FH#4 - THE ‘CIVIC’ SQUARE - Pt.1
Over the last few years, the City Council has been turning its attention to the one substantially undeveloped block directly under its own ownership. The small block sits just back from the Cove, formed by Elizabeth, Davey and Morrison Streets. You might better know it as the location of the Lark Distillery, the Visitor Information Office or the site of the Mawson Hut Replica. What you might not know is that for over 65 years, the City Council have regarded it as a suitable space for a ‘Civic Square’, and after diligently acquiring the land bit by bit in the name of the people of Hobart, they have waited for a suitable time to create such a space.
Two years ago, the City Council commissioned a Master Plan for the block’s development. However, the working assumption of the plan was that the Council no longer viewed the site as a piece of ‘Civic’ space, but rather as an asset to be sold. Therefore, the Master Plan was at liberty to suggest that Heritage Listed buildings on the site be demolished and large parts of the block be commercially developed up to 7 storeys with only the proviso that a route through the block be reserved for public access and to allow for limited views through to Constitution Dock.
Whilst we await a formal proposal to be submitted, Better Hobart feel that now is the time to question this asset-selling approach and ask whether there isn’t a better way to develop the block, respecting the original far-sighted intentions of the City’s past leaders? To demonstrate that the concept of ‘City Building’ is not simply about clearing a path for developers, but rather creating an urban form which reflects and operates for its varied community. To create a truly ‘Civic’ Square.
What follows is alternative visions for the site.
The ‘Civic’ Courtyard.
What is The Courtyard? Put simply, it acknowledges that there are multiple ways in which civic pride can be expressed. Or to put it another way, there are many ways in which a city might wish to express its values and take leadership in meeting and respecting the needs of all its citizens, including those often overlooked or pushed to the margins.
It also adopts a practical and prudent approach in limiting the degree of development on the basis that, unlike the current Master Plan, the city does not seek to sell off or provide 99-year leases to commercial concerns, but rather acts partially as the developer itself.
The ‘Courtyard’ seeks to retain all the Heritage Listed properties and the magnificent street trees but complete the block by adding appropriately scaled built forms. Onto the Elizabeth Street frontage, a glass pavilion acts as a much needed extension to the Visitor Information Office. Creating a light, flexible, and modern space complementing the form and scale of the original building, it acts as a more appropriate ‘entrance door’ to visitors in possibly their first point of contact with the city.
Next to the pavilion, the sound of traffic is replaced by that of children playing within a new enclosed playground. On a narrow site currently used for car parking, a much needed playground is formed by the existing walls of the Heritage Buildings and a new set of perforated brick walls. Accessed solely via a narrow lane which runs past a small cafe next to the Pavilion, the playground provides a safe environment for children whilst also allowing parents to take time out over a coffee in the knowledge that the children are busy playing in safety.
Behind the new Elizabeth Street frontages in what is currently a car park, a new formal courtyard is established. A place for residents and visitors alike, it acts as a place to escape the noise of Davey Street and instead find a little place of stillness. Reinforced by new small retail units acting as extensions to the existing retail uses within the block, and retaining glimpses through to the Cove and the expressive texture of the older buildings, the Courtyard provides a new quality public space for all.
Lastly, with its limited tenure about to expire, the Mawson’s Hut Replica Museum is relocated to Mawson’s Place on the edge of Constitution Dock. The corner plot (once the site of a Hotel) is then developed through a joint partnership arrangement to provide new space for community bodies, workshops, sheltered accommodation or open access places for members of the community who might otherwise find it difficult to find a place for them in the city. It acts as a thriving community hub in the heart of the Cove.
The Civic ‘Courtyard’ intention is to complete the block but to do so in such a way that respects both the original vision of the past Civic leaders of the City to produce a new Square for the betterment of its people, and which acknowledges the varied historic buildings and former uses of the site. Deliberately intended to be built to a human scale, it makes a statement about what is important to the wider community and what it means to be a truly caring, open and inclusive city.
THE ‘CIVIC’ SQUARE - Pt.2 follows soon!