The Block’s resident architect Julian Brenchley talks us through what’s ahead for The Gatwick.
What did you think when you first heard The Gatwick might be for available for the show?
The producers and I both had the same reaction - ‘Holy f--k!’ Of course, we knew about the history, so it was quite a daunting task to see how it might work for the TV show.
It must have been fascinating when you walked through the building for the first time...
It was many months of negotiations before we got to that point. When we did walk in the door for the first time, I had to go in disguise. I had to dress down, put on some old sneakers, and it was a case off ‘take your watch off, and don’t wear perfume, and wear a black t-shirt’. It was really a pretty daunting experience, given the social workers were going in there under police escort. It was pretty full on - and not for the faint hearted!
Did you think the building had great potential?
Yeah, it was a grand old thing, and you could see the bones of it there. It had devolved over the years, but it was all there - it just needed some help.
The grand old Gatwick prior to its transformation. Photo credit: Tankeo
When you took possession, how did you get a sense of what you’d like to do?
We did what’s called ‘forensic drafting’, to find out what the plans were like, and how they were first thought about - that gave us an idea of how we might like to calve it up for The Block. And coming off the experience from Sky High (the renovation of an old motel property in South Melbourne), we had quite a bit of experience with hotel development, so that held us in good stead.
What made you decide to construct two penthouses atop the building?
Well, why the hell wouldn’t you? It was just perfect. And so much fun. The whole building is great, but you don’t just want to mimic or copy the style - we wanted to do something new; to show the old for what it is, and to show the new for what it is.
The apartments are massive - was that always the plan?
We worked as hard as we could to get the units as absolutely monstrous as possible. We wanted them to be a bit of a ‘disruptive offering’ in the market around St Kilda, because a lot of the product on offer there is relatively small.
Just how big are we talking?
They are huge - all of them. All in the order of 240/250 square metres. They really are monstrous - three times the size of just one of the first units we did on the first Block in Bondi!
Are we right in assuming you could fit one of those Bondi units in the floor space of JUST the living/dining?
Yes, that’s correct! And the ceilings - I think the minimum is 2.8m on the lower ones, and the penthouses are over 4 metres high!
Planning Permit submitted to the City of Port Phillip.
How are they all configured?
The Block is all about ‘Deliverables’, so it’s a three bedroom, two and a half bathroom mix, with a kitchen, butlers pantry, separate laundry, the living/dining area and the indoor/outdoor space, which can be doubled into extra living space, rather than outdoor space.
Can the contestants substantially change the plans this year?
It’s a bit more difficult as we are dealing with an old beast. That being said, they are all so different. But, essentially, no - we did have some quite strict requirements there this year.
From a professional point of view, is it gratifying to think of the impact the changes you have made to The Gatwick might have on the surrounding area?
Of course - of all The Blocks we do, that generally, as a rule, happens. But this one, more so than most, because of the social implications of the change. Neighbours would normally come up and complain - now they’re coming and congratulating us, and giving us bottles of wine!
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