A little while back I heard the news that Hexa Group is planning to develop The Welcome Stranger site on the corner of Davey and Harrington Streets into a proposed 13 storey, 45 metre building for commercial and residential use.
In case you don’t know, Hexa Group are a property development group headquartered in Melbourne and founded by an Australian developer collective and Quan Jun Da, an industrial giant with a multibillion-dollar annual turnover.
Development, when done sensitively and appropriately, can benefit a community. Old buildings may need to be rebuilt, or greenfield sites be utilised to offer better services and amenity to residents. But there’s a difference between objecting to development and objecting to bad design. I’m objecting to bad design. Looking at the renders of what the proposed building is to look like, well, frankly, it made my eyes hurt.
The bottom half of the new building is fine. Not amazing but non-offensive in the grand scheme of development – simple red brick structure, which is pretty much what is there now. But the top half the building goes rogue and seems to have been taken over by architects who seem to think “movement” in a building’s design is something to visually aspire to. The lines don’t match up, up top. That’s there to create “movement”, but in my opinion it makes the building feel just a bit cheap, temporary and dated before it even begins. It feels like it needs to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, for another round of changes, or ten, before the DA hits the council desk.
According to the Hexa Group website, “the height of the building is unremarkable in the context of Hobart – there are already 10 buildings that are 45 metres or taller in the CBD.” Well unremarkable that may be to a Melbourne development group but to a person living, breathing and working in Hobart having that height of building is one thing, but seeing it being played out with questionable design aesthetic is another.
This is the opposite of what Hobart needs right now, particularly given The Welcome Stranger corner is such a high profile site for visitors to our city, as well as being a landmark for locals travelling to the southern suburbs. We’re doing such a good job of putting out a vibe of being creative thinkers, and attracting interesting people, festivals and businesses to our shores, so why should we let ourselves down in the way our architecture comes to life?
People are coming here because we do things differently, because of places like Mona that show genuine creativity and the hard working small business operators who strive to create interesting and engaging products and services. We have an opportunity to shape this city into something unique, like the low rise European cities that people travel from everywhere to enjoy because they’re not highrise or ugly and because they have their own character and personality. Our goal should be to be a point of difference to larger cities like Sydney and Melbourne and strive for quality and timeless design that will last our lifetimes and those of our younger generations.
We need to demand better design from the architects and property developers who have the privilege of shaping our skyline, as well as the councils charged with approving the heights and structures. These buildings are legacy buildings and Hobartians deserve to enjoy quality architecture and design when moving about the city.
And don’t get me started on Macquarie Point. We have an incredible opportunity there to shape that part of our fabulous city, let’s not mess that one up now shall we. ■