Plans to build Hobart’s first skyscraper have started a social media battle between those welcoming the project and those who say the city’s character will be lost forever — but it not the first time architecture has set tongues wagging.
Singaporean billionaire Koh Wee Meng’s unveiling of two proposed hotels, one a 35-floor glass tower with recesses for trees, for Tasmania’s capital city comes with the promise of jobs and the glamour of modern hotel facilities.
But with the grand designs have come concerns over the impact on Hobart’s image as a town which values its heritage-era architecture.
As is the way of modern public debate, much of the conversation occurred on social media with those for and against taking to their keyboards in earnest.
“Why doesn’t Hobart emulate Paris? Paris has retained the low rise historic precinct in the city and kept the high rise buildings in a precinct on the perimeter,” Marcia wrote.
“I love modern architecture too but Hobart has amazing heritage value, much more so than the mainland and we should be leveraging this.”
“No … please not more skyscrapers. They are spoiling Hobart,” complained Gaye.
“More? We don’t have any,” Charles countered.
Diana was worried the hotel plans meant the town “won’t be historic Hobart”.
“Why does Hobart need them?” asked Lilla. “A lot of people happen to love our historical heritage buildings.”
John was less polite: “What a heap of shit!”
Patrick was sceptical the project would get the green light.
“Slowbart City Council will knock it off the table even before it is looked at,” he posted.
“We need to move forward and have some real buildings in the Hobart City area and not be hindered by the backwards-looking living in the past council ideals.”
It is not the first time there has been argy bargy over bricks and mortar. Here are some other Hobart architecture controversies:
Marine Board building
With its wind turbines perched on its rooftop, the 11-storey chocolate brown Marine Board building certainly catches the eye.
The structure, which houses government agencies and other tenants, has undergone a transformation on the inside, with stylish eateries and bars.
Asked in 2009 on ABC TV what he thought of it, then-state architect of Tasmania Peter Poulet was hardly glowing in his assessment.
“It’s a robust example of its era. It’s certainly not the worst building,” he said.
Built in 1967 on the edge of the historic Battery Point precinct, the 12-storey apartment building stands amongst the sandstone cottage architecture of 1800s white settlement Hobart.
At the time, it was thought Empress Towers would open the floodgates to a complete redevelopment of the area for high density residential development.
However a groundswell of community disquiet against further high-rise apartments led to limits on what could be built.
Vodafone Contact Centre
The large, grey call centre was opened in 2015 by then prime minister Tony Abbott, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman and Vodafone boss Inaki Berroeta, with the company boasting the facility had “world class staff facilities and customer care technology” in “one of the most environmentally friendly and energy efficient buildings in the state”.
The building is not a hit with Ryan, who wrote on social media “any HCC councillor that doesn’t approve the two new hotel developments but DID approve this Vodafone monstrosity needs their head read”.
Grand Chancellor Hotel
The waterfront hotel, originally part of the Sheraton chain, is another 12-storey structure which caused controversy.
Built in 1987, the design was revised after government criticism, with the developers having to remove thousands of pink bricks which were supposed to be a sandstone colour in order to blend with the heritage materials of the surrounding precinct.
Public perception of the project was not helped after panels peeled open, exposing insulation.
Mr Poulet said the Grand Chancellor was “probably the building I like least in the city”.
“It’s over scaled, it’s inappropriate for that spot … The topography suggests you should have something low there and it’s not low,” he said soon after taking on the job to produce a masterplan for Hobart’s waterfront in 2009.
Despite his lack of affection for the hotel, Mr Poulet did say “I think you could improve it without knocking it down”.
10 Murray Street
Controversy came late for the 1960s Hobart office block, which garnered its own grassroots support group when in 2011 it was announced there were plans to demolish it and make way for the Parliament Square development.
The Save 10 Murray group described the building as culturally and architecturally significant, but legal action to stop its demolition was lost.
The space is earmarked for use as part of an arts festival, but its days are numbered.
Australia’s first legal casino was already controversial when it opened in 1973, being the subject of a public vote as to whether it should exist at all.
Built to a height of 73 metres, it has remained Hobart’s highest man-made structure.
If completed, Fragrance Group’s Davey Street hotel would outstrip the casino by 47 metres.
David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), situated north of what some refer to as Hobart’s “flannelette curtain” has largely been welcomed for its bold architectural vision by the wider public as well as architectural critics, with one declaring “I love David Walsh. I love him like a 12-year-old girl loves Justin Bieber: from a distance, with cartoon hearts for eyes”.
Mr Walsh has said the exterior of MONA, which sits atop a riverbank, was planned to be “deliberately underwhelming”. It is when the visitor enters that the scale is revealed, with three extraordinary underground levels cut into the exposed sandstone.
Best of all, Mr Walsh built it with his own money, which goes a long way to silencing those who complain about dollars being spent on buildings they do not like.