Article taken from: www.smh.com.au on 15 July 2014
Architects: Williams Boag Architects
GOOD architecture in industrial parks is hard to find and easy to like. To come across a fine little building in the flat, windswept plains of industrial Altona is therefore a joy and a revelation. Better still that it has, at its core, a social and environmental heart.
Designed by Williams Boag Architects, with French food-processing systems architect Francois Tesniere, the building is known as the Community Chef and it is in essence just that: a kitchen providing more than 16,000 food portions each day to people isolated by age, illness or disability, across more than 20 local municipalities as far away as Geelong and the Surf Coast. It replaces old Meals on Wheels kitchens in those areas.
Tesniere is renowned for developing an innovative meal production system in industrial kitchens, using ”forward flow” principles in which raw materials are received at one end and move continuously through each stage of preparation, cooking, pasteurisation, vacuum sealing and ”smart” packing ready for delivery – all done under a strictly controlled, near-sterile environment in which hygiene is uppermost, reducing almost all risks of food contamination.
Efficiency and safety are everything in Tesniere’s 2zones2 kitchen system, deemed one of the five most important kitchen innovations – after the microwave oven, ultrasonic washer, induction cooker and disposable packaging – of the past 30 years.
The architecture for the kitchen could easily have been as dull as the prefabricated concrete panel monoliths that seem to litter industrial estates. But it stands within sight of the Altona petrochemical refineries – belching flames and lit as daylight at night – and its exterior expression is more akin to a raw industrial facility than the sophisticated hygiene-controlled food processing plant within its walls.
Rather than propose a monumental structure, the kitchen’s design architect, Peter Williams, opted for a tall, deeply serrated steel roof, set on a steel frame, as the facility’s singular, most powerful architectural element. Slipped under it, like pieces of Lego, are the plant’s various components.
The administration area, at one end, is a vibrantly coloured cement sheet box, signalling the public threshold and set behind a crude landscape zone and cutesy residential-scale letterbox (not of the architect’s making) that provides a buffer from street traffic out front.
The near-hermetically sealed processing zone stands at the other end, clad in dark, insulated sandwich-panel boards, almost receding into the sparse landscape surrounding it. The two zones are separated internally by a glazed skylit viewing corridor that ensures transparency between the two. Full glazing to the rear of the food processing area allows employees access to daylight, providing visual relief from what is, really, an unrelenting industrial environment.
Arranged about the flanks of the building is an agglomeration of machinery and equipment – refrigeration units, boilers, chillers, e-water tanks as well as rainwater collection tanks, air-conditioning plant and more – to service the facility. The large-span roof, with its significant overhangs and cantilevers, is the controlling force, holding everything together, literally floating overhead, allowing the building and its many parts to read as a unified whole of interconnected facilities with distinguishable characters and functions.
A screen of steel cables stretched taut from the leading edge of the roof has been set as a guide for creeper plants, irrigated by stormwater collected on site, which in time will provide the building with a green veil to modulate light and add to views from within.
Community Chef is good architecture, on a tight budget (about $13 million), relying on strategic material choices and simple detailing as a foil for the highly engineered food processing plant within.
It could and should serve as a template for other similar kitchens across Victoria and across Australia.