Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Top 10 Northern Tasmanian Modernist buildings

As mentioned in my previous post, The Examiner newspaper did a feature story about my photography and passion surrounding the documentation of the period in Tasmania.  They asked for a list of my 10 top buildings of Northern Tasmania.  When I complied the my top 10 list, I did so with a building's social, historical and visual appeal in mind.  It was hard to choose just 10, but here are my personal favourites - in no particular order

Holyman House - Launceston
Holyman House is Launceston’s landmark Art Deco building and demonstrates the skills of Launceston born architect Roy Smith who worked in the firm H.S East and Smith. Smith designed many Launceston and Northern Tasmanian Modernist buildings throughout his career.  Holyman House was originally designed and built for the Holyman family's shipping and airline businesses with the ground floor originally home to National Airways. I love the way Holyman House sweeps around the corner of Brisbane and George Streets and your eye leads upwards to the central finial detail that reminds me of a mast of a ship.

Myer Department Store - Launceston
Originally designed for Cox Brothers Department Store, the Myer building was the tallest commercial retail building in Tasmania at the time of its construction. The size and scale of the building highlight the optimism of state development at a time when material shortages and economic uncertainty existed due to a post Second World War environment. The small tiles that clad the curving central facade are a typical trait of mid 20th century design.

Star Theatre - Invermay
Theatres like the former Star Theater in Invermay were popping up all over Australian cities and towns in the the 1930s.  The former Theatre is significant and rare example of Art Deco streamline design being located in the suburbs, not the CBD. The Star had room for around 250 people and it’s interior layout was lavish and modern housing the latest in seating, lighting and sound reproduction.  

Kings Wharf Wool-sheds and Silos - Inveresk
The abandoned Kings Wharf precinct in Launceston is a fascinating reminder of Launceston’s industrial past.  The wool-sheds with their saw-tooth roofs, so typical of Industrial factories, and the dominating wheat silos standing tall over the Tamar River.  Now sad and neglected, their facades tell the story of the cities once bustling Industrial past. When I take photos of this area, I am constantly reminded of what would have been a busy seaport precinct.  If places like the Silos or Wool-sheds are not reused then part of Launceston’s 20th Century Industrial story and heritage would be lost forever.

Magistrates Court - Launceston
The Magistrates Court is of notable interest as it was one of the first Modernist Court buildings in Tasmania. The main facade is adorned with local Tasmanian granite from Ben Lomand.  This was the first time a major building work had used local granite, prior to this most stone was imported from Interstate.  Local timbers and veneers such as Tasmanian Myrtle were used lavishly throughout the court rooms, halls and floors. The building is an important example of sourcing materials locally and illustrates sustainability practices being used in the mid 20th Century.

Don College - Devonport
Don College is one of Tasmania's largest examples of Brutalist architecture. The College was constructed at a time when many other fine examples of Brutalist architecture were emerging such as Henty House Government Offices in Launceston, Reece House Government Offices in Burnie, City Block in Launceston and 10 Murray Street Government Offices in Hobart. Whilst the College is bold in size and appearence, it’s hidden from the main road, amongst bushland and standing beside the Don River.  There are many wonderful geometric angles at Don College and different textures of concrete patterning that are synonymous with Brustlist design that are always fascinating to view and photograph.

Former Devonport Maternity Hospital - Devonport
The wonderful arching curve of the former Devonport Maternity Hospital cannot be mistaken. Constructed in the early 1960s the hospital brought cutting edge modern design and hospital care to Devonport.  The other major Modernist Government hospital for babies in the Northern Tasmania was the former Queen Victoria Hospital in High Street, Launceston. The former Devonport hospital has been abandoned for many years and this neglect serves as a timely reminder of the wastefulness of such buildings and the failure to imaginatively and adaptively reuse these buildings.      

Campbell Town School - Campbell Town
The Campbell Town State School was designed in the late 1930s and is one of many examples of Modernist schools in Tasmania, designed by S W T Blythe. His works for the Public Works Department were prolific and strikingly Modernist in style. The Campbell Town school stands as a visual reminder of the massive undertaking of building public schools in the early to mid 20th century that occurred throughout Tasmanian towns and cities.

Henty House - Launceston
The construction of Launceston’s Civic Square and its Government buildings was one of the largest public funded projects after the Second World War in Tasmania. A major objective in the creation of the Square was to centralise some 90 Government services that were spread around Launceston. Henty House’s qualities are in the form of it’s geometric shapes and angles as well as the wood grain like textures that have been achieved by sandblasting timber into the precast concrete, creating a rich variety of patterns and textures. Henty House and Civic Square as a whole combine Government services, architecture, art and nature as a functionalist public meeting space within the CBD.

