Performing Arts Centre, St George’s

The St George’s Performing Arts Centre is the result of the adaptive reuse of the heritage-listed St George’s Uniting Church. Built in 1866, the church was purchased by St Michael’s Grammar School in 2014 and functioned as an assembly hall and theatre space for the school, albeit with severe functional limitations—the space was poorly ventilated and lit, while the church interior, designed for sermons and choirs, was ill-suited to the acoustic and spatial needs of modern productions.

Kneeler Design Architects was engaged to design the works required to the church building to provide state-of-the-art facilities for music, drama, and performing arts, as well as a space for general school use such as assemblies, presentations, and speech nights. A key ambition of the project was to maximise seating numbers yet maintain good sightlines to the stage, all while negotiating a complex range of heritage controls, acoustic, theatre, and services requirements, and compliance with accessibility standards.

The design takes the form of careful insertions and interventions that lightly touch the building fabric, so that the original proportions and detailing of the space are preserved. The interventions provide tiered seating, a control desk, box office, heating and cooling systems, concealed plant space, and storage. The materiality of these interventions is subdued and elegant, selected for their ability to harmonise with the existing fabric and patinate with age. The heritage fabric, including the brickwork, leaded glass windows, and organ—one of only five of its kind exported to Australia—was carefully restored as part of required conservation works.

New steelwork suspended from the original timber roof structure support stage equipment, drapes, and acoustic reflectors. A timber sprung floor installed over the stage makes the space suitable and safe for movement across a range of genres. The integration of cutting-edge audiovisual technologies, including a L-ISA sound system and modular LED video wall, overcomes acoustic and scenographic limitations imposed by the heritage fabric while allowing students to gain valuable production experience using the most sophisticated equipment available.

The built outcome remains a recognisably ecclesiastical space while providing a visually exciting, immersive theatrical experience for audience and performers alike. The St George’s Performing Arts Centre honours the building’s past while shaping present and future generations of talent, and places St Michael’s Grammar School at the vanguard of pedagogical excellence in performing arts.