From colonial masterpieces like Customs House in Newcastle and Mansfield House in Maitland to the ultra modern transport interchange at Wickham, the Lower Hunter boasts a rich and diverse array of architectural styles spanning close to 200 years.
But buildings, like people, can inspire praise and loathing often in equal measure.
The Newcastle Herald asked four people with strong views about Hunter architecture to share their thoughts on what buildings they love and which ones they would like to tear down.
Herald columnist PAUL SCOTT begins our series.
What's hot and what's not?
So came the brief from Herald HQ. The beauties and the beasts of the lower Hunter. The naughty and nice. The realised dreams of artist impressions and architectural imagination. Visions of co-operative endeavour that lift the spirit. And then...those errors of judgement excreted on the landscape that exhaust my will to live.
Such turds provide a constant reminder of what happens when local government shamelessly self-congratulate to an extent determined by a formula requiring addition of the number of cranes currently on the skyline with all development applications approved in the past financial year. That figure is then multiplied by a total arrived at by adding together adaptive re-use approvals (specifically extra stories on what were once lovely older buildings), requested developer exemptions from existing building height limits, the aggregate number of threats by developers to lawyer-up in the Land and Environment Court, the squared depth of community cynicism and the magnitude of times the phrase "extensive community engagement" appears on your local government website. It sounds complicated, but so is driving a manual car. You can do it.
I turned to the wisdom of the crowd to help create the following list of five tremendous buildings and five fuglys. I asked those who frequent the Lost Newcastle Facebook page - a fountain for collective memory that was commenced and remains curated by Newcastle City councillor Carol Duncan - for their favourites and for those they felt had been hit really bloody hard by the ugly stick. And such wisdom reveals that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Buildings such as UON's NUspace campus on Hunter Street, and the Newcastle police station on the corner of Watt Street and Church Street, provide prime examples of where admiration and dislike intersect.
Uni McUniface or even PooFace would have been a preferable moniker. Despite a name worthy of the Soviet Nomenklatura, the structure itself is a wonderful addition to the city. On the inside, the construction is perfect for contemporary teaching and learning - on the proviso that staff and students can resist a constant urge to observe more engaging matters occurring on the working harbour. Academic staff uniformly love open-plan hot-desking arrangements that are proving so conducive to both scholarly work and the fostering of successful super spreader events.
And being open to the public means there are at least some toilets in Hunter Street that don't require focused prayer before entry. Time will tell if the transparent cube being built at Honeysuckle to house the University's School of Creative Industries - which currently looks like a dice rolled from the bum of NUSpace - will complement or embarrass its elder sibling.
Newcastle Post Office
Once a jewel in the crown, now a disgraced relative that family don't mention. The saga, the drama, the prolonged torture of this iconic and beautiful building. Flogged off by the Howard government in 2002 to Sydney businessman Sean Ng who land-banked it until 2010. It was then bought by the walking dead state Labor government for around $4.6 million to futilely try and save Jodi McKay's seat of Newcastle.
When the stinking carcass of that rotten government was buried at the ballot box in 2011, the incoming Coalition were too distracted by the heavy rail to pay attention to the PO. It was then successfully claimed by the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council in 2014 and sold to hotel magnate Jerry Schwartz for around $3.5 million in September 2018. Restoration progress is painfully slow despite an early flurry of activity that all but ceased in early 2020. There's a recent promise of activity in 2021, but long-time watchers will believe it when they see it.
Mansfield House, Maitland
Been to Maitland lately, matey? Up the High Street, guv? I'm one of those many Novocastrians who shamefully bypassed Maitland numerous times while taking visitors for lunch up in ye olde Morpeth. The Levee project has breathed new life into pubs and cafes.
Mansfield House was built in Italianate Classical Revival style for the Commercial Banking Company in 1887 by colonial architect George Mansfield. Gorgeous restoration. Oozes cool.
There are many magnificent buildings in Central Maitland. And the new five-star public toilets at the Levee are easily the best in the lower Hunter. Why can't Newcastle have nice public toilets instead of dunnies architecturally inspired by the crappers in Maitland Gaol? And the 1881-erected Maitland PO was missed by Howard and remains functional. Mansfield House is my favourite among many gems in the High Street. K.D. Charlton's 1961 research thesis The Architecture of High Street, Maitland is available on-line courtesy of UON's Hunter Living Histories and is well worth a gander. If Maitland possessed an ocean baths, I'd move there in a flash.
