DADAA’s big move

Next week, DADAA will make its most exciting move yet. After 20 years in operation, we are privileged to be taking up residence in one of Fremantle’s most iconic buildings – the 1853-built Fremantle Old Boys’ School.

As lead tenant with a 30-year lease, DADAA is charged with activating the space in line with the City of Fremantle’s economic and social plans – together with co-tenants Fremantle Foundation, Circus WA and PianoEasy.

Four of five stages have been completed in re-purposing the building to become a fully accessible and multi-form arts, disability and enterprise hub, and the building has been stripped back to its 19th-century grandeur. Previously boarded-up windows now let natural light in; mezzanines, projector boxes, false walls and ceilings – added in the 1970s to accommodate FTI – have been removed.

Stage five will see the fit-out of DADAA’s core infrastructure – gallery, visual and digital arts studios, cinema, café, and arts and administration offices, and should be completed by early to mid-2018.

“Envisioning how to ensure a strong disability-led culture that sees contemporary conversations about arts and cultural access in an iconic heritage-listed space is perhaps our most important moment,” says David Doyle, Executive Director of DADAA.

“We could not effectively do this without URBANFRAMEWORKS and its principal Osnat Harlap – who has embraced the project as not only creatively interesting but also socially vital to the future of accessible civic spaces in Western Australia.”

Osnat trained in London at the Architectural Association and says that, for her, the project is the dream combination of an inspiring brief and a visionary client.

“From early in my career, I’ve been intrigued by whether space can contribute to wellbeing, both individually and collectively,” says Osnat. “Of course, I am a strong believer that it can.

“And when you marry an organisation like DADAA – notably its disability-centered politic – with an iconic public building like the Old Boys’ School, then the potential to create a new design typology for Fremantle is substantial.”

contemporary conversations, historical spaces

The mid-Victorian Boys’ School is noted as an architectural example of Tudor Revival, popular in mid-century England and many of its colonies.

“The Boys’ School makes a few nods to the Tudor style, with its pitched rooves, patterned chimneys, dark-beamed vaulted ceilings, and mullioned windows,” says Osnat. “But then you get this unusual Dutch gable facing Adelaide Street, which makes it all very interesting.

“True to Tudor-style architecture, the building has evolved through different iterations to have a beautifully asymmetrical footprint. The relationship between the various spaces was a key inspiration for design, as we seek to establish a harmonious framework between DADAA’s contemporary presence and the building’s rich past.

“I think that idea goes to the heart of DADAA’s philosophy, ethos and way of working with communities. The fit is extraordinarily powerful.”

There is something else that Osnat says strikes her about the building and one that she is using to bring to life DADAA’s disability-led model.

“There is a generosity of space that will allow us to keep things open,” she says. “In designing the gallery and studios, for example, we are making as many volumes as possible flexible and movable. We want to see the space inhabited and enjoyed by the whole community, and that includes a broad range of people with disabilities and access needs.

“The maneuverability of wheelchairs becomes not just about accommodating visitors and audiences, but also about ensuring that staff and artists, too, can carry out their work and engage socially and artistically in the space. How we place, fix or not fix reception desks, storage units and partitions, for example, is all being considered with accessibility in mind.

“The space also has to have durability over the next 20 to 30 years.”

The building’s Cantonment Street entrance is being designed and opened up as the site’s main entrance, and the sunny north-facing courtyard – under the steady eyes of a large turn-of-the-century cupola and several original brick chimneys – will be the social heart of the precinct.

“We envision this as a key meeting place,” said Osnat, who has had the very talented Bao Dang and Polina Zhalniarovich working alongside her. “It is the gateway to the building, a warm and collegial coffee spot, and a multi-functioning space for a variety of functions. Close proximity to both cinema and gallery will see the area activated after-hours and on weekends.

“In everything that we do, we work first from a place of respect for the history and originality of the building, and then consider how to retain and reinterpret spaces and relationships.

“For the team at URBANFRAMEORKS, design and architecture in this very special context is all about an ongoing narrative between old and new, between history and change, between original intent and contemporary practice.”

DADAA respectfully acknowledges the Whadjuk and Yued people of the Noongar nation and the Southern Yamatji Peoples, the traditional owners of the lands upon which DADAA operates. We recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

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