A Humble Warehouse Conversion for a Playful Office

Words by Anthony Richardson

Who doesn’t love a warehouse conversion? However, Polyglot by mcmahon & nerlich isn’t your typical warehouse conversion project, with a strong social sustainable agenda and a playful but mature approach.



Hidden away in a warehouse the Abbotsford Convent sits the offices of Polyglot, however this isn’t a typical warehouse conversion. This isn’t an industrial heritage with a contemporary intervention, but instead a rather humble insertion. Polyglot is not some slick, corporate entity, rather a not-for-profit children’s theatre company. Being such a playful company, the offices, although for adults, reflect this nature. Before Polyglot and mcmahon & nerlich took over, it was already an extraordinary space. Soaring ceilings, exposed timber trusses, and plenty of natural light seeping in, this gave mcmahon & nerlich a fantastic blank canvas to work with.

They had five elements which they focused on;

  1. The original heritage screen, which was lightly sanded and the faded pastel paint protected.

  2. Using Australian-made Warwick fabric, an informal reading nook was defined.

  3. Mobile collaboration tables which help foster creative communication

  4. Custom desks have a planter built-in which allows plenty of greenery in the space to help with detoxification and defining work zones.

  5. A curved, coloured polycarbonate pod which acts as the boardroom.

When these five ideas also had a very tight budget to work with, so everything was kept simple, with no “over the top” materials used. In their own way, they needed to have a Glenn Murcutt approach with “touch the earth lightly”, except in mcmahon & nerlich’s case they needed to touch the floor and walls lightly. With the building being heritage protected, there needed to be compliance with the permit and conservation plan. This meant no recessed or flush-finish details, and where fixing was required for stability, it also needed to be removed without leaving a mark.

Wanting to align with client values, mcmahon & nerlich wanted a socially-sustainable design that incorporated local or Australian-designed produced. The collaboration tables, boardroom table and desks were custom made using plywood with a feature black vertical. The boardroom chairs were sourced were sourced from a locally-designed and made supplier, and the remaining stools and chairs came from a new Melbourne-based online startup. The only thing that that wasn’t locally sourced and designed were the desk chairs, however the goodness comes from the fact that they were recycled from the old office. This approach creates a rather sustainable office fit-out, with no waste or excess material. Using local material and furniture not only eliminates huge transport waste, but also removes cheap imported copies. As a result of everything, the office is a beautiful textured space, which is playful but mature at the same time.

Polyglot is a finalist in the ArchiTeam 2018 Awards for Commercial. The winners will be announced on Wednesday 14 November 2018 at 5 Easey Upstairs, 5 Easey Street, Collingwood. See ArchiTeam for more information.

The entire fit-out needed to “touch the floor” (and walls) lightly, needing approval from the building surveyor / Heritage Victoria, compliance with the heritage permit and conservation management plan.
— mcmahon & nerlich


Project Name _ Polyglot
Architect _
mcmahon & nerlich | www.manarchitects.com.au | @mcmahonandnerlich
Location _
Area _ 200m²
Project Completed _ 2018
Photographer _
Shannon McGrath | www.shannonmcgrath.com
Builder _ Sinjen |

Published with BowerBird

The latest offices