Between the highway, the cemetery and the Cornelian Bay sports grounds stands Stainforth Court.
The highway is suffering from arterial hardening, the cemetery is full, the sports grounds are mostly empty and Stainforth Court is getting a triple valve bypass by the Housing Innovations Unit, Hutchinson Builders and Tim Penny Architecture.
Given the prominence of Stainforth Court geographically and psychologically, the refurbishment has generated significant interest. So here is the back story to take us forward.
Hobart in the 1950’s, post war, expanding, apples to England, tourism booming and Hydro-industrialisation accelerating. Tasmania was being re-imagined. 1954 Bert Dechaineaux, obo Hobart City Council, had designed the new Olympic Pool (not surprisingly council hadn’t agreed where to build it, Sandy Bay or the Domain), the Princess of Tasmania had been commissioned and she commenced sailing in 1958, in 1956 Lanherne Airport opens, 1960 the new Hobart Bridge is designed to supercede the old pontoon, Brooker Avenue commences in 1961, starting at Liverpool Street to Elwick, Jim Moon designed a Hobart skyscraper on Macquarie Street for a syndicate of dentists, trams are phased out in favour of buses and catching the train from Newtown was commonplace.
Stainforth Court 1958.
The apartment complex was designed by the Architects Division of the Housing Department of Tasmania. The Department was flush with talented post-war emigrant English Architects and housing was the vanguard of architectural thinking. Full of heroic ideals, to design new solutions out of the ruins of WW2.
A new architecture that used the new age materials of concrete, steel and glass. Le Corbusier’s polemic echoing...machines for living. Architectural ideas re-invented, yet again, in a triumph of new modernism.
Per Ekholm, housing project, Sweden 1953
Le Corbusier, Unite d’habitation Marseilles 1945-52
Alison and Peter Smithson, Golden Lane Housing Project London 1952
All projects widely published and discussed around drafting tables. The echo reverberated all the way to the Architects Division Housing Department Tasmania and realised in the design of Point Block (later to become Stainforth Court) 1958.
The Hobart City Council Selfs Point Planning Review Plan is a revelation. The map shows the high water mark as defined in the Selfs Point Land Act 1951. The Apartments could have looked across the sparkling waters of New Town Bay, with occasion small flocks of Tasmanian black swans (before open season) and plenty of bream. For the residents it would have only been a short walk to catch the train into Town and even less distance to travel for eternal rest.
Remarkably, for 55 years of wear and tear, the complex is in good nick.
Constructed as an off-form concrete frame with brick in-fill, concrete balconies, articulated stack bond brick panels, on stepped concrete beams. Concrete rooves with modern membranes, prototype curtain walls fronting the two storey apartments, with decorative steel mullions and painted metal pan panels set into the thinnest of steel window frames.
The apartments are sensibly laid-out with single bed units on the ground floor and two levels of two storey 2 bed apartments separated by suspended concrete slabs that have thoughtfully included inset solid Tasmanian Oak floors together with sturdy internal timber stairs. However the limit of the social experiment didn’t go too far. The kitchen/dining remained separate from the `good room’. The architectural design included full height glazing to the Living room and the main upstairs bedroom flooding the rooms with light. Whilst cleverly expanding the perception of space to include the balconies and expansive views. Radical new housing.
Externally, the architectural innovation is the thoughtful manipulation of volume and mass. The central circulation space of each tower doesn’t need to extend to the upper level of the top apartments. This enables each apartment block to be expressed as individual volumes. In the clear, angled Tasmanian light the texture of the rough pebble dash contrasts beautifully with shadows, accentuating surface and mass. Volume and void.
It is interesting to note that the original working drawings show the development of the design. There are ghosts of unbuilt balconies that, thankfully, have been rubbed off the drawings. Perhaps for cost, perhaps the guiding hand of the Director who understood that good architecture could be enhanced by restrained simplicity.
The design resulted in a suite of handsome towers that sit easily on the rise, thankfully not demolished through political expediency, but given the opportunity to have a new lease of life.
See ABC's stateline feature on Stainforth Court: