After being forced to go virtual in 2020, judging of the 2021 South Australian Architecture Awards has returned to the previous format of live jury presentations and site visits in a range of categories, with announcement of the winners scheduled for June 10. Category winners will then go on to compete at the national level.

A new award has also been announced – the SA Architecture Medal is now the highest honour awarded by the SA chapter of the national institute, and will be presented to the winner across all categories at a bricks-and-mortar celebration in Adelaide on June 11.

Over the next two months, InReview will take a look at the key contenders in each category, starting with the aptly-named Keith Neighbour Award for Commercial Architecture.

Keith Neighbour Award for Commercial Architecture

New commercial buildings can scream “look at me” or they can quietly and respectfully slip into a streetscape, landscape or urban context. This year’s entrants to the Keith Neighbour Award cover the whole spectrum of responses to neighbourhood context.­

Starting with the biggest and boldest, BUCHAN’s SkyCity Adelaide Expansion Project brashly dominates its national and state heritage-listed parliamentary and cultural neighbours in a grand and glittering sculptural gesture, unashamedly ramming home the transformation of this section of the Adelaide Riverbank from public cultural space to private commercial precinct. There is no question of who is the new boss here.

Across the river, in direct contrast, the Adelaide Oval Hotel by COX Architecture + Carr bravely barnacles itself onto the existing stadium structure, complementing the existing material palette and downplaying the commercial intrusion into public parkland, barely daring to touch the ground.

Left: SkyCity Adelaide Expansion Project by BUCHAN. Photo: Sam Noonan. Right: Adelaide Oval Hotel by COX Architecture + Carr. Photo: David Sievers

Somewhere in between these extremes, the GPO Exchange (by Hassell and Fitzpatrick+Partners with Baukultur) takes inspiration from the classical and modernist heritage of Adelaide’s Victoria Square to employ deliberately simple, refined and consistent architectural approaches on all aspects. The main foyer integrates with the State Heritage-listed Telephone Exchange Building, the restored heritage brickwork on display. The Franklin Street entrance also emulates the solidity and shelter offered by entrances to the adjacent heritage buildings, while sculpted panels on that elevation offer an artistic interpretation of switchboards in the former Telephone Exchange building.  A podium base sets the main tower back from the street, respecting the heights of its classical neighbours to create a green and pleasant outdoor space overlooking the square and GPO tower.

The GPO Exchange by Hassell and Fitzpatrick+Partners with Baukultur. Photo: James Knowler

Off nearby Gouger Street, the Hotel Indigo by Loucas Zahos Architects also integrates well with its older neighbours to establish a distinctive landmark in the Adelaide Central Market precinct. Housed on the site of a former textile factory next to the iconic Adelaide Democratic Club, the hotel foyer’s copper fixtures and red brick archways open invitingly onto Market Street, in a nod to SA’s copper mining history and the precinct’s historically rich façades.

Hotel Indigo by Loucas Zahos Architects. Photo: Adam Bruzzone

Over on King William Street, Kent Town, a new boutique office for the Royal Australian College of Surgeons pushes the boundaries of the allowed building envelope to create an impressive statement in the street, invoking clean and clinical connotations. Matthews Architects referenced the glass façades of adjacent buildings while experimenting with texture, colour and patterns of fenestration to encourage a growing sense of curiosity and respect as the viewer approaches.

Kent Town Boutique Office by Matthews Architects. Photo: Daniel Trimboli

The Meals on Wheels SA headquarters on Sir Donald Bradman Drive sits quite lightly in its busy urban context, on the other hand, expressing a sense of warmth, openness and approachability. JPE Design Studio utilised robust feature brickwork and bold transparent forms to frame the activity within to the main road, also cleverly entertaining residential neighbours along the side street with an attractive complexity of texture and form.

Meals on Wheels SA head office by JPE Design Studio. Photo: David Sievers

The final contestant in the 2021 commercial category is located along a busy industrial corridor in Adelaide’s northern suburb of Wingfield. Cheesman Architects’ Animal Welfare League Redevelopment sits cheerfully in its hard industrial context, commanding a strong street presence and delivering a positive, unified, yet eclectic work environment. The aim is to enhance the emotional experiences of staff, volunteers and customers, human and non-human alike.

Animal Welfare League redevelopment by Cheesman Architects. Photos: Richard Elliott

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.