Design reflects colourful past
Modern history: Architects drew on Silver Top's past for its new headquarters. Photo: Sonia Mangiapane
TAXIS have come a long way since the days when the buggy ruled the roads. Established by the Gange family more than 150 years ago, Hansom cabs became Silver Top Taxis in the mid-1930s, with the intention of providing premium transport for the city.
Like the horse-drawn cab, Melbourne's streets, laid out under ''Hoddle's Grid'', also have a rich history, adapting to the changes in transport mode.
''We wanted to capture this history, as well as providing a comfortable work environment,'' says architect Steven Cortese, design director of Baldasso Cortese Architects, who worked closely with senior design architect Dev Mistry on the new headquarters for Silver Top Taxis.
Baldasso Cortese designed a new fitout for Silver Top Taxis' head office in 2000 to coincide with their move to Rupert Street, Collingwood. This design featured a two-storey office building nestled within an old warehouse.
Unfortunately there was a fire in 2009. All that remained was a shell, with unimpeded views of the sky. ''There was almost nothing of the original building that could be saved. The couple of remaining walls were deemed unstable,'' Mistry says.
For the latest design, Baldasso Cortese looked to the Hoddle Grid for inspiration. They also took their cues from well-known Australian artist Jeffrey Smart, renowned for his strong use of colour, graphic quality, and his ability to elevate the humble road sign to great effect.
Smart's bold use of colour is reflected in the facade of the new headquarters, with its bright yellow-and-red steel awnings, designed to also deflect the western sunlight.
''We used Hoddle's Grid to delineate the windows and doors in the facade, with the red awnings also denoting entrances,'' Cortese says. While not obvious from the floor plan, the layout includes ''green spaces'' integral to Melbourne's history, where generous parklands were retained within the grid.
Green spaces take the form of a generous central courtyard. There also is a secluded terrace that leads from executive offices. Complete with barbecue and outdoor seating, the courtyard offers ''breathing space'' for staff who operate the phones at all hours of the day or night.
''We saw the courtyard as being like Melbourne's parks. They're like the lungs of the city,'' Mistry says.
One of the main challenges for the architects was getting sufficient natural light and cross-ventilation into the building, given it is hemmed in by factories. The solution was to provide a sawtooth roof, evocative of the building that burnt down.
And to further enliven the spaces, corridors are between three and five metres wide, allowing this space to double as informal meeting areas.
Rather than blank-walled corridors, the architects also included graphics appropriate to the taxi industry. The hook turn is boldly emblazoned on the walls in yellow and black, illuminated at night by LED lighting. The history of the taxi business is not only included in the architecture, but also through a museum at ground level, adjacent to the entrance.
Models of taxis that once graced our roads, including examples from the 1950s and '60s, now grace the museum. An old petrol pump at the entrance is also a reminder of our motoring history.
''We wanted a building that was accessible to customers, but also took in issues such as security for staff working at night,'' says Cortese, who included secure car parking at ground level, as well as a separate entrance for staff using the building at different times of the day.