Friday 8 December 2017

Gorman House Arts Centre, Braddon

Yesterday morning when checking out of my Canberra hotel I got directions to Lonsdale Street where the clerk told me I could get a coffee. I drove south on crowded Northbourne Avenue and turned left into Girrahween Street, Braddon. I found a parking spot on Lonsdale Street and paid the fee. In the cafĂ© with nothing to do I sat and looked at the Wikipedia entry for Braddon. 

The suburb has changed a lot in recent years. They had a party on Lonsdale Street after the result of the same-sex marriage survey was announced last month by the Bureau of Statistics. The demographics show why. There are a lot of young professionals who rent in the area. Most of the car yards that used to characterise Braddon have been developed into high-rise apartment buildings with shops on the street frontages. But some of the history remains. I found the Gorman House Arts Centre featured on the Wikipedia page and because I had time to spare I asked the woman at the counter if it was far to walk. She found the building online and printed me out a map, so I set off on foot, heading south.

The Gorman House Arts Centre is on a major road – Ainslie Avenue – and there is a construction site on the corner of Cooyong Street where presumably they’re building more residential units. Gorman House takes up an entire city block.

The building was put on the ACT’s Heritage Places Register in 2005. The listing document says that the complex was built by the Federal Capital Advisory Committee in 1924 and was originally called Hostel No. 3. The building is the work of architect J.S. Murdoch “in a Garden-City setting, on a major axis of the Griffin Plan for Canberra”.
It reflects an interesting combination of traditional Georgian and Inter-War Mediterranean sentiment, with the Prairie-Style. The key elements of this combination are the horizontality of the group of buildings, the interconnected pavilions in a symmetrical layout, formation of landscaped areas between the pavilions, the use of terracotta roof tiles (since replaced), red brick details, six-pane double hung windows, and rough caste walls. The Brunswick green and cream colour scheme revives Georgian fashions. 
The garden setting of Gorman House is reflective of the 1920s style of low hedges and planting against buildings. Later plantings and maintenance have continued this simple style. The plantings provide contrast with the horizontal character of the buildings. The original Crataegus crus-galli [cockspur hawthorn, a North American native] provide an impressive focus for each of the courtyards. 
It has technical interest, which expresses the economic difficulties of its time of construction as well as the use of locally produced materials that have contributed to an identifiable local architectural fashion.
The website for Gorman House shows that the complex of buildings is now connected with the Ainslie School – a building constructed in 1927 – which are both run as arts centres.

To get back to the car, this time I walked up Doonkuna Street which has wide grass verges and enormous, spreading oak trees. There are two massive oak trees also outside the War Memorial, which was my ultimate destination for the morning.

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