Centrepoint Lane - Launceston
This interesting use of green repetitive tiles and letters spelling “Centrepoint” highlight the clarity and simplicity of Modernist design aesthetic in a way that was intended to originally add some glamour to this back alley. Many buildings from the mid 20th Century period would feature repetitive and abstract tiles, patterns or abstract sculptures. The Centrepoint design is fascinating for it’s visual appeal and exciting too because you have to go out of your way to find it’s location.


  1. Thomas, thank you for sharing your beautiful photos. Your careful light and camera angles remind me of the work of Iwan Baan. Photos like these may improve the public's perception of Modernist Architecture, keep up the great work - from Alistair at Secret Design Studio

  2. Clearly art is in the eye of the beholder.
    Most twentieth century buildings are not capable of being reused. They are designed to have a life span of "whatever", and then they are expected to be destroyed. Like a chalk drawing on a pavement.
    I note that some of the finer examples in your collection here seem to be built to last. These are keepers. Well, except for the Maternity Hospital,which could stand a complete redesigne. I love the site specific quality of it,(it is so rare to see architecture which takes the direction of the sun into account!) but those repetitive prison windows have GOT to go!

  3. Thanks for your comments STAG. The Maternity Hospital, like many other Modernist designs from the period would have repetitive patterns like you mention in the windows, this was to let as much light in as possible, especially in a place like Tasmania that has cold winters and mild summers. There is another example in Tasmania of a Nurses building that has been redeveloped into apartments. The original 1950s aesthetic of the building has formed part of the redesign, including the windows. If you see if for the first time one would think it could still be a hospital building. They are popular and well sought after apartments.

    Buildings that have passed their shelf life for whatever reason should be reused, but in a way that's complementary to the original design aesthetics of the buildings style. Whilst I agree in some respects that when Modernist buildings were built for 'the moment', I believe that in the contemporary context we have a responsibility to adapitvely reuse these buildings as to demolish them is a waste of resources. There are many examples around the world of Modernist buildings being reused and doing so true to the original design aesthetics. Many buildings when they have become vacated are still in perfect working order. The Maternity Hospital was used from the 1960s to the late 20th Century. Then it stood empty and in a sad state, not because it was a Modernist design, but because the building as vandalised.

    Much is to still be learnt about the Post War 20th Century period before buildings are sensitively reused. Without knowledge and history about this period, such buildings will continue to be demolished and destroyed. The Modernist Art Deco period has become better understood over the recent years, and through this understanding and knowledge their history has meant the preservation and reuse of Art Deco buildings. In time this transition needs to happen to later Modernist examples. Art is in the eye of the beholder, but history happens everyday and if we don't have remaining examples from all periods of our history than part of history has been ignored.

  4. Thank you for these impressive photos, Thomas. I haven't lived in Tasmania for nearly 20 years, but I was back in Launceston in November 2012, & took photos of buildings I remembered. (Not as beautiful photos as yours - mine were phone pics). Your shot of the Holyman building is stunning! It looks like a liner steaming into Brisbane St. The lighting is magic!

    On this trip I rediscovered Centrepoint Lane & took several shots. Sad how faded & tawdry it looked. Your commentary made me appreciate it a bit more.

    Thank you also for your comments about adaptively reusing mid-20th century buildings. It was be a great loss if these buildings were demolished or allowed to decay. Growing up in Launceston in the 1960s, I saw whole swathes of Victorian & Edwardian buildings demolished, replaced with some not so glorious examples of modernism (the motels along Brisbane St for example). As a young teenager, the way recent history was swept away in the rush to modernism broke my heart, I learned to love Art Deco and Modernism, and would hate to see good examples destroyed instead of sustainably reused.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my blog:) Glad you had a great time in 2012 exploring Tasmania and it's great to hear your interest in Modernism, it's such a wonderful time in Tasmania's history. Glad too you got to check out Centrepoint Lane too.


About the project

Join me (Thomas Ryan Photography) on a photographic project documenting Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism from the 1930's to the 1980's. The entire project gallery of 1000+ images and counting can be viewed on my website www.tryanphotos.com under art projects. I have been undertaking this project for over a decade.

My portfolio of commercial and art projects can be seen on my website www.tryanphotos.com and I can be contacted here as well. All photographs are copyright of Thomas Ryan Photography. Unauthorised use is prohibited. Contact me for all enquires

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