Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Last Days of the Royal Adelaide Hospital

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, entrance
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, margaret graham
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, bice
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, intricate detailing
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, medical school, university of adelaide
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, hospital, university of adelaide, the sanctuary
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, hospital, university of adelaide, inscription
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, hospital, university of adelaide, east wing
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, dental hospital
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, hospital, university of adelaide, octagonal
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.

royal adelaide hospital, heritage, adelaide, botanic gardens, rah, hospital, university of adelaide, national trust
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 ...


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi Dave.Firstly,there should be more citizens like you,who enjoy this fine city and state of ours.Buildings that are part of our early history,should be retained/restored/made use of, where possible.Commercial interests must also be taken into consideration,but not at the expense of destroying our heritage; in most cases.For instance,I have mixed feelings about the Adelaide Oval Redevelopment,but on balance I think they have done the right thing here.A modern city cannot retain everything if it wants to progress.I hope any new buildings that are constructed facing North Tce;will be in tune with the architecture in general on boths sides of the street and will gently merge into the Botanic Gardens,which is our pride and joy.So keep up the good work in promoting our state and let's hope more citizens like you follow your lead.Noel.

  3. Thanks Noel, your comment is much appreciated.

  4. i somewhat agree with Noel on this matter. I think some historic buildings should be kept. However I feel that the Adelaide oval redevelopment is 100% a great thing. Personally I think the old part is more or less, an eyesore. However some of the RAH is quite lovely, and could potentially make a lovely hotel. I will enjoy seeing what happens to the old RAH site. Id also like to see some new permanent residence there too. I think we got it wrong with the former Balfours factory site. I feel that building was never built to look good, and instead of turning some of the remaining exterior into a plaza, they should just knock the whole thing down entirely. What I am trying to say here is, keep the good looking old buildings, knock down the rest in the name of progress.

  5. Hi Sparky525, and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Luckily heritage legislation doesn't just seek to preserve buildings that look attractive and are complete, otherwise places like the Coliseum would have been demolished years ago.

    You don't seem to realise that he City Steam Biscuit Factory was demolished around a year ago. Although I agree it didn't look attractive when whitewashed, it could have looked a great deal better and become an important part of a Twin St historical precinct, as several other buildings nearby are also heritage listed. Instead it has become an unnecessary car park for some ugly budget hotel that clashes with the streetscape and would more appropriately belong in the third world.

    While I agree that the RAH site buildings that are retained need to be re-purposed, remember that this is a prime site sandwiched between the botanic gardens and the university. Formerly part of the parklands, it is community land and shouldn't be given to some developer that is cosy with the government of the day.

    Future residents of Adelaide will look back and regret any crass commercialisation of this site for short term gain for generations.

  6. Looks fascinating, I would be interested in going to some of these places