There is no escape from the countless array of signs in our cities and towns, appearing to some as visual clutter on our buildings and in our streets. Viewed objectively, it's hard to deny the possibility that signs may impact on the character of our environment. However the communication and advertising provided by signs is essential not just to businesses, but to support many other building uses, such as churches, schools and public buildings. Not all signage is bad though – carefully designed and thoughtfully located signs can do their job well, yet not visually compromise their setting.
Local councils usually provide guidelines and advice about acceptable signage and the Tasmanian Heritage Council has also published information on this topic, recognising that heritage places often present different considerations and require a more careful approach. The Heritage Council's Works Guidelines (published in 2014) have a section dedicated to signage.
Within Hobart there are many well-designed signs on heritage sites, some recently installed and others which have stood the test of time.
One example of successful signage is in Hunter Street, dating from the Henry Jones Hotel development, which creatively adapted a series of redundant warehouses of the former jam factory. As part of the project a signage regime was devised for all the various tenancies along Hunter Street. The location, design and fixings of signs are consistently applied, with the effect that the visual clutter is reduced and the overall impact of the signs is minimal.
St Joseph's Church, on the corner of Harrington and Macquarie Streets, is one of Hobart's earliest churches. In recent years the church decided to replace an existing corner sign, which had become weathered. In consultation with Heritage Tasmania, a new sign was designed, approved by the Heritage Council and installed in 2016. In addition to acting as an appropriate sign-post for the church, the rear of the sign includes historical information.
The former Del Sarte's Assembly Rooms (c1860), on the corner of Harrington and Davey Streets were originally used for musical performances – including the debut of Madame Amy Sherwin (1855-1935). In more recent times the building has been used as the offices of a law firm. In 2016 the law firm approached Heritage Tasmania for advice about replacing their existing signs and repainting the building. Following consultation with Heritage Tasmania and the Hobart City Council, the final signage design was approved in late 2016.
The recently installed signs are placed in the traditional locations around the main entry door (including a wall plaque about Madame Sherwin), as well as a new corner sign attached to the building at a higher level. This sign was needed to address ongoing issues, helping clients find their way to the offices. The design of the new high-level sign, although unashamedly modern, responds well to the architectural character of the building. The overall effect of the new signage and complementary paint colours is considered a positive outcome for this important historic site. Whilst providing the necessary information, the new signage does not overwhelm or detract from the heritage character of the building.
A final example is the new hanging sign for the former Cascade Brewery Offices in Collins Street. This sandstone building is easily recognised by the 'tiger on the barrel' sculpture and is now fittingly used as a bar as part of the RACV Hotel. The new sign is a traditionally mounted bracket sign that is discreet and under-stated. The size and design of the sign ensures minimal visual impact and it is also carefully fixed into the façade to minimise any physical damage to the building.
Designing signs for heritage sites may require additional considerations, but good outcomes can be readily achieved and the advisory team at Heritage Tasmania are always glad to provide advice to help support heritage property owners.
Text and images Deirdre Macdonald