday community activities with special events.
The Round is on a generous council-owned site. The building is surrounded by suburban parkland with plenty of mature trees, which is both an opportunity and a sensitivity for the project.
There’s a residential area to the immediate north and north west, carpark and sporting fields to the east, Whitehorse Road and the council buildings to south, and parkland to the west and south west. The building needs to face and respect all these influences, which means none of its façades can be its back.
Therefore, we have designed it in the round.
The concept grew from a map we created with each of the contextual influences as a circle. The area left between the circles became the building’s footprint: a shape with five concave curved façades, each embracing a separate landscape territory. The building is multifaceted, both functionally and in its attitude and character.
Each curve extends the façade length and views, and creates interesting-shaped spaces, both inside and out. Where the façades meet, there are openings, each with a specific viewpoint or access point, and curated sightlines in and out.
The main venue, the 626-seat theatre, is for dance, musical theatre and other non-acoustic performances. The stage has a proscenium arch below a full fly tower and there’s an orchestra pit and raked seating. The pit floor can be raised to stalls level when it’s not in use to provide extra space for auditorium seating.
The auditorium has a tactile character with comfortable and generous finishes. The rich red and gold palette is a nod to Arts Centre Melbourne’s 1982 State Theatre and Hamer Hall interiors, designed by John Truscott. The rounded geometry echoes the façade curves, which each define a discrete space. The timber wall battens, spaced for acoustic effect, bring warmth.
The second venue is the studio theatre. Originally, the client had envisioned a black-box theatre and separate outdoor stage, but we’ve combined them into this super-flexible hybrid venue.
The black box is for rehearsals, small performances, movie screenings, or cocktail parties. With its massive doors open, it becomes an outdoor stage facing the amphitheatre and lawn. It is for outdoor concerts, community Christmas carols and other local events.
The soundshell stage is a carrier of memory in that it’s sited and oriented the same as the soundshell in the building it has replaced. The façade bends deferentially around an old tree – a defining character on the site whose location determined the architecture. The topography creates a natural amphitheatre; not outdoor seating or steps, but a downward slope towards the soundshell.
The building seems handcrafted rather than slick and synthetic. Spaces are soft and warm, not cool or clinical.
The first-floor function room has long views over the expansive lawn. It seats 300 but can be divided into three smaller spaces with acoustically treated operable walls in between.
There is generous AV equipment is positioned so that three functions – conferences, presentations, weddings etc. – could take place simultaneously.
The two performance venues (main theatre and studio theatre) share a foyer. The doors to the main theatre auditorium are either side of the rounded bar and cloaking area, which curves around the back of the main theatre auditorium.
This was the first completed element of the project, and its elegant scalloped concrete details are tiny versions of the concave façades on The Round itself. It is to the east of the site and also serves the Nunawading Library and Whitehorse Civic Centre across the lawn.
Whitehorse holds markets and similar events in and around the carpark’s ground level. Its open walls and paved forecourt connect it visually and physically with The Round’s eastern façade plaza and driveway into the site.