I’ve just setup Facebook group for Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism. I like to think of the group as a place that I can not only share my stories and photographs of Tasmanian Modernism, but you can contribute your photographs and stories too. You can join the group here
One of my favourite Mid Century Modernist designs in Tasmania is the Myer building located in the heart of Launceston’s central business district. It’s an important building, due not only to its use of materials that create a striking example of Tasmania Mid Century Modernism, but also its socio-cultural history within the retail landscape of Launceston.
The Myer building in Launceston cannot be missed; it stands as one of the cities tallest buildings rising 6 levels above ground. With its imposing design, largely built of red brick, Myer sweeps around the corners of Brisbane and St John Streets. Its sheer makes it stand out in the streetscape and as such it visually anchors the CBD - meeting in front of the Myer building you’ve arrived in the heart of retail Launceston!
When it opened in the early 1960s it was the tallest commercial building in Tasmania, marking its place in history as one of the first high rise buildings in the State. Launceston would soon see more tall buildings from the Modernist period. Hobart, too, would see a swathe of tower blocks in this mid century period, both for commercial and residential uses.
The mid-20th Century was an an amazing time of prosperity, providing Tasmania with a rich variety of architecture supporting a post war population boom. Taking a look at the infrastructure in and around Launceston that was constructed at this time, we see many large scale projects that have shaped the city we know today. The Trevallyn Dam and it’s connecting hydro power station in the same suburb name (1955) are dominant Modernist landmarks in Launceston. The dam and power station stand as visual reminders to Launcestonians of how the city’s power is still predominantly obtained from hydroelectricity. Along the Tamar River is the striking design of the Batman cable-stayed Bridge, which commenced construction in 1966. You can walk along it, and the views from underneath and various vantage points along the Tamar river are spectacular.
The period between the 1960s to early 1980s also provided Launceston with many striking examples of 20th century commercial and civic architecture, much of which remains to this day. Some prominent examples include the Telstra Exchange (1960s), Launceston Library (1970s), Magistrates Court (1960s), Launceston Police Headquarters (1970s) , ANZ Bank (1970s), Coles Building Mowbray (1970s, demolished), Newnham Police Station (1970s), Henty House (early 1980s) and, of course, the Myer building.
The Myer building was originally built as a department store for the firm Cox Brothers. A Victorian period building had stood on the site and was demolished in 1959. Cox Brothers operated out of its new purpose built building for only a few years until Myer moved in and occupied the entire building. Myer has been located within this building for nearly 60 years and has remained there ever since.
‘‘The Myer building in Launceston cannot be missed; it stands as one of the cities tallest buildings rising 6 levels above ground. With its imposing design, largely built of red brick, Myer sweeps around the corners of Brisbane and St John Streets. Its sheer makes it stand out in the streetscape and as such it visually anchors the CBD - meeting in front of the Myer building you’ve arrived in the heart of retail Launceston!’’
One of the most fascinating attributes of the building is its size relative to the population of Launceston, especially when you consider it would have been far less in the 1960s than it is today. It’s one of the few examples of high rise design department store in regional cities and towns in Australia. Sure, capital cities such as Melbourne have multi-storey stores within the the CBD, but Launceston has a population of around 100,000, whereas Melbourne has four million! Most Myer stores in regional areas are in low rise and/or integrated into an outlying satellite shopping mall. The very size of the Myer building is a monument to the confidence of this period in Tasmanian history.
Myer is a fascinating example of Mid Century department store design. Like many other period designs around Australia, the building highlights and reflects on a history of retail experience in the mid-20th century in Australia represented by purpose built shopping malls or multi storey towers. Launceston differed from many other towns at the time as it didn’t have a large scale dedicated shopping mall with large anchor stores as key attractors. While small scale malls exist today in Kings Meadows and Mowbray (with anchor stores being the two major supermarket chains), the traditional CBD shopping strip with a range of chain and independent stores was, and continues to be, the major retail shopping experience in Launceston.
