A parallel universe: Two identical stories with different endings

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Amsterdam University Murray Street BThe Architects Journal’s announcement of an important UK architectural award to the University of Amsterdam may be of interest to not just our readers in Tasmania. On 17 September, AJ announced that the winner of the 2014 AJ Retrofit Award went to the university’s Roeters Island campus, a 1960’s Modernist structure. The building, originally by Norbert Gawronski, was retrofitted by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. AHMM’s Simon Allford explained that they saw the building as ‘a record of the 60s and a bold invention that we were keen to keep and build upon’.

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The concept behind the appearance of the 60s building (photo on the left) has some interesting similarities to the original design by Dirk Bolt for the 10 Murray Street building (photo on the right) designed for the Government of Tasmania. In both cases, the different scales of the buildings and their urban settings linked through the shared proportions of the composition of the facades. After Bolt moved to Canberra, the design was amended by D Hartley Wilson’s office but continued to be a leading Hobart example of the architecture of the 60s.

The story of the now eminent demolition of the Hobart building is in contrast to that in Amsterdam, as their recent histories are both parallel and divergent. In 2006, Palmboom and Van den Bout proposed a master plan for refurbishing Gawronski’s effort and a design competition initiated, which was won by AHMM. Around the same time a similar competition was called in the case of 10 Murray Street but in 2009 a proposal by the Cita group was selected that obliterated the Hobart landmark. The ‘Save 10 Murray’ group objected but finally lost. The government ignored Bolt’s view that, in a more enlightened 21st century, buildings are no longer demolished but refurbished, irrespective of their heritage value.

In the case of the AJ Award, the judges praised AHMM ‘for its decision to retain the concrete frame – a carbon intensive element of the original building – while transforming the building’s external appearance and also upgrading the envelope and services.’ Alfred commented that, had the building been demolished, ‘the same mistake of previous generations would have been made of throwing everything away’. Gawronski’s 2014 message to Allford said: ‘How fortunate am I that that ‘my child’ can develop into such a handsome being under your sensitive hands and mind.’

In Tasmania’s parallel universe, not all is lost. In 2013, Bolt’s earlier building at 152 Macquarie Street, Hobart, which was renovated by a thoughtful owner, won the 2013 Enduring Architecture Award of the AIA Tasmanian Chapter. At the same time the refurbishment architects, Rosevaer, won the Colorbond Award for Steel Architecture for the ‘omnipod’ they had courageously perched on its roof as part of the refurbishment. Dirk Bolt’s 2013 message to Craig Rosevear said: ‘Happy to see the pod gaining the award. Well done!’

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