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Adaptive Re-use of Heritage Sites

Visit by Prof. Robert Morris-Nunn
Thursday 21st August – Sunday 23rd August 2014

Supported by Renewal SA

Professor Robert Morris-Nunn is an accomplished architect who has worked in Tasmania for over 25 years, taking a special interest in the social impact of architecture.  His firm, Morris-Nunn Associates, have more recently gained critical acclaim both here and in the US and Europe for the redevelopment of the IXL warehouses on Hobart's docks (2005), and the Forest ecoCentre in Scottsdale (2003). Both designs used an ingenious encasing structure to direct air flows and moderate the thermal environment of their interiors. His firm’s other works since then have effectively made use of such cutting-edge ecological features as key elements of their structures.  Robert has won numerous state and several national architectural awards; his work has been illustrated in international publications such as Architectural Review; and he has been invited to lecture at many Australian and international conferences about his work. 

Morris-Nunn very generously donated his time and energies as guest speaker at a forum of the Port of Adelaide National Trust AGM titled ‘Revitalising Heritage Buildings in the Port’ in August 2014. He gave a 40 minute talk before inviting other members of a forum panel and the audience to respond. The interactive Panel included Felicity Sando from Mulloway Architects; Mark Gosden, from CITB; Stephen Ward from the University of SA School of Architecture; and Mario Rosso from the National Trust of SA.  An audience discussion followed brief presentations by the panel.

Morris-Nunn’s talk focussed on the adaptive, ecological and innovative re-use of buildings as exemplified by his own highly acclaimed projects in Hobart such as the IXL Development, Princes Wharf No.1 Shed and the exciting Forestry Headquarters Tasmania in Hobart that features the recycling of two existing heritage listed 1930s warehouses linked into a series of new structures. Such re-adapted structures, Morris-Nunn believes are both cost-effective and intrinsic to place, memory and sustainability.  Importantly, the end result of constructing such a building doesn’t have to imply a mirror-image of the original structure at all.  Rather, with the right design the new structure can enhance the original building’s relatedness to place and function.  The centrepiece of the new Forestry building, for example is a 22m diameter timber and steel framed glass dome, which covers a new natural urban forest with Tasmanian native trees up to 10m high replanted to replicate their natural ecosystem. This space evokes what is real to foresters in the bush, as well as creating a new internal environment with what is regarded as the most innovative structure constructed in Tasmania in the past 50 years.

Morris-Nunn also spoke at length of his Princes Wharf No. 1 shed which is part of the on-going development of the Hobart waterfront.  The new space that was created allows for multi-purpose functionality where people can enjoy a variety of activities and events. The master plan for the Salamanca Place links the revamped Princes Wharf No.1 shed with the other side of Salamanca Square using new pedestrian ramps and paths which align with existing lanes to integrate the whole area into a new pedestrian urban precinct.

The 1938 Princes Wharf Shed, as the oldest of Hobart's waterfront storage sheds, has been largely retained as is, with improvements to accessibility, infrastructure, activation, flexibility and environmental management capabilities. The 'Shed' had been home to the Taste Festival over the Christmas and New Year period for 20 years, but for the remainder of the year was under-used and not easily accessible. The renewal of the site has focused on the support of a wide range of public uses and now it is capable of hosting small to large scale events from rock concerts to formal theatre and 1000 seat banquets.

Central to the adjacent Forecourt design is a new 28m by 28m formal square capable of use for a wide variety of events with banks of retractable seats being able to be placed to create an outdoor auditorium seating 700 with several different layouts. Overhead, a curved catenary structure comprising an interactive coloured LED light sculpture with fabric shade cloth sails will provide a dramatic backdrop.

A wide variety of changing uses in the Forecourt complimenting the Shed has been designed to activate the space day and night. The work for this area was completed in 2011 and has won AIA awards Urban Design and a Public Architecture commendation.


Morris-Nunn also spoke at length of his firm’s IXL Development in Hobart.  In this development we see some of the breadth and range of Morris-Nunn’s vision in the recycling of the historic architectural elements of Hobart’s oldest waterfront warehouses with innovative contemporary design and creativity.   The result is a new cultural precinct for Hobart. ‘The basic ideas which underpinned our thinking throughout all aspects of the project’, outlined Morris-Nunn, ‘were always towards the retention of the unique quality of the warehouses with the most absolutely minimal alteration of their original historic character; the inclusion of the latest techniques in order to achieve long term sustainable environmental design solutions, and the collaboration of various arts groups, especially the Hobart Art School, as partners in enhancing the overall quality throughout the buildings’.

Due to their use of the unique thermal properties of the old warehouses Morris-Nunn was able to create a toroidal shaped atrium roof that covered an open plaza at the rear of the old warehouses under which could be held a wide variety of arts related and corporate events.  The design solution to hosting such events is a sustainable environmental design over the long term.  ‘The result is cutting edge environmental design, and the integration of passively heated air, sophisticated air flow monitoring techniques and the innate thermal properties of the historic urban fabric, is truly unique’. The IXL project is now attracting widespread national and international interest and acclaim.

As well as motivating Port Adelaide residents about the potential for the Port’s waterfront redevelopment Morris-Nunn also stimulated Adelaide University Architecture students on a range of architectural topics that related to the work he has conducted in Hobart, Tasmania. This was an Open University forum that was also attended by students from the South Australian School of Architecture.  Following this presentation Morris-Nunn was then able to take a more detailed tour of the Port Adelaide Waterfront area and met with local business and State and Local Government representatives to discuss a range of topics. 

Morris-Nunn’s enthusiasm and optimism for the Port are an inspiration that for many highlight and reinforce what can be achieved here. 

Written by Michael Weir

(PoANT committee member).

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