In Victoria, it was a different story. Myer created Australian retail history in 1960 when it opened Chadstone Mall in the suburb of Malvern East. When the mall opened it was the largest in Australia and remains so today, with 211,929 m2 of retail floor-space, 20 million visitors annually and a turnover of around $1.4 billion a year. Recently the complex underwent massive renovations (there were also renovations in the 1980s, which produced a glass ceiling of a Post Modern style that in parts still exists today) and it's worth visiting just to admire the the massive curving wave of the glass ceiling - a magnificent feat of engineering and beautiful to behold.
Meanwhile in Hobart, Tasmania's first suburban shopping mall, Eastlands, opened in 1965, three years before in 1962 the Cat and Fiddle arcade opened in Hobart’s CBD. While Eastlands catered for the newly expanding suburbs on the eastern shore, the Cat and Fiddle Arcade provided modern shopping amenities and anchor stores right in the heart of the CBD. What Chadstone Myer had started in Melbourne became a model emulated across Australia. These mid century retail designs of providing multiple retail experiences under a single roof changed the retail experience in Australia forever.
Outdoor pedestrian malls in the later part of the 20th Century witnessed main roads removed in favour of walking and sitting areas with retail experiences on either side. Tasmania and, in particular Launceston, holds a special place in pedestrian mall history. The Launceston Brisbane Street Mall was the first in Australia, opening in the early 1970s. It remains to this day and, although altered several times (it underwent redevelopment last year), the concept of the open air pedestrian mall has not changed. Hobart too has an open air mall within a pedestrianised section of Elizabeth Street.
The advent of retail malls under one roof and open air malls set the scene for a retail boom in the mid 20th-Century. Access to and from these new retail experiences was still relatively close to the suburbs in Tasmania, in comparison to the sprawl of some mainland cities. This proximity, perhaps, aided in the viable continuation of traditional CBD shopping in Launceston and Hobart. There is also no doubt that Myer itself was a huge draw-card for shoppers in the CBD. It’s not only a retail attractor but the building itself is visually stunning, with many beautiful and interesting design attributes. The original exterior facade remains intact. A striking design feature is on this facade, which wraps and curves, enveloped in thousands of mosaic tiles in a variety of colours typical of hues seen in mid-20th Century design. This feature, so large in its scale, is the largest known use of mosaic tiles in Tasmania to me. The irony is though that not many people are aware of its existence. People ask me what the tile details of my photographs are from and they’re surprised when I tell them where it is. When you take the time to look up and admire how enormous the mosaic really is and how many tiles have been used, you can’t help but be impressed. The fact that it has been retained demonstrates its importance as an example of 1960s design aesthetic.
‘‘People ask me what the tile details of my photographs are from and they’re surprised when I tell them where it is. When you take the time to look up and admire how enormous the mosaic really is and how many tiles have been used, you can’t help but be impressed’’
If you’re interested in seeing more mosaic tile design from the same period in Tasmania, check out the wonderful Railway Roundabout water fountain in Hobart: the roundabout itself, the water fountain and underground connecting footpaths, with the elaborate use of mosaic tiles in the tunnels. The Railway Roundabout is another exquisite example of Tasmanian Modernist artistic design and a walk through there is a great way to witness the use of mosaic tiles similar to those on the Myer building.) The original entry used to be on the corner, under the wall of tiles, and it really looked a grand entry as you entered beneath those tiles. I love the way the mosaic wall curves at the front corner, breaking up the straight walls of the rest of the building. The straight exterior facades are adorned with more tiles - panels of blue with alternating red bricks. The sheer amount of bricks used to build this building must have kept the factory making them very busy!
There are emergency stairs at the end corner of St John Street, and rather than be a functional hidden exit, the staircase has panes of glass and aluminium windows allowing for natural light to flood the stairwell. While the interior has been altered several times, original features remain and the sense of scale is apparent with the tall ceilings throughout. The escalators are original, with their narrowness apparent in comparison to escalators today. A wonderful original design of the escalators are the numbers as you enter denoting the level you’re on, perhaps made from Bakelite, they are, a typeface lovers delight!
