open house hobart part 1: supreme court

This weekend, the weekend of 9-10 November was Open House Hobart, which is an annual showcase of Hobart’s architecture, history and everything in between. Heaps (I have no idea how many because I’m too lazy to count) of buildings that the public normally don’t have access to, or have limited access to, are open over the weekend and you can either walk right in and have a look around in your own time or book a tour for the more popular (or secure) places.

A lot of the open buildings are private residences, so they’re only open for a brief period during the weekend, and for most of them you need to book a tour, so it becomes a bit of a juggling act to work out what you want to see, and what you can see in the times that the buildings you want to see are open. It’s a beautiful thing because there are so many buildings to choose from, but oh so many choices!

Last year my sister and I spend the entire weekend exploring the places that were open, sometimes together and sometimes on our own. (Last year she got one of the highly coveted spots on the West Hobart reservoir tour while I was at the Supreme Court). We decided to do it again this year and, because she was home and I was out, the task of navigating the booking system fell to her. I am forever grateful that she persisted for two hours to book us both tickets to the Supreme Court tour.

That’s where we started on Saturday.

The Supreme Court, you’ll know if you follow me on Instagram, is one of my favourite buildings in Hobart. No, it’s my favourite building. I love it. I photograph it often. It is a beautiful building and it is beyond fabulous that the tour was run by three people who have a very close affiliation with the court: Peter Partridge, the architect of the complex, who is still involved with it today, Justice Stephen Estcourt, and the Deputy Registrar, Brendan McManus. Between them, they gave us a rundown on how the court works and the history of the building. Having been on the tour last year and followed up some reading about the building, I already knew a lot of what they talked about and it was wonderful to sit, listen and reflect, rather than take lots of notes like I did last year (yes, I am that person).

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The Criminal Court, 1975

In brief, the complex was constructed to house the criminal court, which until 1975 was located at what is now the Penitentiary Chapel site in Campbell Street and the civil court, which had been located in the 1860 courthouse in the Treasury building in Macquarie Street. It was relocated in 1980 when the second Supreme Court building was completed. There had been plans for a multi-story building on the site but that idea was rejected by the government and Peter was handed the brief of designing a low building made of sandstone. Basically, it needed to “fit in” with the surrounding area (which one of the reasons for the death of another nearby building, but that’s another story . . .).

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Official Tasmanian Government Carpet

When I was researching the history of the complex, I learned that Peter designed it using five principles: letting the park flow through the complex, randomness, using local materials (which almost everything is, except the slate, which they couldn’t source economically from Tasmania), providing quiet and privacy (if only modern office designers would think a bit more about this) and construction detail that would assist the builders (e.g. use of pre-cast concrete columns). The intention was to create a complex that was human in scale and that retained the dignity required for the justice system.

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The library

Peter spoke about the principle of the park flowing through the complex at length and said that recent plans to create a structure that would join the two buildings so that prisoners could be transferred between them were rejected because that would have completely destroyed the original philosophy of the design. He also described many of the materials in the complex and their origins, which I remember taking very detailed notes on last year. And he spoke of the lengths they had had to go to, to ensure privacy and quiet, to the extent of moving all the buzzy things (technical term) from the fluorescent lights into another section of the ceiling.

The attention to detail in this complex is amazing. Lino instead of carpet under the coat hooks in the jury room so the rain can drop off umbrellas is just one example.

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Jury room, Criminal Court

I got the chance to ask Peter whether it was true he had designed the roof so he’d have something nice to look at out of the windows of the (formerly) neighbouring 10 Murray Street offices. He confirmed that this was, indeed, the case. It’s a very interesting roof. I like it.

Of course, no tour is ever going to be the same, so there were things I hadn’t picked up last year that sparked my interest this time.  One of the things I hadn’t appreciated was the principle of randomness, which was one of five principles Peter had used in designing the complex. He said if you look around the site, the only symmetry you’ll find is within the courtrooms themselves, which are beautifully designed: round courtrooms and like Peter said, symmetrical. If you know me very well, you’ll know how much I like straight lines and angles and symmetry but I love this building’s use of the round; the “court in the round” being a concept that former Chief Justice, and later Governor, Sir Stanley Burbury had learned about while he was in the US.

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Courtroom 1 in the Civil Court

And the randomness makes it interesting. The fact that the courtrooms in the criminal court are called Courts 7 and 8 when there are only four courtrooms in the whole complex has to be one of the most random things about it!

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View from the jury box, Court 7, Criminal Court

Outside, the randomness brings me back time after time to photograph lines and shapes from different angles and with different shadows and light.

It is a wonderful building and one that we are very lucky to have here in Hobart. And I think we are equally lucky to have Peter still involved with the complex even after retiring from practice. He’s very much involved in any decision made about the site to make sure that any changes remain sympathetic to the original designs and the principles under which it was made. Added to this are the judges like Justice Estcourt and Chief Justice Blow, who are also passionate about the complex and about retaining it in the form as it was originally intended.

I felt grateful to have been able to see inside the Supreme Court buildings for the second time and to hear their stories again. It was the perfect start to the weekend.


7 thoughts on “open house hobart part 1: supreme court

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