Melbourne Design Awards - City Design Awards

The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing + Ideas

Melbourne Design Awards 2010 - Winner

Project Overview

In August 2008, Melbourne was officially awarded the title of the second UNESCO International City of Literature. A key component of the bid was the development of a literature ‘hub’ designed by peckvonhartel architects – the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas.

Located in the south-west wing of the State Library of Victoria, the Wheeler Centre houses office accommodation and support infrastructure for key literary organisations; the Victorian Writers’ Centre, Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Australian Poetry Centre, Express Media, and the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and performance and multipurpose spaces to support event and festival programming for the broader literary community.

Project Team


State Library of Victoria + Arts Victoria
Stuart Koop


Jeanne Lee

Jeanne Lee, Aaron Copeland, Lisa Capezio, Prani Hodges, Krystal Sagona

peckvonhartel prides itself on design leadership.

Leadership begins with innovation and knowledge both of which heavily influence the design outcomes of the practice.

The three offices of peckvonhartel act seamlessly as one fully connected practice. Design teams often consist of interstate members providing a broad knowledge base and subsequently intelligent design choices. This process of “knowledge sharing” helps us develop and evolve to the challenges of today’s design environment.

Designs evolve out of rigorous research and this combined with a collaborative work environment help peckvonhartel excel in both Interior Design and Architecture. The combination of Interior Design and Architecture within the office provides a limitless wealth of knowledge and experience which is conveyed in all projects on a day to day basis. Similarly this collaboration contributes to global design outcomes where both architectural and interior intent is highly considered.

The foundation to all of peckvonhartel’s design solutions is ecologically sustainable design. Designs are tested and assessed to determine the most sustainable solution. The first principal approach of passive design is a must within all design choices and sustainable technology choices are beginning to play an integral part in a buildings performance over time.

The variety of projects that peckvonhartel is attributed to is another marker of the continued success the practice has had in developing and implementing design solutions across a wide range of project briefs. In over 30 years of practice the office has become a benchmark in creating solutions that not only meet but exceed client’s needs and expectations.

peckvonhartel continues to strive for design excellence and to be at the forefront of innovation and sustainable design.

Project Brief

The brief called for the establishment of a new literary hub within the south wing of the State Library of Victoria which could provide not only the support infrastructure for numerous literary groups, but also enable performance events and functions to occur.

A budget of 3.1million was placed on the project to enable a sympathetic yet technologically advanced solution to the 1,685m2 development. The brief called for the refurbishment of an existing building as well as a new external lift shaft and the centre’s entrance canopy, allowing the building to evolve into a thriving literary and cultural destination.

The existing building was seen as a prized item and was therefore fully utilized in peckvonhartel’s design. The design intention included retrofitting the building to provide the latest in technology needed for the future development of the literary groups. All the while a sympathetic approach was taken to the original design intent of the unique architectural and heritage characteristics of the existing Verdon and Barry Halls.

Project Innovation / Need

The Wheeler Centre is the destination of Australia’s UNESCO City of Literature. The Centre provides a literary hub for key organisations, fosters vibrant literary communities and engages the general public.

A key component of the centres design was the need for state-of-the-art audio visual facilities which have been fitted to the performance hall. These features enable webcasting and podcasting of literary events which ensures the reach of the centre to a global domain.

Workspace chambers and compartments situated under the heritage mezzanine resonate the intimacy and rhythm of the library’s Queen’s Hall whilst connecting to an open plan workplace. This area references subtle heritage tones with injections of bold contemporary colours.

To emphasis the building’s linear character, a layering of space and low slung aesthetic creates a managed interface between the workspaces and public areas. A concept of “touching lightly” through exposed services further contribute to the elegant sight lines of the space.

This concept is referenced in the main entry where a sculptural Geoffrey Mance design is suspended. The delicate light fitting provides a soft glow which emphasises the space’s internal grandeur whilst respecting its heritage setting.

The Centre presents a place where the general public can connect with the literary community whilst showcasing contemporary design within a grand heritage framework.

Design Challenge

The design approach of providing a flexible and adaptable contemporary workspace in a heritage building was addressed through three key interpretations and initiatives and read through the following - the Building and its Heritage, the Client and their Identity, and Building Services and their Function.

The existing heritage building not only gave the design team their first challenge but also provide the basis for the conceptual development of the ‘touching lightly’ approach whereby design choices were made with a high level of respect for the existing building. This led to a strategy of exposed ductwork and reticulation of services to allow the original details and sight lines to be fully maintained and enhanced.

The key literary organizations are housed on Level Three where chambers and compartments were designed under the heritage mezzanine to intimate the rhythm and grandeur of the adjoining Queen’s Hall. This combined with a layering of spaces from public to semi-private to more private spaces helped reinforce the interface between the workplace and the public areas.

The concept of “touching lightly” was also central to the detailing of walls and joinery, and in the selection of workstation and furniture. The portal frame supporting the dividing operable wall in the performance space appears to be floating. Bookcases infused with Florence Broadhurst wallpaper are partially engaged into glazed walls. Meanwhile a high level of respect was paid to the original detailing of the existing heritage building.


peckvonhartel was careful to use only sustainable products in the interiors and where possible the furniture, fixtures and fittings have been locally sourced. Existing features such as ceiling roses and the original tessellated tile floor of the foyer have been reconditioned minimizing the embodied energy within the design.

The main entry features sculptural light fittings chosen for their delicacy and designed by Melbourne lighting designer Geoffrey Mance. An emphasis was placed on using Australian designers and products when selecting furniture fixtures and finishes.