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Maitland’s Riverlink Building: A unique public living room linking the town to the river

Riverlink Building using Petersen D71 bricks

The Riverlink Building in the NSW town of Maitland is already making an indelible mark. While not yet officially opened, this magnificent structure truly is a sight to behold: a unique and beautifully designed sculptural gateway that’s creating the much-needed connection between the town’s High Street and the mighty Hunter River.

The brainchild of CHROFI, Manly’s cutting edge architects, has been a good five plus years in the making. True to CHROFI’s big picture approach, this was a project that evolved from a need to revitalise the town centre and to draw locals back to the Hunter River, which is fundamental to the town’s heritage. With an unsolicited proposal, CHROFI worked alongside Maitland City Council and McGregor+Coaxall, finding the right buildings to purchase and redevelop for this purpose, adding a new layer to the town centre experience.

On 19 April the team’s vision will officially be realised, when it’s opened by Mr Scot MacDonald MLC, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning, the Central Coast and the Hunter.

There is no doubt that material choice was critical to achieving such an amazing result. “We wanted the building to have a lightness, and a light quality to it, so it felt uplifting to be underneath it,” remarks Joshua Zoeller, Associate, CHROFI. Not surprisingly, natural materials reign front and centre. Brick is the primary finish, complemented by blackbutt timber panels to achieve light, transparency and operability.

Having had various Petersen brick samples floating around the office for some time, the CHROFI team was excited to have found the perfect project to put them into play. Tai Ropiha, Founding Partner, CHROFI comments, “We’ve been looking at these bricks for quite some time. And we liked the aesthetic result you get from using these more diverse looking bricks against modern architecture.”

Riverlink Building Petersen D71 handmade bricks

Equally importantly was selecting a brick that worked well with existing buildings. Ropiha continues, “We wanted the building to speak of its time but also be complementary to the old buildings in the street, which used handmade bricks.” Petersen bricks hit the mark. Being handmade, they have an individual quality about them, so every brick looks different, providing the interest, richness and texture CHROFI was seeking.

And the Petersen D71 brick colour was perfect, too. Maitland’s old buildings are a combination of light blonde or creamy blonde bricks, with some great sandstone buildings thrown in between. Zoeller adds, “The D71 has that powdery quality to it, so it feels a bit like sandstone.”

Zoeller continues, “We also needed the building to work at the scale of High Street, and have a presence from the riverfront. But we needed a material that, when you get up close and touch it, gave a distinct and memorable experience at the human scale.”

In fact, it’s the interplay between the broader scale and the close up scale that makes this building a standout. From a distance, the building has what looks like very sharp corners, giving the building’s skin a unique, razor sharp quality. Zoeller comments, “On two corners, the brick walls come to acute 18 and 22 degree angles.” CHROFI had a number of beautiful ‘specials’ made for this project, including bricks with a bull nose edge for these corners. “From a distance it looks razor sharp, but when you get up close it’s actually a brick with a rounded edge. So the brick moves in a unique way,” adds Zoeller.

But the Riverlink Building isn’t just about aesthetics. From a functional point of view, it’s a multi-use powerhouse. This roofed public living room includes amenities on one side and a two storey café and restaurant along the other. It’s simply an enticing place to sit and enjoy shade in summer and warmth in winter, engage with a permanent art installation or embrace a whole host of possible uses from a mobile public library to a light and airy space that’s readily transformed into an outdoor cinema or theatre.

When it’s all said and done, Maitland’s locals will be the ones to measure the true value of this project by voting with their feet. And early indicators are really encouraging: “Already people are filing through the gateway and onto the banks of the river,” comments Ropiha. What more can they ask for? Even before its fully operational, the Riverlink Building is already proving to be a wonderful public living room for both locals and visitors, and a valuable addition to the fabric of Maitland.

Architect: CHROFI

Builder: GRAPH

Landscape design: McGregor+Coxall

Photographers: Matt Abbott, Simon Wood, Edge Commercial Photography

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