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Hamer Hall: Before the Facelift

A look back at Hamer Hall and its luscious interiors.

Three weeks ago, Melbourne’s famous Hamer Hall hosted its final concert before closing its doors to make way for a $128.5 million renovation, funded by the State Government.

Originally known as the Melbourne Concert Hall, the complex was designed by Sir Roy Grounds and opened in 1982 after a lengthy land dispute with the City of Melbourne, ongoing engineering problems and industrial action that had hampered its construction for several years.

The exterior of Hamer Hall, illuminated at dusk

After its opening, the Melbourne Concert Hall became a much-loved cultural hub, playing host to the world’s finest performers, orchestras and groups from Australia and abroad.

Whilst the Melbourne Concert Hall wasn’t very striking from the outside, the interior was fitted-out by expatriate designer John Truscott, who created a distinctive and luscious environment in which the public could enjoy a ‘special night out’ in the city.

Cadbury-Schweppes Room

John Truscott’s opulent interiors are very special: The colours have been very carefully selected to create a rich atmosphere (a signature trait of Truscott’s).

From the box office with its gold-leaf ceiling to the lobby spaces with their rich red carpet or the verdant green of the Cadbury-Schweppes Room, Truscott created unique and distinctive interior spaces that contained only the finest of furnishings and fittings. The use of padded leather as a ‘wallpaper’ in many of the corridor spaces is certainly something I have never seen elsewhere, but suited the building extraordinarily well.

Sadly, it seems that most of Truscott’s legacy is to be destroyed during the renovations.

The huge glass chandelier in the foyer, created by Michel Santry and called Arcturus, is to be removed permanently. And if  the official preview images are anything to go by, there won’t be much of Truscott’s work left when the renovation is complete. The Victorian Arts Centre website states rather vaguely:

“The important contribution made to the interiors by interior designer John Truscott has been a key consideration in planning the redevelopment of Hamer Hall. The proposed changes to the interiors, both in the foyers and the auditorium, have been arrived at following considerable thought and care to ensure that the existing interiors are retained as much as possible”

I don’t see much evidence of this.

Illustration of the planned refurbishment of Hamer Hall

Last year I made a detailed photographic study of Hamer Hall as part of Melbourne Open House. Recognising the significance of Hamer Hall’s interior architecture, and suspicious that the State Government would trash yet another of our modern architectural masterpieces in its never-ending quest for the “modern” , I made a studious attempt to capture the essence of Hamer Hall, before it was all destroyed.

And destroyed it will be.

The original plans showed a horrible glass shard that would pierce the rear balcony to create a new entrance, but the latest renders seem to have omitted this particularly ugly feature.

The latest render of the redeveloped Hamer Hall.

We can’t halt progress forever, but it seems a tragedy to me that we care so little about mid- to late- 20th century interior design. The National Gallery of Victoria had its interior destroyed, now it seems to be Hamer Hall’s turn. I wonder what we’ll have left from this period, if even John Truscott’s work is not considered significant enough to preserve?

Some pictures, for posterity:



19 responses to “Hamer Hall: Before the Facelift”

On 21 July 2010, Andrew wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

I had no idea this was going to happen. I thought it was mostly exterior works and opening it up to the riverbank. Truly sad. I love the interior and after all the fuss about the absent chandelier in the past that seemed to go on forever, I can’t believe it will disappear permanently.

On 23 July 2010, Donna wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

I didn’t know they were planning such extensive renovations. I’ve always admired the luxurious interiors that appeared ‘exclusive’ but were open for everyone to enjoy.

The proposal drawings look sterile. Goodness, enough of the coloured feature walls already!

I wonder whether the Sidney Nolan series will have a place in this new design?

On 23 July 2010, Frank wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Thanks for this great collection of photos documenting this building. I still remember attending the opening concert in the Hall and being amazed at what Truscott had done with the interior. I fear what monstrosity will replace it.

On 26 July 2010, rohan storey wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

The Trust made a submission and we got a tour and to look at the plans, and yes the ground level foyer and the one below will be changed utterly, only bottom foyer to retain much Trustcott. Even teh hall itself will be significantly changed, with the stage area adn the lower half of the auditorium to also be changed, losing (probably) the hand painted ‘sediment’ decoration. I am amazed that Trustcott fans, even his own foundation, have not made a fuss. Perhaps no-one realises the extent of destruction. Apparently its too expensive to re-use the gold leaf, leather walls, marble floors in any way…. ps the render of the interior above is I think the proposed new river level foyer. They dont actually know what the new interiors wil look like.

