I had to split this post into two because it’s way too long!
After our Open House Hobart tour of Blue Magnolia, Lil Sis and I made our way briskly to the waterfront, where we were due to meet Robyn Everist, our guide for the “What Style is That?” walking tour. I’d never met Robyn before but I went on one of the walking tours that run out of the company she used to own, Hobart Walking Tours, a few years ago. Robyn now spends her time researching the history of Hobart’s architecture, a subject very close to my heart, so I was looking forward to this tour immensely.
I know bugger all about architectural styles, unless it’s modernism (and even then I’m never really sure), and even less about the features of buildings. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll probably know I’m not a huge fan of fancy, ornate bits stuck on buildings (there is a reason I’m called straightlinesgirl and it has nothing to do with my technical drawing skills, or lack thereof). If you point out a Colonial Classical Federation Georgian Revival building to me, I’ll probably nod politely and start photographing the 60s glass curtain wall across the road. Sorry not sorry.
However, I am here to learn, and I was very interested to find out more about the buildings that I normally dismiss as colonial sandstone relics that would look better with a bit of concrete and steel over the front.
I was not disappointed. Robyn is a fantastic guide; very well informed and extremely entertaining about a subject that could be as dull as River Yarra water. I mean who really cares about whether a column is Tuscan, Ionic or Doric? It’s a column, right? What even is the point of them? It holds up a building. Or a porch. Or nothing at all.
We only had hour for the tour, which, as with any great guide, extended to at least 90 minutes. Robyn explained so many features of the buildings we looked at that my head was spinning by the end. Actually, my head was spinning by the time we got to Dutch Anglo something at City Hall. I don’t think I’m an aural learner. I need to read stuff to take it in after I’ve heard it and, fortuitously Robyn had that covered with a summary we could download from her website.
We started out at the IXL buildings at 25 Hunter Street, where I learned what a pediment is. This is a word I forgot as soon as Robyn said it and I couldn’t for the life of me remember it for this post. I knew it started with P and that if you put im- in front of it, it meant something else. But could I think of the word? Absolutely not. I ended up having to go and look it up in my trusty* Rice’s Language of Buildings.
Robyn explained that this building was in the Colonial Georgian style, which covers the period 1788 to 1840 in Australia. She describes the style as being like a Volvo: Boxy but good. As far as sandstone goes, it’s not a bad style. It’s symmetrical, and very plain, with none of that fancy nonsense that some of the later sandstone buildings have. My straight-lines brain approves.
We then made our way to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which is a fascinating complex of buildings. The 1902 building on Davey Street, I hadn’t realised was built for Australia’s Federation in 1901 and the deal was that if the building was constructed before 1901 the Tasmanian Government would have to pay for it; after that it would be a Federation building and the Commonwealth would pay. Well played, Tasmania, by the looks of it. Robyn explained how this building and others in Hobart, because they were built by people with very British outlooks on life, were designed in very British styles that had exactly zero reference to life in Australia. I wondered if that was a reason why I don’t feel any particular attachment to any of those older buildings.
As we walked, Robyn observed how there are buildings where the architects have tossed the rule books out the window when they designed them. For example, the style was for buildings to reflect the people who used them. So the ground floors would be highly decorated with grand entrances to be used by the upper classes; the middle floors, accessed by middle classes, were less ornate and the top floors, which were where the servant class had to go, were plain and unadorned, with the entrances for those people round the back. All designed, she said, so that people knew their place. So when thinking about the building, it helps to know what its purpose was as that will explain a lot of the design features.
One story that I particularly loved, among the many, was the story of the CML building on the corner of Macquarie and Elizabeth Street. CML wanted all its buildings to look the same, as you do, and its buildings were made of granite, which no one in Tasmania could afford. So they developed this solution where they would get some crushed up pink stone material from Brisbane, mix it up with concrete, make it onto tilers to stick to the building, which would be made much more cheaply from Besser blocks and no one would know the difference. The ultimate in keeping up appearances.
One building I have always liked is the Reserve Bank building a bit further up Macquarie Street. It was built in the 1970s by the Government, and at the time there was no money around to construct a building that would look like the elaborate buildings of other financial institutions that stood on this street. Think Treasury for starters (we’ll get there in the next post). So, said, Robyn, the people of Hobart would not have appreciated big bucks going towards a replica Treasury building on the site and accepted the need for a cheap, quick building instead. Steel and concrete. Bang, done.
I do love these buildings, at least from the outside. The less said about the money-saving open plan designs inside the better.
However, I have, for a long time, wondered how a building like this has been tolerated in a streetscape of ornate sandstone when other brutalist structures standing close to sandstone landscapes were detested and deemed not to fit and ultimately demolished. Why is this one okay? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they hate it and it doesn’t fit and should be demolished. I did also read somewhere that it wasn’t actually concrete, it had a sandstone finish but I can’t remember where I found that.
A magnificent feature of this building is the “Antarctic Tableau” sculpture by Stephen Walker. I wasn’t aware that Stephen had had a keen interest in Antarctica and had actually travelled there as part of the Antarctic Division’s art program.
We continued our tour along Macquarie Street with the Treasury complex, which will be in the next post.
* “Trusty” in that I bought this book 18 months ago and until today, hadn’t actually looked at anything in it that pre-dated 1930.