The redevelopment of five heritage buildings that make up Launceston's CH Smith complex has saved one of the city's earliest buildings and two of its great industrial streetscapes.
The site had been the subject of considerable community and media attention for more than 20 years as a series of unrealised development proposals resulted in demolition and increasing dereliction of the significant industrial heritage buildings.
In late 2016, Errol Stewart and Scott Curran purchased the site and announced an ambitious redevelopment proposal that would address the city's needs while celebrating the history and significance of the site's industrial heritage. Working closely with local heritage groups, the Launceston City Council and the Tasmanian Heritage Council, the results are outstanding.
While past proposals involved substantial demolition and the introduction of some dominant new structures, this proposal has retained all of the buildings noted in the Tasmanian Heritage Register entry for the site, including the 1830s warehouse at the lower end of Canal Street, which is one of Launceston's earliest buildings.
A number of earlier engineering reports had condemned this warehouse to demolition, and it is a testament to the developer, architects and consulting engineers that an ingenious solution was found to preserve the building. The solution involved the introduction of a steel-framed portal structure at the rear of the building from which steel tie rods pass through the timber framing of the first floor, terminating on the exterior wall with discrete round spreaders. Designing the steel structure to perpetuate the shape and massing of a saw-toothed 1950s structure that had been demolished in more recent times shows the considered approach taken to respect the sites' industrial past.
This respect is also evident in the way work has been carried out on the other heritage buildings on the site, even where few original records were available to guide reconstruction. To the rear of the circa 1860s grain store, the rear floor structure was reconstructed, as were the loading bays that were covered by the 1930s wool store. The framing for the new roof was also conjecturally reconstructed. The locally salvaged massive timber roof trusses used in this area are indicative of the raw and simplified building construction techniques found in early industrial sites.
In the 1930s wool store, the rebuilt door at ground level is faithful to the original design on the first floor of the facade and the introduction of narrow faceted-glass windows for each bay of the building is a very good design response to the highly innovative composition of the patterned pipework brick façade. Even the dilapidated interior of the circa 1857 Fry Residence has been conserved to retain markers of its past such as a staircase stringer which provides an outline of the location of the destroyed staircase, and the introduction of traces along walls and floors to mark the positions of original walls and partitions that had to be removed to enable adaptive re-use.
One decision which perpetuates the history of the CH Smith site to generate community debate through the media is the “absolutely awful" treatment of the advertising ghost sign for Reckitts Blue. The original proposal involved painting over the entire ghost sign in white, however the Heritage Council required that the sign be retained visible while allowing the lower portion to be repainted to address unsightly graffiti. Leaving the remainder of the sign untouched preserves the multiple layers of historic advertising on the wall for future generations who may ponder its history.