An Art Deco building at TAFE’s Ultimo campus has been saved from the wrecking ball and given a light-touch makeover in its transformation into the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship.

Undertaken by Make Creative for the SSE, the refurbishment saw the former shoe factory, cobblery teaching space and admin offices converted into a flexible learning environment for budding entrepreneurs.

Practice co-director Patricia Bondin told The Fifth Estate the building had been slated for demolition, as TAFE had no further use for it before the SEE was proposed for it.

For that reason, she says, the project had a budget of just $2 million.

That included the make-good of the building that had become “quite dilapidated”, as well as the entire refurbishment and fitout excepting audio visual and IT infrastructure.

The spaces designed by Make Creative have the flexibility to provide for anything from one-on-one discussions to large events for up to 250 people.

Building J was originally built in 1938 to a design by the NSW Government Architect.

The practice’s other co-director, Antonia Presenti, says they retained as much of the building’s existing shell and interior finishes as possible.

No new floor finishes were introduced, with many of the spaces having flooring that was originally reclaimed from George Street and reused in the building when it was first constructed.

The repurposed portion of street comprised 80mm deep timber blocks of an extremely hard timber, red ironbark and a patina reflecting years of use.

The original floor also contained trenching for cabling that has now been re-activated for the new cabling.

Other original elements retained include the steel-framed windows, exposed brickwork and areas of wall tiling.

Presenti says the fitout left these exposed – reducing the amount of materials needed by not “layering” finishes but leaving them exposed and “in their natural state”.

No new ceilings were introduced, and all the services have been left exposed to reveal as much as possible of the original architecture.

Plywood was the dominant material used for the new parts of the fitout and was also used for joinery tucked into window bays and for moveable loose furniture items and cabinetry.

To minimise the spend on new furniture, plywood forms and plinths were designed to be stacked and rearranged to serve multiple purposes such as tables and seating.

The main classroom space features a sculptural platform that can act as seating. Other furnishings designed by the creative team include Deco-inspired lounges, mobile screens and staging systems.

Dark lobby spaces were opened up to bring in more natural light, and pre-existing artificial lighting replaced with LED lighting.

All paints used were low VOC, and the Australian-made plywood is formaldehyde free and certified as being produced from sustainable plantation harvested timber.

Key details of the original Art Deco building were integrated into the aesthetics, such as the fluted copper façade detail reinterpreted in solid timber dowelling used throughout, and repeated circular motifs in doors and joinery that echo the building’s distinctive circular awnings and typical Art Deco forms.

The SSE is a partnership between 11 NSW Universities and TAFE NSW that will offer classes, workshops, lectures, and meetings on entrepreneurialism for students from across NSW, NSW deputy premier and minister for small business, John Barilaro said.

At least 1000 students from across NSW currently undertaking courses are expected to pass through the SEE each year. There will also be program of co-curricular activities including workshops, hackathons, educational boot camps and networking events.

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