NEIL WADEThe Gallaugher Bequest Churchill Fellowship to undertake study of urban architectural conservation with particular reference to the integration of contemporary architecture into historic urban environments - Canada, USA, France, Italy, UK
Neil toured extensively through the major cities of North America and Europe where historic precedent provides ample evidence of both the extremes of good and bad. Tasmania equally has had many such examples where public controversy has dogged many contemporary developments. The situation has not changed all that much from when Neil undertook his Churchill Fellowship in 1991. At that time there was vitriolic debate about the then Sheraton Hotel Development (now Grand Chancellor) Remember that? At the time I quoted the same issue had not been confined to our time.
The now much admired Treasury portico in lower Murray Street designed by pre-eminent colonial architect James Blackburn was described in the Hobart Town Courier as “…an ungainly and strikingly in harmonious feature of the building”. It now features as one of the National estate registered buildings and much admired treasure of our early colonial times.
And today? We continue with similar debates; witness the regular letters to the editor regarding the Zero Davey Street Development.
Then and now there is a dilemma in how to deal with new architectural intervention in historic zones.
In my view then and reinforced more so now is that to revert to a nostalgic cringing replication of the past is an unfortunate negative response which falsifies history and cheapens the genuine heritage of real substance and historic merit.
Regrettably there are not many good local examples of successful architectural intervention. But I think now there is a more respectful appreciation of the contemporary work of designers in this state. Conservation of the built heritage does not compromise the creative ability of modern designers. The strong Green ethic in the natural world in Tasmania is strangely compatible with good contemporary architecture where the same limitations do not seem to apply. There appears a genuine interest in achieving the best that contemporary architecture can provide embracing modern society in a more progressive open and hopeful attitude than a reversion to the past as an escape from the uncertainty of an ever changing life.
FELLOWSHIP CONCLUSIONS & OUTCOMES
Well for me my architectural journey took an accidental 180-degree shift in 1999 when we entered a competition for an eco-tourism based project for Forestry Tasmania at Tahune in the south west of Tasmania
The Tahune Airwalk has proved enormously successful in giving the visiting public a new view of the natural world strolling through the treetops of a beautiful rain forest an experience available for the very young and old alike. So since that time I have been pretty much exclusively been working throughout Australia in wilderness forested areas from the far north Queensland tropical forests to the Otway Ranges where we have recently completed an Airwalk and Visitor centre in a lost pocket of old growth rain forest adjacent to the newly declared Otway National Park.
There are strangely many similarities in working in urban conservation zones and working in amongst the natural beauty of the forest.
The Churchill fellowship study aim was to examine and report on the difficulties inherent in the clash of new and old in Tasmanian cities. There are many truisms which one could attempt to impose as conditions for such development in sensitive areas. Perhaps the most important approach is respect and sensitivity for the place whether that is the natural world or the historic building zones, which was the subject of my Churchill Fellowship.