Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Last Days of the Royal Adelaide Hospital

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The Main Entrance to the Royal Adelaide Hospital

The Royal Adelaide Hospital is a South Australian institution.

Founded only four years after European settlement, the hospital has been a focus for the critical points in the lives of many South Australians. Births, illness and death have brought people in droves to this place on North Terrace.

For most visitors, the hospital buildings are the last thing on their minds. Visitors hastily hunt through the labyrinthine corridors seeking out their loved ones, carrying offerings perhaps purchased from the Lavender Ladies.

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The Margaret Graham Building is the Only Building Already State Heritage Listed 

But as the glittering New Royal Adelaide Hospital arises from the dusty and oily remains of Adelaide Station's former rail yards, thoughts have turned to the future of the old RAH site. There are a huge number of buildings on the campus (see this map), some with asbestos and reportedly some with radioactive waste buried underneath. A few of the buildings are currently being used by the University of Adelaide.

Given the hospital's location in the north parklands and adjacent to the Botanic Gardens, the government has been quick to grasp the site's development potential.

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The Bice Building - Nominated for Listing

With great fanfares of Community Consultation the government announced an international competition to develop proposals for the future use of the site. While ministers insisted that they had no preconceptions, competition judges had no such qualms. Former Integrated Design Commissioner Tim Horton has already suggested it would be a suitable area for upmarket accommodation or as a retail shopping precinct.

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The Bice Building has Intricate Detailing, A Marble Staircase and Revolving Bronze Doors

Architects and designers have been loudly lauding the design led process and community consultation, but there are many in the community who are strongly opposed to the loss of public land to commercial development. Even those working in the field show a range of views.

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The University of Adelaide Medical School - Nominated for Listing

There was a flurry of interest recently when the Sunday Mail reported that the National Trust of SA had lodged State Heritage nominations for about 11 buildings in the RAH precinct. But it seems that the nominations were made in March, so perhaps it was simply a case of the Mail being late with news as usual.

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The Sanctuary, a Place of Peace and Tranquility - Nominated for Listing

Planning Minister Rau blithely stated It is not anticipated that the heritage application will limit the creativity and scope of proposals submitted for the competition. But of course he would - it only needs the Heritage Minister to declare that the nominations are Not in the Public Interest and they will be rendered useless.

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The Inscription Celebrates the Lavender Lads and Ladies Volunteers

Some of the State Heritage listing nominations are quite surprising and will be controversial. Most people equate "heritage" with "old" and "attractive", but the Heritage Places Act allows buildings to be assessed for heritage listing under several grounds. The architecture of a building is only one facet of consideration.

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Royal Adelaide Hospital East Wing - Nominated for L:isting

Perhaps the most unexpected nomination is the East Wing - a five storey building constructed in 1962 adjacent to the Botanic Gardens. It was described at the time as the finest hospital building in Australia. The East Wing was built on land then owned by the Botanic Gardens, which in turn was given land owned by the hospital near Hackney Road.

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The Dental Hospital on Frome Road - Nominated for Listing
Another nomination which surprised me was the Dental Hospital. Completed in 1968, this building designed by architect JD Cheeseman is described as being in the modernist/brutalist style, and arguably one of his masterpieces. My photo probably doesn't do the building justice, but it does seem quite plain from that angle. Apparently each facade has quite different characteristics, and that is one of the building's distinguishing features.

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The Octagonal Former Kiosk Building - Nominated for Listing

The octagonal former kiosk which housed the RAH auxiliary for many years is another to be nominated for listing. It is something of an icon, and most visitors would notice it on their way to the hospital entrance.

It will take months for the heritage value of the nominated buildings to be listed - assuming the proposal is not blocked. Fortunately it is unlikely to be a concern for the competition organisers, who are likely to be concerned with broader issues initially.

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The Margaret Graham Building Seen from Frome Road

So how do you feel  about this public space being redeveloped? Should it remain an area owned by and of benefit to the entire community? Or should it be sold off to pay for our past financial mistakes?

Do you agree with heritage protection for the more modern buildings as well as the more classically attractive Margaret Graham building?

Feel free to let me know your views ...

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Unwanted Words

I recently wrote an article on Weekend Notes about Eastwood Lodge, the former Nurse's Home in Glenside Hospital.

The building has some interesting features, and when the government proposed to demolish it, there were protests from a number of groups including the National Trust of SA. The building was nominated for inclusion on the State Heritage Register

I won't repeat what I wrote in the article - it is worth reading in its own right.

Suffice it to say that towards the end I crititcised the SA Department of Health for getting themselves into a financial mess.

Other criticism was directed (again) at the SA Minister for Conservation Paul Caica. He used his powers under the state Heritage Places Act to remove Eastwood Lodge from the Heritage Register in the public interest. The State Heritage Council had added it temporarily while investigating the building's merits.

In my view the Minister was totally wrong to blithely claim that it is in the public interest to prevent an independent assessment of the building's importance.

While the article received praise from some readers, two readers wrote comments complaining that I had introduced politics into an entertaining site about what's on in Adelaide.

While it was OK for me to write about a building at risk, it seems it's not OK to comment about the reasons why.

To me that would be a little like writing about the Twin Towers without mentioning Al Quaida or Osama Bin Laden.

One of my drivers for writing is to bring things to people's notice. Good things. Scary things. Funny things. Wrong things.

It certainly is not the first time that a comment about government or politicians has slipped into one of my articles. And I expect it won't be the last, if such comment is called for.

What do you think? Should an author be able to express their own opinion in an article on Weekend Notes?

Opinions are presumably expected for film or restaurant reviews, or an article about an activity such as a course, or a tour.

Why not comment about the reasons for demolition of an iconic building?