One of the amazing experiences of Myer was the rooftop cafe. Many locals still speak of their memories of it, as it only closed down in the early to mid-1990s. The only visual reminders of it now are the verandas when you look up outside. The verandas are framed within a concrete “tv box” framing. If you stand a little further back and gaze up, you can also see a small wall or curved brick work with alternating gaps on the rooftop, which looks to be a decorative element hiding perhaps plant machinery equipment. This design and use of bricks is typical of this period of design. What a place to window gaze over a coffee and lunch it would have been! With the boom in cafe culture today, it would be a local and tourist draw-card for the city if it were to ever open again.
It's been nearly 60 years of Myer operating out of the current building. It will be interesting to see what happens into the future with constant change within the retail environment. If Myer ever vacates the building it’s difficult to envisage how such a large floor space would be reused and if the building could be adaptively reused. For now, it's a fascinating and intact example of mid-20th Century department store design and reflects the larger picture of how retail design in the mid-20th Century shaped and changed Launceston and Tasmania and the way we go about shopping and using our leisure time.
I have just uploaded a new gallery dedicated to my photographs of the Myer building in Launceston. As I edit my collection I will continue to add these to the gallery. Click here to view the project gallery
I’ve been on a photographic journey over the past few weeks travelling around Tasmania capturing quality photographs for my Tasmanian Modernism website and blog. I really loved writing my last blog about the history of the Launceston General Hospital, if you haven’t seen that post you can check it out here. It brought home what’s important to me - storytelling through my own experiences, photography and archives about Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism.. The relaunch of the Tasmanian 20th Century website and blog has motivated me in so many ways. Most recently I’ve been out and about travelling around Tasmania capturing old favourites with the benefits of what I’ve learnt since picking up my SLR all those years ago. It’s been a wonderful experience, waking up and working for days on end from dawn to dusk capturing quality moments to share.
One of the things I thought about when waking up in the dark and staying out until dawn is how much has changed over the past 15 or so years of documenting for the project. I’ve not only changed and grown as a photographer, but many buildings and places have changed. Sadly, many have been, since I originally captured them, altered beyond original recognition. Tragically many have been demolished too. Most recently a beautiful Art Deco residence was demolished for flats, I only became aware of this when I drove past to document them. Thankfully I captured photographs of it whilst it was still standing, and I look forward to sharing this and many other lost buildings with in future posts. So much change happens within the world of architecture, design and out cities and towns, yet there are so many wonderful examples of Modernism with us in Tasmania still. Documenting these wonderful buildings and creating awareness of the importance of this period in Tasmanian history is what continues to drive me and my passion. Looking back on all my achievements it makes me grateful that I’ve captured so much and continue to do so to this day. We are but specs in time and change is constant. The need to document these places becomes all the more powerful to me knowing that nothing is certain, only change. This process drives me to constantly document, so there is a quality record for posterity.
Previous Blog Post: Launceston General Hospital: Life and Death of a Modernist Landmark
The former Streamline Art Deco Launceston General Hospital was a stunning example of Modernist design aesthetic in the Northern city of Launceston. Designed in the 1930s the hospital was in use up until the 1980s when the new (current) hospital was built opposite. For some time though both new and old hospitals were used in tandem until the new hospital was totally up and running- both the old and new were connected by a stunning piece of design engineering in the form of a suspension bridge that spanned Charles Street. Eventually the grand Art Deco hospital that was operational for nearly 50 years was permanently closed down and with it went the air bridge and the once modern hospital fell into disrepair.
By the time I started to take an interest in documenting the old hospital (around 2007) it was in a sad state of decay and had been heavily vandalised, with nearly all the windows smashed and people squatting inside. The only thing being used was parking for hospital staff, but eventually even that was chained off and a no go zone. I remember rubbish being strewn across the car park and weeds growing amongst the mess.
