Cockatoo Island is one of Sydney’s most popular tourist destinations. There the old dock works has been turned into an exhibition and activity space, adding depth and variety to the visitor experience.
Did you know Armidale had what could be an equivalent if smaller space, one that won a state architectural award in the same year as the Opera House?
Boilers were central to the industrial revolution. They provided the power and heat required to drive industrial development.
On the Tablelands with its cold winters, boilers generated hot water that was used to heat larger buildings, such as TAS.
At the university, the growth of the top campus in the late 1950s created new heating demands. The university decided that a new coal-powered reticulated hot water system was the most effective response.
Stage one opened in 1961 in a new facility built at the northern end of the campus. Continued growth in student and staff numbers led to a stage 2 extension in 1965 designed by Leif Kristensen and then a much bigger stage 3 expansion in 1971.
While I was aware of the building, I had no idea of its size or architectural significance. Designed by government design architect Robert Bryant as part of Bryant’s larger scheme for a residential complex in the northern part of the campus, the award-winning stage 3 makes creative use of off-form concrete to create an arresting brutalist form.
The boiler plant closed in 2000 and then sat idle for many years. Finally, a small team was formed to look at ways of re-purposing the building, while retaining links to the past. The team includes program manager for UNE’s School Discovery Program Kirsti Abbott, historical archaeologist Pamela Watson, archivist Ian Stepenson and photographer Terry Cooke.
The concept under development centres on the use of the space as an exhibition and activity area, including a special focus on a children’s discovery space that will link past, present and future.
This approach takes advantage of the building’s unique structure and history, as well as its location on the northern edge of the campus with easy access and closeness to other facilities.
The team is trying to build a full history, including stories from those who worked there. If you have stories or want to find out more, contact Kirsti Abbott, email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 0466 726 525. An exhibition of Terry Cooke’s photographs of the Boiler House, Getting into Hot Water, is on view in the Dixson Library at UNE.
Jim Belshaw’s email is email@example.com. He blogs at newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au and newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au