Sunday, 7 April 2013

City Hall, Hobart

The Hobart City Hall was built in 1915 to the designs of the Tasmanian architect Rusty Butler. It is a fine and intact example of Federation Anglo-Dutch style architecture with features of the Federation Warehouse style. There are few Federation Anglo-Dutch style buildings in Australia.
The Hobart City Hall is significant as an early twentieth century public hall and market building. Its site, which was formerly the city market-place, has been used for civic congregation in Hobart since the middle of the nineteenth century. City Hall has been used as a centre for civic, social and recreational activities since 1915, in addition to its market function. Its construction reflects the civic development of Hobart. 
City Hall occupies an entire city block and with its four towers, capped with domed roofs and elongated spires, constitutes a landmark with streetscape value.

In 1913, a design competition was held for a public hall in Hobart, at a cost of above 5000 pounds. The winning entry was awarded to Tasmanian architect, Rusty Butler. The City Hall was completed on the site of the original city market which had been destroyed in a fire. The project contract was undertaken by Ricards and Heyward, in association with Rusty Butler (who may not have been a qualified architect at the time). The foundation stone was laid on 16 June 1914. The building was opened in the first week of July 1915 by the Mayor of Hobart. 

The search for style at this period in history resulted in creative variations of overseas influences and in response to this the building also displays features of the Federation Warehouse style. The entrance is defined by a large single arch, or semi-circular opening, with heavy embellishment. It has four towers, featuring Renaissance styles on all sides, capped with domed roofs and elongated spires, each tower also displaying a chunky decorative element below the building edge arch. 

The City Hall was hailed as the largest recreational space in Tasmania. When the hall was completed, the Launceston "Monitor" newspaper observed that: "... Future generations are expected to assemble for their entertainments on the spot where their grandfathers gathered to drive their respective trades". Although known as a multi-purpose public hall, City Hall continued the retail association with the old city market site when it was constructed, by providing a number of shops on Collins Street and Macquarie Street. The City Hall building was referred to as the "new markets" in the "Tasmanian Mail' on 23 October 1913. Over the years the understorey of the building has had shops of a diverse nature. 

The hall has been used for a range of purposes in addition to entertainment. During the Second World War, the City Hall was used as a store for the collection of "Clothes for Europe" campaign for the war effort. It has been used as a concert hall, sports venue including boxing and wrestling, ball room and for jazz recitals. The Hall has been also used for selling carpet and clothes. It has been used by members of parliament, for political rallies and as an election tally room. The hall is often the venue for school speech nights, trade and touring museum exhibitions 

The City Hall was at one time threatened with total demolition for a car park. The City Hall's location is one of prime inner city commercial real estate value and occupying an entire city block has been in danger of total demolition. 
The City Hall received a foyer renovation in 1975, designed by architect Peter Willmott, while employed by the Hobart City Council. This tidied up the entrance and brought it back from deterioration. The Collins Street wall was filled in with red brick in 1969 where previously there had been shops. 
The City Hall together with the adjacent Metropolitan Transport Trust Building are important elements in the civic design of Hobart. 

While there are other entertainment venues in Hobart, City Hall still hosts international performers, important public meetings and rallies, commercial exhibitions and live theatre. Acoustically the City Hall has not performed adequately, reverberation being the issue, due to the curvature of the ceiling structure and the lack of sound insulation from street noise. This aspect, and its reputation as a cold drafty space, has unfortunately contributed to its often less than favorable public opinion. The mainstay of the building is that it has always been available for a variety of functions, and is therefore genuinely a public hall.