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Royal WA Institute for the Blind, Maylands (1937, 1955)

For more than 50 years, this landmark Art Deco building on Whatley Crescent provided vocational training and education services for the visually impaired.

Today, the building dances to a different tune as the home of the West Australian Ballet.

The Senses Foundation (formerly the Royal WA Institute for the Blind) sold the building and land in 2004. The land, which ran from Whatley Crescent through to Guildford Road, was subdivided, with three quarters of the site developed for residential. The 1937 building, which contained large open spaces, was initially intended to be adapted into apartments and then offices, before it was eventually sold to the City of Bayswater which leased it to the West Australian Ballet.

While the proposed residential development would have resulted in apartments with large open spaces, it would have required bigger changes to the existing fabric of the building.

Its adaptation for the West Australian Ballet proved to be the perfect fit. The existing interior layout allowed for large performance and rehearsal spaces, café and wardrobe functions, and open plan offices without significant alteration to the existing fabric.

It also ensured that this historic building could continue to be accessed by the public and enjoyed by future generations.

But the project was not without its challenges. The structure was strengthened, services were upgraded and concessions provided for parking. Areas that had been subjected to vandalism and fire damage in 2005 were repaired. The rear lavatory block was demolished to make way for a new steel structure incorporating toilets, stairwell and a lift to improve mobility access. The new addition is clad in ice opaque white Danpalon panels.

Today, the West Australian Ballet has a state of the art facility which boasts three dance studios, a wardrobe and production department and administration offices.

This project took a vacant and neglected building and adapted it into an attractive and sought after venue. And importantly, it illustrates how finding the right compatible use for a heritage building can be the key to a successful adaptive reuse project.

Read more about the Royal WA Institute for the Blind by downloading the Register Entry and Assessment Documentation.

The West Australian Ballet website also has a virtual tour of the building.
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