The walk from my car to the Tim Penny Architecture + interiors office is only 206 paces, but the distance travelled is an interesting section through the history of Hobart. The office is at 187 Liverpool Street and was built in 1845. It looked across the street to the Hobart Rivulet and was built a generation after Collins settled at Sullivan’s Cove in 1804.
On the walk between car and chair, a favourite city snapshot is the view across Victoria Street, across the rooftops, to the two buildings that occupy the Collins Street and Murray Street intersection.
On one corner is the T&G Building and opposite, the former Savings Bank of Tasmania. Both had their origins in a community impulse for the Common Good. The origins of the Temperance and General Mutual Life Assurance Society were 1876 Victoria and the assurance branch of the Independent Order of Rechabites, founded in Lancashire, England to promote temperance and thrift.
Opposite is the Savings Bank of Tasmania whose origins were the Hobart Savings Bank, founded in 1845, by prominent Draper and Quaker missionary George Washington Walker. The Bank was founded the year 187 Liverpool Street was built.
The Hobart Savings Bank ethos was 'the encouragement of frugality and industry in the community to enable working classes to improve their circumstances’. The Bank became the Savings Bank of Tasmania, Tasmania Bank, Trust Bank and ultimately swallowed up by the Commonwealth Bank.
The T&G is largely empty and the Commonwealth Bank occupies a small ground floor tenancy. Both buildings seem a long way from their original aspirations and the re-invented, re-modeled and re-styled companies, even further.
The towers contrast in shape and form and they are evocative architectural statements of the times. Both are warehouses for clerical endeavour and both turn urban corners with towers. The T&G clock tower ensured time wasn’t wasted for the post war workers without a wrist watch, but in the 21st Century it is stopped at 6:35. Whereas the Savings Bank of Tasmania is crowned with a rotating billboard. A wind-up toy key, slowly unwinding, like the Tasmanian economy.
The designer of the Savings Bank of Tasmania was Jim Moon. He commenced practice in Hobart in 1955 with Bill Shugg, both are architectural legends. There are two interesting features of the Savings Bank of Tasmania. The first is the burnt orange curtain wall spandrel panels; the second is what happens at the top.
It is local architectural folklore that Mr. Moon had test panels of different, but fashionable, 1970’s colours mounted outside the architect’s offices. Making a decision was almost impossible, and the Builders’ were impatient. Mr. Moon would spend long afternoons contemplating the panels, in the late autumn Tasmanian light. Orange could have been purple.
In 2013 Tim Penny Architecture + interiors undertook a refurbishment of the Risdon Cove Pyramids for the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre. The Risdon Cove site has a complex history that continues to shape contemporary thinking. It is a site that is emblematic, and goes to the heart of Tasmania’s fraught understanding of indigenousness.
In 1803, John Bowen established the settlement; Collins arrived and relocated the settlement to Sullivan’s Cove in February 1804. The 3rd May 1804 was the Risdon Cove massacre and years of desolation followed for indigenous Tasmanians. In 1978 the Bowen Park Visitors Reception Centre was constructed by Parks and Wildlife and it is designed by Jim Moon. In 1995, Tasmania legislated the Aboriginal Lands Bill and Risdon Cove was handed back to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community.
The Centre is designed as two pyramids; the largest Pyramid was an Interpretation Centre and the other a theatrette. The pyramid is a powerful form through the history of architecture. From its pure expression on the Giza Plains of the Nile Delta, through to deconstructed primary forms espoused by 20th Century Modernist architect Le Corbusier in Towards a New Architecture.
Curiously, it has been offered that the inspiration for the pyramids was original settlers Georgian roof forms in the antipodean landscape. It seems perversely appropriate that in its current un-altered form, inside the pyramids is exactly like a shearers shed. Bitterly cold in winter and blindingly hot in summer under the un-insulated copper sheathed roof.
There were never many visitors, just as there are no public images of the original Centre’s Interpretation design. I expect the interpretation was largely a myopic white man’s story of settlement in a harsh landscape. Goodness knows what films were shown in the shearing shed. Thankfully, the story telling can change when the refurbishment is completed.
What is interesting is that the architecture of the Bowen Park Visitors Reception Centre was anticipated by the top of the Savings Bank of Tasmania which was built several years earlier.
Typically, 1970’s commercial office block towers were simple vertical extrusions. However, on top of this dainty Hobart tower there is a hipped concrete roof sitting elegantly on an open concrete frame. As the perimeter planes are voids, it has a sense of monument, echoing the empty colonnades of Italian architect Aldo Rossi or painter De Chirico Giorgio, and anticipating the apogee of skyscraper tops. The 1984 AT&T tower, Madison Avenue, New York City by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, but in a typical Hobart way.
Perhaps Jim Moon thought to put a top on the Savings Bank of Tasmania for the many Hobart residents looking down to the city as it was another façade to fashion. Or perhaps, it was an echo of the early settler Georgian roofs in a contemporary urban landscape and a wink to Risdon Cove.
Either way, the refurbishment and re-invention of the Risdon Cove Pyramids is a positive investment for the Common Good.