Respectful Refurbishment of an 1856 Chamber

Photographer: Graeme Harrington

The refurbishment of the Legislative Council Chamber in Tasmania's Parliament House has deftly taken this highly intact and significant early-Victorian interior into the 21st century.

Parliament House was originally designed as a Customs House by John Lee Archer in 1830, and converted into Parliament House following the formation of the new Tasmanian Government in 1856.

The interior of the Legislative Council Chamber at Parliament House has remained largely as it was first designed. A monumental painting of Queen Victoria surrounded by a gilded frame overlooks the room with its decorative cedar-panelled walls, original seating, and a ceiling of richly-coloured stencilling and gilt detailing.

It is an interior that is both highly significant and embedded with the traditions of Parliament. It was also an interior that lacked modern services to support the contemporary operations of Parliament, including today's basic necessities of charging stations for tablets and computers, or individual writing surfaces for Councillors.

Bringing the past into the present required a highly considered solution to a complex problem, and JAWS Interior have delivered a solution which belies the complexity of the task.

“We researched a number of examples interstate and internationally to explore how to introduce these new requirements within what is a tight floorplan," explain David Button and Laura Stucken from JAWS Interior.

Left: Original Floor Plan of the Legislative Council Chamber; Right: Revised Plan.
Copyright: JAWS Interior

“For the individual writing surfaces we workshopped three possible solutions with the Legislative members. Freestanding pedestals provided sufficient services for members without compromising circulation, allowing members to discreetly move within and through the Chamber during Parliamentary sessions.

“Each pedestal, whether it be for one or two seated members, incorporates a writing desk with individual pull out shelves for extended comfort, individual task lights, paper storage below the desk, power outlets and USB charging points. At the base of the pedestal a floor box contains power and data connection to microphones."

Copyright: JAWS Interior

To support one of Parliament's House greatest traditions – the joint sitting and group photograph of both Houses at the start of each new Parliament every four years – the pedestals were required to be removable to allow seating to be reconfigured.

“When the writing pedestals are removed, a brass plate flush with the carpet is visible on the floor, but discrete enough to blend in to the surrounding palette."

Copyright: JAWS Interior

The same discrete approach has been used in the design of the pedestal itself. The pedestals are constructed from Tasmanian blackwood stained to a colour and tone consistent with the aged timber in the Chamber. On close inspection it is evident that this is contemporary furnishing; when viewed in group photographs and video images, the pedestals blend into the general background of the existing furnishings.

Parliament House is also a house for the people of Tasmania. Providing appropriate wheelchair access to the Chamber, was a critical aspect of the refurbishment.

“Wheelchair access to the public seating area of the Chamber was restricted by a raised plinth. Working with access consultant Michael Small, a solution was reached which allows for a wheelchair parking area with slightly lesser dimensions than stipulated by the Disability Premises Access Standards. This required shortening the raised plinth at one end, but avoided having to amend the brass railings and the consequential heritage impact."

JAWS Interior have facilitated a contemporary working space for Tasmania's Legislative Council. Attention to, and respect for, the significance of the building, its architects, designer and craftsmen has facilitated a response based upon good design, good execution and a respect for the architectural and historic significance and traditions of the Legislative Council.

JAWS Interiors' Refurbishment of the Legislative Council Chamber is entered in the Heritage Category of the 2020 Tasmanian Architecture Awards

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