From colonial masterpieces like Newcastle Railway Station to the reinterpretation of the Civic Roundhouse building, 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.
University of Newcastle architecture student ALEXANDRA GRECH nominates her four favorite and least favorite buildings.
Newcastle East Development, Foreshore Park
The housing development sits partly on the site of the former coal-fired Zaara Street power station, now Newcastle East's Foreshore Park. Consisting primarily of social housing, along with some privately owned townhouses, the site's harbourside location in the city centre is a rare occurrence.
Led by the prominent Newcastle architect Brian Suters, the design is considerate of the experience of both residents and the public. The stepped forms do not dominate the landscape, while offering moments of intrigue with curved balconies, arched canopies and textured brickwork. The result is a playful architecture that creates a lightness and a distinctive personality, unlike much of the monotonous social housing pushed to the outskirts of cities today.
Riverlink Building, High Street Maitland
Completed in 2018, the Riverlink Building is an example of architecture that has an effect stretching far beyond the boundaries of its site. The design stems from a simple yet dramatic gesture of subtraction, creating an aperture that reveals the Hunter River running parallel to Maitland's High Street. The portal reconnects the town to the river, with splayed surfaces framing the view and inviting us to move between the two.
Public and private programs intertwine to provide a range of amenity that activates both the town and riverside. The central civic space creates a sheltered place for gathering, community activities and special events that spill out to the mall and riverbank.
Details such as the tonal and textural variation of the handmade clay bricks show a further level of care, referencing the existing heritage fabric in a subtle and contemporary way.
Birabahn Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centre, University of Newcastle
A design competition won by Richard Lepastrier, Peter Stutchbury and Sue Harper, Birabahn was opened in 2002 at the University of Newcastle's Callaghan Campus. The space is open and inviting with a central hearth encouraging communal sharing, spontaneous encounters and organised gatherings. Rather than relying on air conditioning, the building adopts a number of passive design strategies, including a double roof structure that allows for cross-ventilation and thermal control.
The building can be accessed by a 100m walking trail through the bushland that tells the stories of its traditional owners, the Pambalong Clan of the Awabakal Nation. Upon arrival, a strong connection to the surrounding landscape is enhanced by large operable openings and a restrained material palette.
Newcastle Ocean Baths
The heritage-listed Art Deco style pavilion is both a facade, screening the baths from the street, and a threshold that marks the sudden transition from city to sea. Carved out of a wave cut rock platform, the baths are sealed by a concrete shell weathered by a century-long battering of salt, wind and wave action. The northern edge is enclosed by a concrete stair that curves around to enclose the space and rendered blue, blending in with a backdrop of sky and sea.
In the event of a large storm, the baths offer a different kind of spectacle for locals who come out to watch the encroaching waves re-conquer the concrete platform.
The Weatherboard Worker's Cottage
Although not unique to Newcastle, the worker's cottage is an iconic housing typology that forms part of the city's rich heritage fabric. Unlike in other areas where many have been bulldozed to make way for 'sturdier' homes or larger apartment blocks, the iconic weatherboarded home remains a dominant dwelling form across the former and present-day working class suburbs of Newcastle.
Defining features include a lightweight timber framed structure with floors raised on brick piles, front porch (for people watching) with gabled roof overhead, and of course, the horizontal weatherboard cladding. Variations in size; from the finer grain along slim backstreets in sem-industrial Carrington to the wider suburban lots of Mayfield; in colour; a bold seabreeze blue or refined eggshell; and in condition; newly renovated or well weathered; reveals clues about the unique story of each home.
Honourable mentions go to: The Pourhouse, Maitland, The Great Northern Hotel, Newcastle East, The Clarendon Hotel, Newcastle West, The Bogey Hole... to name a few!
The Roundhouse Renovation
The former Newcastle City Council Administration building, commonly known as 'The Roundhouse', is another of Newcastle's architectural icons that Brian Suters was at the forefront of designing.
Sadly, the building's transformation into a five star luxury hotel, currently underway, has stripped away its value as a brutalist architectural icon and landmark for the city's civic quarter. While some may consider it an upgrade, in my opinion the proposed alterations and additions will only diminish the qualities that give the Roundhouse its defining edge.
A newly tinted acrylic veneer masks any trace of the building's raw concrete exterior. Though eye catching, the bluish tinge of the glass addition jars with the robust cylindrical form below.
Bathers Way Project, Newcastle Beach South (under construction)
The proposal for the new promenade and amenities along Bathers Way at South Newcastle Beach has been a topic of debate within the community since its first iteration was released in 2018. While the proposal has been pared back from the original design, the revised plans are still, in my opinion, excessive and insensitive to a dynamic coastal landscape in which it sits.
I believe that it is important to provide quality infrastructure that facilitates the use of public areas however, must this be to the detriment of our already vulnerable coastlines? Moreover, why, when we know about the risks of erosion and inundation that threaten most of our beaches including Newcastle, do we continue to build these hard, over-engineered structures that will only exacerbate the problem?
Redevelopment of the Royal Newcastle Hospital, Shortland Esplanade
The staged redevelopment of the former Royal Newcastle Hospital site is a multi-tower mixed-use development along Shortland Esplanade across from Newcastle Beach. The closure of the public hospital in 2007 prompted the site's rebranding as prime beachside real estate, with little offered to the public realm in return.
Above, the towers, reaching up to 16 storeys, overwhelm and overshadow the adjacent beach and streetscape. At the ground level, a stretch of blank walls along part of the redevelopment creates a poor interface with the street and beachside.
237-251 Wharf Road, Newcastle
The two commercial buildings are replicas of each other, twin monoliths of steel, concrete and reflective glass. Perhaps the intention was to create a reflective wall (although, the tinted glass might have just been a lazy solution to too much sun) that renders them indiscernible. Instead, their presence is glaringly visible and not in a good way.
Their cold exterior clashes with the adjacent public domain and does not engage with its surrounding built context or wider city fabric.
LOVE & HATE:
The Port of Newcastle Coal Loaders
While not what you might typically think of as 'Architecture', there is no denying that the coal loaders that stand tall across Newcastle Harbour feature in the city's skyline as prominently as any building. Although, this one is hard for me to put firmly in either the love or hate category.
On the one hand, there is something uniquely Novacastrian about the looming steel structures that light up at night, giving off a pinkish glow. However, their presence is also a reminder of the destructive and divisive force of the coal trade industry upon which the city was built. Maybe we will find a new use for them in a not too distant future....
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