Raising the bar: the art of keeping your shop safe


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Grilles on shop windows that are things of beauty in themselves, from inside and out; gates at the shop entrance that are a work of art: instead of deadening the street with blank roller doors, they enliven it, while delivering the same security or better.
This recently completed work on the shopfront at 8 Hele Crescent mark it as a place for creative industry. Two windows and the entry are for the picture-framing and art supplies business, Chapman & Bailey; a third window is for Elbow Workshop, the studio of bespoke shoemaker James Young and designer Elliat Rich. Behind them, with entry off the courtyard is the gallery, Raft Artspace, and a charming small cafe operating out of a caravan, known as The Horse.
The larger part of the courtyard is actually a driveway and a carpark, but they have been developed with such attention to variety and detail, in every surface and function, including water-harvesting and native plantings, that you are almost unaware of the presence and occasional movement of vehicles.
p2487 Gillam rightProperty-owners Mike Gillam and Maria Giacon have steadily transformed this part of Hele Crescent, street numbers 4-8, from a site for light industry, showing the wear and tear of decades, to a creative precinct that expresses itself not only in activity but in its whole ambience.
Starting two decades ago, they took their cues from the sacred hill that rises behind the street and from the World War Two era shed at No 4 that anyone else would have likely bull-dozed. Everything they have done since has grown out of their respect for the local character of these icons, one of country and its ancient culture, the other, of humble human adaptation and ingenuity.
What to do to secure the business premises of their tenants has been the latest challenge, as for many landlords. The shed at No 4, which served originally as an officers’ mess, has been their muse. There, everything was made from materials at hand, from local hardwood to whatever else could be salvaged and adapted.
In this spirit, Gillam forever has his eye out for what can be repurposed from other people’s waste. Sometimes the newfound role is purely aesthetic, like the sheet of cutout plate metal that has become a courtyard sculpture (Gillam’s art has been to recognise its character and install it in this way); at other times materials are reused to new ends. The window and entrance gates at No 8 combine a bit of both.
The grilles are made up of some 50 solar battery boxes, each cut into 4 angular sections – so 150 cuts with an angle grinder. The sections were then joined together with around 780 welds per grille, if Gillam remembers rightly – an enormous effort credited to David Boffie, a qualified boilermaker who works with him on the maintenance and development of the properties.
The boxes have been arranged in diagonals and their repetitive geometry combined with their depth creates a dynamic play of light and shadow, in pleasing contrast with the simple rectangular proportions of the recessed windows and building, and imparting something of a Middle Eastern character.
This is also the effect from the inside, where the grilles enhance privacy and protect from glare while avoiding the feeling of a cage. The apertures are quite large so that a view onto the street is still clear: from inside you can be perfectly aware of what’s going on outside. In urban design terms this is called “passive surveillance” or “eyes on the street”, known to contribute to perceived and real safety.
p2487 Gillam left 300The grilles make a very strong visual statement. A less daring designer might have felt constrained to have the gates reflect much the same aesthetic. In this case, except for the fact that both are made almost entirely from recycled metals, the two designs could scarcely be more different.
The predominantly organic lines and forms as well as the unmistakable presence of a large beetle (the green beetle or irlperenye of Arrernte mythology, even if this one is blue and made from gas bottles) are the clues to reading the gates as a representation of and homage to the local landscape.
The arching trunk of tree and branches soon becomes apparent, the canopy massing to the left. Hanging from it is a large ‘love heart’ in wrought iron, counter-balancing the beetle on the right. Fluttering up from the ground on the left are a variety of desert moths and the huge cossid moth that lays its eggs around the red gums.
Ominously there is smoke curling out of the tree trunk hollow, recalling the recent devastation to many grand old river red gums in our town. This may be what has caused the eyes and mouth, in the suggestion of a human face below the beetle, to open wide in horror.
A lovely section of sweeping long lines swirls through the middle when the gates are closed. Although Gillam says he was thinking of the lines of senna bushes, this reads more as an expression of the ethereal qualities of light and life in the landscape. (The round steel rods used in this section are the only new materials.)
This work sets a whole new standard for securing streetfront premises while adding enormously to the appeal of the public place that is the footpath and road. It will undoubtedly contribute to the creative identity for the businesses at this location, offering a memorable experience for customers beyond their immediate reason for visiting.
Gillam says he is designing for “some of the country’s greatest artists who go though the doors of Chapman & Bailey”, rather than reaching for the lowest common denominator response to security problems.
His strategy is “to delight” both customers and passers-by, and for those who may not be receptive, then “to baffle and confuse”. He thinks it’s important to counteract the widespread sense of mistrust that is being conveyed by proliferating roller doors and tall opaque fences.
This level of design and craft comes at a cost of course, but there are hidden costs in the roller-door syndrome (photo below): the depressive effect it must be having on business and is certainly having on amenity and our sense of who we are as a community.
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  1. Congratulations, Mike. A great effort on your part in demonstrating a creative response to resolving a practical problem. Nothing short of brilliant! And thanks, Kieran, for bringing Mike’s achievement to our attention. I hope our town’s decision-makers are taking notice.

