Victorian Free Classical Gem Restored in Sydney’s Inner West

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013
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The Glebe Town Hall
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After an extensive restoration process conducted by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, Sydney’s Glebe Town Hall building reopened its doors earlier this year. The project wa shortlisted for the 2013 NSW Architecture Awards.

The Glebe Town Hall, an iconic and historically significant building built in the 1880s, is located on the corner of St. Johns Road and Vernon and Lodge Streets.

The building’s heritage value is due to the fact that it is one of the few remaining intact examples of the Victorian Free Classical style of architecture. Designed as one of the grand town halls of Sydney, with richly decorated interiors and modern amenities, the building is a major component of the Glebe Conservation Area.

The solid brickwork building was originally designed by architect Ambrose Thornley Jr and constructed in two stages, the first in 1880 and the second in 1891.

The Glebe Town Hall Front

The Glebe Town Hall is an iconic building of state significance.

In 2009, the City of Sydney committed Tonkin Zulaikha Greer architects to restore the Glebe Town Hall, which was in urgent need of major conservation maintenance work and upgrades to improve its accessibility and services.

Australian architect and specialist in heritage conservation Jean Rice wrote a detailed report describing the building’s original state of conservation and the work done.

“The nature of the original construction required some substantial changes,” Rice said. “The building required a new slate roof and extensive reconstruction of the failing cement finials and parapets, as well as extensive repairs to the rendered facade decoration. The opportunity was taken to reinstate the missing cast metalwork on the clock tower and cresting to the ridge; this work was based on historic images.”

During the restoration process, unexpected details regarding the building’s past were uncovered.

The Glebe Town Hall Ceiling

The opportunity was taken to reinstate the missing cast metalwork on the clock tower.

“Sgraffito decoration was found on the pilasters, carved into white plaster to reveal the pink plaster underneath. The model for the pattern is likely to have come from the marble pilasters of the stairs of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Venice,” Rice explained.

“Some of the original internal wall finishes in the major spaces have been recreated. A sample was sent to Italy to have the marmorino matched exactly and reapplied in the main hall.”

Tonkin Zulaikha Greer’s design improves the main access, bringing it up to code. Their project creates a new entrance at the rear to avoid having to add extensive ramps to the formal front of the building. In addition, TZG created a new lift and fire stair connections to the complex interior levels of the building.

The Glebe Town Hall Interior

The interior ceilings have lath and plaster coves and timber boarding of alternating pine and red cedar.

“The new stair hall is detailed simply in concrete, timber, steel and glass, with an applied pattern on the glass to provide privacy for the adjoining house,” Rice said. “

The use of several species of plantation hardwood in the new work recalls the patterns of the original ceilings. The former natural ventilation system has been reinstated using new zinc roof ventilators, reopened ceiling and wall vents, and opening highlights, and enhanced with automated fans.”

The building serves as a centre for the community’s social and cultural life and an entertainment venue, with space for events and fundraising functions. An early childhood centre, administrative offices and small community meeting rooms, craft studios and support facilities add social significance to the building.

The Glebe Town Hall Interior Hardwood

The use of several species of plantation hardwood in the new work recalls the patterns of the original ceilings.

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