Studio Lionel Smit
Designed by HB Architects
STUDIO LIONEL SMIT is located between the edge of the historical administrative precinct, and the industrial facilities which is the sine qua non for the old AECI explosives factory at Paardevlei, Strand.
Due to the heritage resource value of the precinct, there were rigorous design constraints. Heritage design indicators required that the building had a dark, steeply pitched roof, and the walls were to be painted just off-white. Windows were to be vertically proportioned, and this particular site required a veranda facing the heritage building on the adjacent site.
Other heritage requirements dictated that the roof and eaves height were prescribed to match the heritage buildings in the precinct, and the building had to be located along particular site boundaries. The primary design approach was to use the industrial aesthetic of the factories in the immediate vicinity, which would then be restrained and moderated by the heritage design indicators.
It was imagined that the building that would be stylistically unselfconscious and devoid of unnecessary decorative contrivances. To that end, every single element and item has relevance, meaning it cannot be removed as it is integral to the structure and performance of the building. In response to the odd-shaped site, two long sheds were envisaged that were parallel to each other, but moved out of sequence so that the one shed projected beyond the other in order to conform to the ‘build-to’ boundaries.
The production and celebration of art, whether two-dimensional or three-dimensional, requires three primary elements, mainly diffused light, generous spaces, and large wall surfaces. Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, exemplifies the use of diffused natural light being admitted from above, which allows optimum use of wall area to display artwork. This was the point of departure for the spatial form for the exhibition gallery and painting studio at Studio Lionel Smit: the two sheds were separated by a sunlight-admitting ‘spine’ which allows natural light to be diffused into the art production spaces and the gallery. This ‘spine’ is also glazed at either end emphasise the separation of the two sheds.
Windows in the large wall surfaces have been heavily elongated in response the requirement for vertical fenestration, although a shopfront on the veranda and extremely large glazed wall in the end gable allow generous views into the gallery. This is in contrast to the painting and sculpture studios located on either side of the central reception/gallery area where the artist required introspective, private areas for art creation, thus there are very few windows into these spaces.
Directly above the gallery space is the administration area which doubles up as additional exhibition spaces. Attached but separated by a staff kitchenette is the printmaking and curating studio, The painting studio required two separate areas: the creative studio where the artist has a number of canvasses and sculptures currently in production, and adjacent to it is the area where canvases are prepared and unfinished works and material are stored. The studio space is large and voluminous, intentionally church-like in its spatial quality.
Rainwater is harvested from the large roof areas and stored in an open pond, while gum trees that were felled in the building footprint area were lumbered and are used as counter tops, stair treads and grain-side up ‘parquet blocks’ on the veranda.
The landscape is mainly local grasses, with a few feature indigenous trees. Calcrete boulders excavated during construction have been playfully incorporated into the sculpture garden.