Stairway to Hamer links city with culture

THE quickest way to walk from Southbank up to Princes Bridge used to be a cavernous concrete walkway that curved around the bowels of Hamer Hall.
Nanjing Night Net

It was windy, dark and felt unsafe. The views of the river were terrible and the only ambience came from the odd busker or Sunday market.

But a sweeping redevelopment of Hamer Hall has transformed this once-unloved section of the riverbank. A stairway and lift have replaced the brutalist walkway, large windows have been punched through the concrete facade of the hall and a mix of new restaurants and foyers will front the Yarra.

Much of the focus had been on the interior, which has been upgraded with improved acoustics, new auditorium seating and new concert technology, but the Victorian Arts Centre and architects Ashton Raggatt McDougall (ARM) wanted to give equal attention to the building’s exterior.

Arts Centre chief executive Judith Isherwood says the two-year, $135.8 million redevelopment, which will be completed later this month, would turn an inward-looking building into one that ”engages” with the city.

”Our forecasts show we will be getting a lot more foot traffic coming along the river promenade – pedestrians, bike riders, tourists – and we want to capture those people and give them options that encourage them to come into the hall,” Ms Isherwood said.

Melbourne University architecture expert Peter Raisbeck said the location of Hamer Hall was one of the most significant urban design sites in the city, and called the new-look hall a ”victory” for Melbourne architecture. ”This says that our cultural institutions no longer need to be fortresses that are inwardly looking; they are transparent and permeable,” Dr Raisbeck said.

A new entry hall has been built at river level, as well as a cafe with free wireless access and two restaurants – one a contemporary Japanese eatery called Sake, the other tenant yet to be announced.

At the St Kilda Road level, some of the hall’s concrete walls have been replaced with glass, to allow pedestrians to peer inside the building, and patrons to gaze out on views of the river’s north bank. This floor will also be home to Trocadero, a new Mediterranean-style brasserie operated by the Van Haandel Group, who are behind Melbourne restaurants the Stokehouse, Comme and Cutler & Co and the State Library of Victoria cafe Mr Tulk.

Joe Rollo, architecture critic for The Age, said the redesign would offer good views across the river and give much better access to Southbank via a ”terrific” new stairway.

Hamer Hall was previously open only during performances, but the whole building will now be open seven days a week to encourage visitation, with free performances and exhibitions.

”The public need reasons to come in and dwell, not feel like they have to buy a ticket to see a show,” Ms Isherwood said.

Canadian singer k. d. lang will headline two concerts to celebrate the reopening of Hamer Hall on July 26 and 27, part of a four-day mini-festival designed to reintroduce Melburnians to the hall.

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