The Cinema Complex at District Docklands

The new Entertainment complex in the Docklands’ Village precinct is a multi-cinema and mixed-use structure on a spatially – and programmatically – challenging prawn-figured site. The project – adjacent to Costco and beneath The Melbourne Star Wheel – exists within a nebula of existing vertical infrastructure, elevated walkways and contiguous structures.

An important component of the brief was that the project should rejuvenate the existing commercial complex. The question, then, was how can a building of this scale, programme and modest budget become transformative within its environment and meet its developer’s ambitions? Hardcoding briefed areas became as important as identifying and exploiting residual areas for new adjunct programmes, such as outdoor seating areas, softscape opportunities, the provision for sheltered bus stop seating, and critically, an urban circus that used existing programmatic infrastructure to provide new value-added amenity to the project. The site’s spatial and geometric difficulties proved to be beneficial to this conceptual approach.

Within this milieu of variously scaled structures, the project attempts to become a highly legible and distinct urban element in a site dominated by verticality of The Melbourne Star and the Footscray Road horizontality of Costco – few other structures can compete with their scalar dominance. Yet the complex’s immediate context provides a source of reflexivity, certain contextual formal prompts. Using both the colour and material schemes of Costco and the wheel, the project seeks to enter chromatic and material dialogue with these two structures, while its volumetric expression describes an independent – yet related – formal syntax.

Drawing from Melnikov’s 1928 Rusakov Workers Club’s expression of the auditorium as an elevational event, the scheme’s largest cinemas equally express their function: becoming foyer ceiling, cantilevering over the new elevated walkway and extending into a skylight, a bio box registers itself as a further marker upon the facade. Similarly, the northern metal facade recalls Gunnar Birkerts’ 1978 Calvary Baptist Church in its ribbed blindness and muscular scale. Along this elevation and curling into its western facade, a series of custom red 210 x 305mm Zincalume triangular folds are utilised as a kind of pleated house curtain, reiterating the building’s function while reconnecting it to former cinematic experience: an anticipation of the screening and illusion. Clad entirely in metal, from roof sheeting to panel to extrusion, the building also reflects upon the site’s echo as a shanty town, notably The Dudley Flats, and the bricolage of its Depression Era metal shelters.

Intensive customisation and prototyping were tested extensively in the pre-construction phase. Nevertheless, budget and building program were both met. The building is also a minor essay in how large-scale customisation can be efficiently achieved with the collaboration of architect, client, builder and manufacturer.