  2. I checked the installations out a couple of weeks ago & they’re just terrific. Such clever use of recycled materials… make sure you swing by & check it out….& the rest of the setup as described above by Kieran. It’s all VERY clever, considered & totally transforms the light-industrial space.

  3. I came here to Alice over 40 years ago. At first all I thought of Alice was it is hot, dusty and not all that appealing. I had to work to save enough to leave. That was all the time it took to realise this place is the BEST place to live in Australia. Alice has energy. This example of creative security enhances our town yet perfectly performs the role it is designed for. I personally refuse to have ugly prison frontage at my business. Alice is better than that. Congratulations to Mike, Maria and their team for showing the way. Love it!

  4. This is an extension of a movement that began some years ago when residents decided that while the need for security had to be met, it could be met with creativity.
    Drive around the streets, especially on the Eastside but more and more throughout Alice, and appreciate how many have have turned their front fences into positive statements. No longer are we only seeing the inhospitable look of blank high fences, but fences covered with vines, fences employing a creative line and innovative, but still effective, gates.
    In a perfect world there would be no need for all this security. But in the real world, security is a real concern. OK, but that security doesn’t have to be ugly, and any effort to soften and beautify the line, while retaining the needed security, is to be applauded and appreciated.

  5. This is great stuff. A positive response to a bleak community social issue. My family suburb of West Heidelberg here in Mexico has a long history of alcohol and drug related home break-ins and shop robberies. Our closed shops in the Olympic Village and The Mall have long resembled late night downtown Beirut. Grim, slammed shut barricades. Is there a competition in Alice for the most artistic and attractive shutters and fences? If so, it would be great to get pics of the entries and prize-winners published in Alice News Online. I would immediately trot them off to Cr Craig Langdon, our local Banyule Council ward member, for promotion in our area. Perhaps a Hands Across the Border Project for sister towns?

  6. Beautiful to look at, we should all thank them for the hard work!
    The work and article is inspiring – thank you very much.

  7. Alan Thorpe is right, there is great energy in Alice Springs.
    There’s also incredible generosity within our immediate neighbourhood. Once again we are indebted to Alan, Wayne McLean and Judy Barker for their engineering advice.
    Anton of Anton’s Recycling was immediately fascinated and receptive of our plans for his old steel battery boxes.
    We’re especially grateful to our boilermaker, David Boffie, for his trust in our plans and efforts to deliver the exacting craftsmanship we wanted.
    It took us three months, working side by side, to refurbish the public face of 8 Hele, a rigorous process that certainly tested and strengthened friendships.
    David’s capacity to weld materials collected over many years, often rusty, of almost any gauge and variable metallurgy, was truly remarkable.
    Many claim the ability to weld but his skill enabled us to achieve a high degree of strength and safety in all the right places while retaining an overall sense of lightness and transparency.
    Maria and I are blessed with a brilliant brains trust, too many tradesmen and women to mention here, who have supported us over the decades.

  8. Well done to the owners. Provided it gives the security needed the design is very attractive wether the store is open or closed.
    Could create a whole new manufacturing industry for a lot shop owners looking for an answer to a difficult problem.
    Much nicer than the roller shutters that were introduced to Todd Street in the 1980s.


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