Classic face belies modern heart

A contemporary extension to The Rathdowne building leaves the Edwardian facade untouched but adds space and functionality

View of one of the 14 new residences ceiling, interior design, living room, property, real estate, room, gray
View of one of the 14 new residences in the reinvented Rathdowne building. SJB Architects undertook the project.

A substantial addition to a heritage-listed building needs to interweave a respect for the past with the needs of the new.

This was the challenge when SJB Architects was asked by owner-developer Hamton to restore and at the same time, contemporise The Rathdowne an Edwardian landmark in the heart of Melbourne.

The building was built in 1907, served time as a nurses' home, then became a live-in facility for a children's hospital. Over the years, the building has been meticulously preserved operating as an office building through the 1980s.

Now the gracious building has taken on yet another lease of life. SJB has rejuvenated the street facade restoring everything from boards, balustrades, and roof tiles and making aged timber windows operable. In addition, the architects have extended the building at the rear, to accommodate 14 new apartments.

Associate Tamara Dunkley says the classic facade has not been impinged upon by the fresh-faced extension.

"Invisible from the street, the extension presents a cohesive, modern exterior," says Dunkley. "The introduced facade steps back visually, in accordance with local bylaws.

View of the Rathdowne building with its refurbished architecture, building, campus, condominium, daytime, facade, mixed use, neighbourhood, plant, real estate, residential area, tree, black
View of the Rathdowne building with its refurbished Edwardian facade and modern extension.

"Individual shapes give visual interest, avoiding an overly imposing impression," Dunkley says. "For example, the white, framed entrance at the side of the building is repeated by the form of the articulated penthouse."

Vertical timber elements bookend the radial blade screens and chime with the red-brick street facade.

The reinvented Rathdowne is now home to 14 residences. To accommodate the differing exterior ground heights and to provide access, including a lift, SJB created a variety of layouts some running the length of the building.

Two adjacent units were merged into one to create the interiors featured here. The original, proposed two-bedroom apartments have been turned into a three-bedroom space, with a substantial master suite.

Besides the transformation of the entire building, SJB Architects also undertook the creation of this apartment.

"The owners have a grown family, so it was important to provide some degree of separation," says Dunkley. "The master suite is at one end, the childrens' rooms at the other, and the living spaces and kitchen run in between."

View of one of the 14 new residences bathroom, bathroom accessory, interior design, product design, property, room, sink, white
View of one of the 14 new residences in the reinvented Rathdowne building. SJB Architects undertook the project.

While The Rathdowne's interiors are crisp and modern, they defer to the building's pedigree through attention to materials and forms. In public areas soaring vaulted ceilings, timber floors and wrought iron balustrades hold sway.

Within the individual apartments, elements such as limestone floors and marble benchtops continue the sense of refinement and good taste.

"Rooms are separated by tall cavity sliders, to draw attention to the high ceilings," says Dunkley. "In the same way, internal walls are positioned to avoid disturbing original window placements.

"Deferring to The Rathdowne's architectural history has been a prime consideration throughout all the fit-outs."

The Rathdowne presents a marriage of old-world grace and contemporary charm. While front and rear facades are most often seen separately, viewed from the side, these two different exteriors are complementary. Similarly, the new interiors augment the building's historical origins.

Credit list

Landscape designer
John Patrick
Penthouse roof
Kitchen cabinetry
Colourform vinyl wrap from Parbury by JFK interiors
Oven, cooktop
Scala rail shower from Reece
Extension construction
Extension cladding
Timber, powder-coated Alucobond, perforated metal screen
Apartment floors
Solid Jarrah floorboards with Black Japan stain
Grain Cristobel from Stone Italiana
Kitchen mixer
Gessi from Abey
Bathroom taps
Park lever from Reece

Story by: Charles Moxham

Photography by: Andrew Ashton

01 Jan, 2010