I remember being drawn to the sheer size of the building and how neighbouring spaces and places were operating as usual, but there was this massive impressive hospital that was once a beacon of modern design and healthcare that looked like it was out of horror movie. These were my early days of getting interested in learning how to make photographs and it was around that this time that I’d brought my first SLR camera. I was always drawn to looking at and capturing architecture, especially from the Modernist 20th Century period, having grown up as a child in Far North Queensland the place was full of stunning designs from this period. I guess childhood memories are strong... they come back in the form of creativity and imagination through artistic pursuits. I also love how abandoned places were once new, and how in such a short period of time they become the opposite - disused and unloved. It makes me wonder in my lifetime what I will see being built and when I am old what will be abandoned. The entire process of new/old/decay and death of buildings makes me think how we are just specks in time.
The old hospital was one of my first major projects documenting Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism. The wonderful open verandas, steel frame windows and of course the striking main external staircase. Hospitals fascinate me as they are like cities within cities. So many buildings and extensions from all periods of time. Especially those streamline hospitals from the 1930s - 1950s era - they are some of my favourite designs.
It was not until I started researching more about the history of the hospital that I found out that the original main design was later added when an entire wing was added. I remember seeing old photographs of two sets of wonderful staircases, and a hospital that looked familiar but different to how I saw it. It was as if it was Launceston, but maybe it wasn’t. Going through archives showed me that it had indeed changed and been added onto. In fact the Art Deco hospital replaced a massive 1800s hospital on the same site. This process of learning about history through archive photographs fascinated me and continues to do so to this day - its so important to be immersed in what I do to fully understand and create my own photographs with meaning. This process of exploring, documenting and researching put me in good stead for what would become my obsession with documenting places.
After standing abandoned for a very long time, the old hospital was eventually converted into flats and a hotel. This started happening around 2009 and I documented this process of the buildings second lease on life. Places change and people soon forget what once was, but through photographs a moment in time is captured forever. I remember a friend contacting me when I was away to let me know that the iconic staircase was being demolished. I made a special trip back early to Launceston to capture the process of those stairs being demolished. One last goodbye. Photographing the old Launceston General Hospital put me in good stead for my storytelling projects into the future.
This year marks 10 years since starting my blog about Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism. Over this time I’ve produced over 400 blog posts, travelled thousands of kilometres making photographs in the pursuit of telling the story of Tasmanian Modernism.
The work I’ve undertaken of raising awareness of this period of Tasmanian design has been shared through my blog, website and social media channels. It’s funny to think that Instagram wasn’t even a thing when I started blogging. My work from this project has also been published in publications including magazines, academic books as well as well as radio and newspaper interviews.
I have been using the Blogger platform for 10 years to share these stories about my passion for Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism. In early 2019 I reworked my entire website creating a fresh modern platform to share my vast artistic and commercial portfolios. This new direction has provided me with the imputes to continue creating new content for my Tasmanian Modernism project and the ability to integrate it into my new website creates a strong design “flow” showcasing all my work in one location. Click here to check out the new website for Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism, let me know what you think.
One of my goals for 2019 for the Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism project is going through my catalogue and remastering photographs I've taken including new interpretations of old photographs. Over the past decade I've learnt so much creatively and technically about the craft of photography and about Tasmanian Modernism. It will be a joy to look back upon and reinterpret my portfolio of images.
As I begin the process of editing the project photographs I’ll be posting them onto my new website dedicated to the Tasmanian Modernism project. Here you will find all my project photos categorised into galleries relating to their use such as industry, commercial and Government etc. I have also created a section titled “In Focus” which showcases large scale and/or long term projects I've worked on that have more than just a few photographs. The website at present has just launched, coupled with remastering my huge back catalogue. In time I hope for the website and blog to provide a wonderful resource for everything relating to Tasmanian 20th Century Modernism.
Thank you for all your support over the last 10 years, it's been a wonderful journey so far, and I'm excited for what's to come.