New building in church transformation project turns heads on Napier Street in Melbourne


A 144-year-old church and parish hall in Fitzroy, Melbourne has been stylishly converted into contemporary apartments as part of an adaptive reuse project that also saw the addition of a magnificent adjacent building.

Located in one of Melbourne’s renowned heritage sites, the project was executed by Zest Developments, James Stockwell and Kerstin Thompson Architects.

Perhaps it is the facade of the new addition, tucked away right next to the church, that catches the eye of passers-by on Napier Street. Quite simply because he has achieved this delicate but contrasting balance between the old and the new, thanks to a thoughtful design by Kerstin Thompson Architects, a team renowned for the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings but also thoughtful and sympathetic designs. .

This complementary but contrasting three-story black building consists of a triangular section at the front and a more rectangular addition at the rear, each separated by a covered walkway. While the rear section contains a two-bedroom apartment on each floor, the front section contains three studio levels.

“It’s a sympathetic, yet completely contemporary interpretation of the neo-Gothic church that sits next door,” says Michael Archibald, lead architect, Kerstin Thompson Architects.

The design intention is to echo, rather than emulate, the church’s material palette, while its shape, especially the slanted component, reflects its roofline.

The sides of the building are clad in black glazed brick tiles. “To echo the church’s blue stone masonry construction, without being a direct copy, we wanted to use a completely different sized masonry unit – the brick tile as opposed to the large block of stone. And we love the reflective quality of the glaze, as opposed to the muted tones of the bluestone next to it, ”says Michael.

It’s cleverly contrasted, but still likable, the color black approaching the dark grays of the church.

Most dramatic in this design is the perforated bifurcated screen that faces Napier Street, which features an abstract pattern based on some of the church’s Gothic windows. The screen provides much needed privacy for residents, located directly across from social housing, while providing filtered light. They can also be opened, of course, whenever needed. Not so visible to those passing by is the traction trellis which forms a sort of balustrade around the covered walkway at the rear; another stylish and appropriate addition.

This beautiful black apartment building veiled behind the screen is a wonderful addition to this three-part development, which has been positively received by the neighborhood. Michael and his team are also happy: “We’re so happy with the facade and the way it is on the site, the way it addresses Napier Street and gives something back with its screen – a little of joy and interest – to the street. “

Excitingly, the project is currently shortlisted for the 2021 AIA Victorian Awards for Heritage Architecture and Residential Architecture.

Photographer: John Gollings


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