Machine Hall: A New, Flexible CBD Venue

Machine Hall: A New, Flexible CBD Venue
Image: Source: Supplied

Hidden in the heart of Sydney’s CBD is a brand new venue that’s aiming to become the city’s go-to venue for arts and events.

The Machine Hall, originally built as a liquor warehouse in 1909 and readapted as Sub Station No. 164 in the 1930s, has become the benchmark for re-adaptive use of disused industrial spaces in the city’s centre.

Jono Cottee is the development director for innovative construction company Built, and said that the company saw an opportunity in the 183 Clarence Street property back in 2014.

“The two buildings were owned by Ausgrid and we tried to buy them. However, someone offered more money and they couldn’t make it work, and then it was sold to someone else; and eventually we bought it,” Cottee said.

“To pay for the re-adaptive use we needed to build an extension above, so we spoke with the City of Sydney and talked about creating something truly unique that respected the heritage but was modern and had a sculptural element.”

Source: Supplied

The plan for Machine Hall

After negotiating a relaxation of some local building rules to accommodate office spaces above, Built then set to work reimagining the Sub Station spaces.

Eventually it was designed to accommodate four distinct spaces: the Machine Hall, Clarence Vault, Third Space and Fusebox, all while respecting the skin of the building and making the best use of its 1000square metre space, 12.5 metre ceilings, wraparound mezzanines and commercial kitchen and production capabilities.

During Covid, when the entertainment and events industry all but came to a halt, Built had to consider how best to secure the Machine Hall’s future.

“We spoke with external operators to see if they would take it on, but in the end we decided that to do it properly we needed to do it ourselves,” Cottee said.

“We created a new business called the Machine Hall and spoke to the City of Sydney. We said that we would be able to run a proper program of events and formed an agreement with them that a certain amount of events would be free in a partnership deal.”

Source: Supplied

An adaptable venue

Paul Schulte, Co-Founder and Partner of the Machine Hall, comes to the venue with extensive experience in the US hospitality and events industry and says he’s still finding his way with the venue’s adaptability. He added that past events have been a valuable learning curve.

“We’re still figuring out a lot of what is right and wrong with the various setups that we actually need in the future,” says Schulte.

“Obviously the height and sheer scale of the room is unique in an Australian context, and the Kent Street entrance is huge for car launches and bringing in equipment,” Schulte said.

“The Mezzanine is a real plus and lends itself to a great spectator experience, such as when we put an orchestra up there.”

The design has seen the space taken back to its bare bones, with any new design elements like staircases and lighting rigs only lightly touching the skeleton.

“We left the space as a blank canvas intentionally. If you over-design, you get pigeonholed very quickly and we wanted to make it look different every day of the week,” Schulte said.

“We have the ability from a sound and lighting perspective to make it different every time.”

While the actual space may be bare bones, the Machine Hall has modern facilities that will make each event in the venue feel completely individual.

“There is a rigging system that allows us to add speakers or what we need for music parties, and then there are different lighting levels and settings for different styles of events.”

“There’s also a professional kitchen in there and that allows for professional caterers to come in.”

Source: Supplied

Machine Hall’s first big test

All those tools will be tested this month when the Machine Hall hosts a Vivid breakout program, as part of their agreement with the City of Sydney. 

“The Vivid program is traditionally in the Opera House, but they wanted a space for lesser known acts and I think that the program that Vivid have put together shows a vast variety of performers,” Cottee said.

“These are potentially performances that you won’t see in the CBD.”

Cottee adds: “What we love about this is that you are giving the building its second or third life and the fabric is much richer than a new building.

“It has a story of the history of what came before it.”

Now, this historic building has a new future as an adaptive and imaginative performance and events space in the heart of Sydney’s CBD.

Machine Hall is located at 183-185 Clarence Street, Sydney. Check out the Vivid Program for the venue here.

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