Australia’s first purpose-built hub for LGBTIQ+ communities, the Victorian Pride Centre in St Kilda has won the top prize for public architecture at the 2022 Victorian Architecture Awards. 

Brearley Architects & Urbanists (BAU) and Grant Amon Architects, the team behind the Pride Centre, which opened to the public in July 2021, won the William Wardell Award For Public Architecture.   

This award was a “testament to the tenacity of our communities”, said Justine Dalla Riva, CEO, Victorian Pride Centre.

Victorian Pride Centre CEO Justine Dalla Riva (front, extreme right) during the contraction of the building. Image: Supplied.

 “We are as beautiful as this building is, and we deserve something so iconic that acknowledges our past and creates a true place of welcome, now and into the future. There is permeance and protection in the concrete blades that make up the structure, elements of continuing evolution and the unfinished exposed elements that remind us that we still have work to do,” said Dalla Riva. 

The CEO thanked the architects “for their amazing work and in coming on a journey of consultation and understanding with us. How can you create a community hub without community, you can’t, so we should all feel like winners.”

An Iconic Public Building Is Born

The central ellipsoid-shaped, light-filled atrium is at the heart of the Victorian Pride Centre located on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. Photographer: John Gollings

Located in the beachside suburb of St Kilda, the iconic building on Fitzroy Street, is the first of its type of public building in Australia – a government-funded centre for the LGBTQI community. 

“Externally the Victorian Pride Centre is profoundly welcoming and exudes a sense of confidence and pride. The building with its tripartite arched composition and whimsical rooftop pavilions cleverly reminiscences upon St Kilda’s iconic institutions – St Kilda Sea Baths, Palais Theatre and Luna Park,” the awards jury said. 

“The Victorian Pride Centre challenges the norms of architectural hierarchy, order, and rationale,” said Brearley Architects & Urbanists Director James Brearley. Photographer: John Gollings

The internal spaces are equally striking, and nothing embodies safe space and glamour more than the glorious “central ellipsoid-shaped, light-filled atrium” and the grand staircase. This is a wonderful place of gathering and a thoughtful symbol of the ongoing struggle towards equality, diversity, and inclusion,” the jury said. 

According to BAU Director James Brearley, the brief from the client was to create a “sense of place and a sense of pride in themselves and their community”. 

“It needed a quality of permanence and robustness. It also needed to have a welcoming club-like atmosphere,” Bearley told Star Observer

St Kilda’s Queer Histories Were An Inspiration

Victorian Pride Centre is located on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. Photographer: John Gollings

One of the inspirations was the Victorian Trades Hall in Melbourne, one of the world’s oldest trade union building, built in 1859. 

“The (VPC) building challenges the norms of architectural hierarchy, order, and rationale. It engages notions of the unfinished, the in-between, emergence, and coexistence. It extends the trove of St Kilda’s sensual architecture and queer space by the sea. And, of course, bathrooms in the building are non-binary!” said Bearley. 

“Steering away from corporate slick aesthetics we made many of the spaces raw, warehouse-like. Organisations can embrace the public spaces with their own art, design and communication,” said Brearley Architects & Urbanists Director James Brearley. Photographer: John Gollings.

The queer histories of St Kilda were also an inspiration. “Influence was taken from St Kilda’s exotic history of architecture of the sea baths, dance halls, the Moorish influences, the exuberant curvatures of Luna Park, cupolas, domes, the Esplanade vaults, Catani’s park designs, and the local paintings of Nolan. Influence from local architect Allan Powell, sadly recently passed away, is present in our engagement with Piranesian space, unravelled grand St Kilda, the vegetated roofs, the civic portico, the sea-worn bleached concrete forms,” said Brearley. 

For The Community

Drag performer Dolly Diamond at the opening of the Victorian Pride Centre in July 2021. Photographer: Gabriel Jia.

The architects never lost sight of the fact that the space had to work for the community. A conscious decision was made to step away from “corporate slick aesthetics”, and make the spaces “raw, warehouse-like”. 

“We made the forum a grand space with a slide-up glass wall to the pavement. Events such as Gay Stuff Markets, knocked-in in the morning, spill onto the street under the portico. The heart of the building is the atrium, used as an amphitheatre for the audience or as a stage for speakers and performers. We didn’t expect the huge rooftop to be so popular. With fantastic views over the bay it hosts a multitude of events including hugely popular disco yoga and Sunday socials,” said Brearley.

Drag performer Frock Hudson gets vaccinated at the Victorian Pride Centre (Left) in October 2021. Team administering the vaccines (Right). Images: Supplied

The Pride Centre is open to all and welcomes not just the LGBTQI community, but also the local community in St Kilda and Melbourne. “The centre is proving pivotal in bringing about a renaissance of Fitzroy Street,” added Brearley. 

The architecture awards were announced at an awards ceremony hosted by the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects on June 17, 2022. The award winners will now go on to compete for the 2022 National Architecture Awards. 

© Star Observer 2022 | For the latest in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, be sure to visit daily. You can also read our latest magazines or Join us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.