Newcastle Ocean Baths
Who doesn't love the NOB? From its distinctive and architecturally important art deco pavilion - more facade than pavilion thanks to decades of neglect by all levels of government - to its unique grandstand used for both sunbathing and protection from a summer afternoon's nor-easter, the NOB is an outstanding historic landmark loved by locals and admired by visitors.
The big change rooms are wonderful, especially when compared to the loathsome, dreadful travesties that are the breezeway change facilities around the corner at Nobbys. The NOB was built and in use before the Great War, though the baths weren't formally opened until the 1920s. The NOB holds a special place in the hearts and minds of those Novocastrians who learnt to swim there, who had their first kiss there or carry warm memories of family outings. The highly anticipated rejuvenation gets underway in a few months and stage one will see the surrounds provided with new surfaces that one might be able to walk upon without rolling an ankle.
Christ Church Cathedral
Our most prominent landmark. Imposing. Symbolic of good and bad. Sailing into Newcastle harbour and seeing that building is mightily impressive. It has a long history of evolution and the addition of the great tower and bells in 1979 made it one of Australia's great cathedrals. Beautiful grounds with many spots for quiet reflection on well-placed park benches. Awesome acoustics. It's regrettably frustrating that builders on the Iris Capital East End site are using the grounds as a fee-free car park. Spooky-wooky at night with many bats. The remains of the sight line to-and-from the Cathedral must be protected. And spare us a spire. Puh-lease.
King Street Car Park
Ugly as a hatful, but way more practical. It doesn't fit the new Newcastle - not because there is little appetite for parking stations, but because it looks tired and dated as if crying for a ventilator. Interesting that CoN has claimed it has problems that make it unsafe for parking, but as recently as the Thursday before Xmas there were four vehicles parked in there at 7am. More dangerous for some than others, heh?
I endorse the idea of city parking disappearing underground. Lord Mayor Nelmes has promised that no spots (more than 380) will be lost when the car park is demolished. Here is the opportunity to improve the vista from the foreshore to Christ Church Cathedral. It should be grasped, providing any deals with developers do not involve more height in the East End precinct. Good luck with that.
Newcastle Police Station
There are many fans of this low maintenance concrete structure. Brutalist style by itself is no reason to claim it is totes fugly. But this one has highly visible concrete cancer and whenever I see it on RBT, I wish it was more like the cop shop at Waratah. Brutalism is characterised by a blocky finish with a rigid geometric style and extravagant use of unfinished concrete. Newcastle Art Gallery is brutalist, as is Newcastle's Roundhouse. Formerly the home of the administrative arm of CoN, the Roundhouse is looking even more attractive as it morphs into a five-star hotel. But the cop shop screams heartless and cruel, despite many decent men and women in blue on the inside.
Clearly inspired by folklore around what happens when giants take ketamine and break out their Meccano sets with pieces missing. So the giants did what they could with what they had, but then the dinosaurs came. So the scaredy-cat giants downed tools half-way through the build and moved to the Central Coast.
Newcastle Interchange is a dreadful place when the rain is belting in. And at most other times. Helpful tip - make sure you're in the quiet carriage at the front of train on arrival so you can avoid getting wet when rain is flogging in. Added bonus - you can be first to the usually clean enough toilets. But don't expect the quiet carriage to be quiet or you'll lose your mind. And then you'll have to move to the Central Coast with the ketamine giants.
Queens Wharf Tower
Also known as the big penis by cheeky locals. It may be gone, but its memory haunts our collective imaginations every hour of every day. Whenever I smell the stale stench of urine in the empty shop fronts of Hunter street - which is most days - I recall the QWT. Best decision CoN ever made was to make it go down. Little known fact - the QWT has been stored at Gosford and when Central Coast Council finances allow (hahahaha), the big penis will be re-erected at Central Coast Stadium as the official mascot for the Mariners.
The Newcastle Entertainment Centre
This is what happens when shearing and milking sheds mate, mate. This outdated cheap ass venue with suss aircon might be great for something, but I am yet to discover what that something might be. Perhaps one of those British television shows where people bring a painted plate to elbow-patched codgers to have it valued. Whereas Morrissey at the Civic Centre was a dream come true, Nick Cave at the Ent Cent was a no-thanks, even though I love him unconditionally with all my heart. But obviously not unconditionally enough to drag my sorry butt to Broadmeadow. Who can ever forget when the collective shame of this city bounced around the globe after the 2015 KISS show couldn't fit "Spidey" - the crowning piece in the band's show - due to the small size of the venue? No wonder our heeled heroes bailed on the Supercars gig back in 2019. Payback. KISS were traumatised by the Ent Cent - just like us.
Paul Scott is a regular Herald columnist.