On 26 July 2010, Sean wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

I had no problem with the proposed glass shard, I think it would have been an improvement to the brutalist facade. In fact, I’ve always dreamed of Hamer Hall having a huge copper dome on top as the current roof is a bit bland. However I’m pretty shocked by the interior renovations. Thanks for pointing this out Adam. These interiors are the best aspect of Hamer Hall and truly wonderful example for their period. At least with the National Gallery they had the vision to retain the interiors. Hamer Hall is perhaps more significant to its period. I’m suprised that the National Trust doesn’t have anything to say about this.

On 27 July 2010, Nick Azidis wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

I don’t get it! – for a country that’s allays looking for its cultural identity… I disapprove with the renovation. looks like a new underground train station or shopping center, rubbish…

On 7 August 2010, Dr Dufty wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Dear Adam
Thank you for your great photos! I too am saddened to see some of the changes planned for Hamer Hall. However, you will be pleased to hear that Michel Santry’s sculpture “Arcturus” is now heritage listed and will be very carefully handled in dismantling. At present it is being put in storage during reconstruction and the present plan is that it be relocated within the extended arts complex scheduled to be completed in five years. As it has been explained to me, the present floorspace area is not large enough for the projected amount of visitors in the future. At present, the whole complex is expected be the largest of its kind in the world.

On 8 August 2010, ceebee wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Today’s Age article ( hopefully will blow the whistle on this disgraceful mess.

After the disaster of trying to remove the Leonard French ceiling from the Great Hall I would have thought the government would have been extra careful but modern architects seem to totally disrespect anything other than their own creations.

To remove the organ and not even have funds to return it …to remove the Arcturis for no reason seems to be just dumb.

Only public protest will stop this abomination.

On 17 February 2011, John Drew wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

While the auditorium did have acoustic problems which may be fixed, I cannot imagine the mindset of someone planning a world class auditorium for Classical music without an organ. So much music requires such an instrument. I am also dismayed at the suggestion that the Truscott decor will be discarded. The possibility that the auditorium will be finished in sickly yellow puce tones like the Elizabeth Murdoch hall is a disaster.

On 3 May 2011, Louise wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Actually your comments are somewhat incorrect – the illustration you refer to is in fact an entirely new addition on to the North side of the building that creates a relationship with the river, so of course there will not be any Truscott features because it isn’t built yet. Though Truscott was an incredible decorator, he was not an Architect and overlooked issues such as acoustics and circulation. There were even some floors that were missing escalators between them! Hamer Hall is actually heavily protected by heritage laws inside and out, so you will be pleasantly surprised when it reopens next year.

On 19 October 2011, Miss Doravann Dy wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Art is a symbolic of life, which is shown from Architecture’s creative in hard works.
sometimes, I went to Melbourne concert never missed to see the beautiful sculpture by Michel Santry.
I will be sadness, if Hammer Hall’s interiors renovation will be removed Santry’s precious sculpture. Please do not replacing on it.

On 13 August 2012, Garry wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

When I enquirer regarding the pipe organ was told ther was no organ in Carnegie hall,
What on earth that has to do with us in Melbourne, all great concerts hall need a proper organ not just a toaster.

On 15 August 2012, rosie wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

What do you think of the concert hall now that it has opened?I absolutely detest what they have done to it.(particularly the foyers) I came across your site while looking for photos of the original Truscott interiors..thank you so much for having the foresight to take those photos before they wrecked them.
My friend who worked with John Truscott on the interior is devastated by what those pretentious trashy philistines have done to his work and denies that he would have approved of it .

On 22 August 2012, Adam Dimech wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

@Rosie: I have not had an opportunity to look inside and see what they have done, so I shall not comment until I have. I must say that I am not very keen on the work they have done on the outside.

On 31 August 2012, Russell Costello wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

While the interior areas external to the hall itself remain dramatic, if different to the original (I miss the chandelier too but welcome the improved escalators), the hall decor is now a dog. It is a pity that the acoustics were fixed at the expense of the original richness of the view toward the stage. It is now in-your-face, brutal architecture. The back drop of the intricacy of organ that once added richness to the stage settings, is gone. I cannot believe that they have reduced the hall’s flexibility by permanently removing it. No more organ concertos or symphonies! With what appears to the audience to be large, brown, lacquered-masonite panels constricting the smaller stage area and, above which hangs what look like long brown hessian screens as the stage backdrop (we are told bronze curtains for acoustics), it all looks so suburban hall functional. I now welcome the lights going down for the performance.

On 3 December 2012, Brooke wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Does anyone know what is going to happen to the “lovely” raw concrete exterior finish that now graces the new work. It doesn’t look finished but no further work seems to be taking place.

On 17 November 2015, Asha wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

I have only been there once since. It really upset me. Australia is so weak on heritage and always seems to demolish or rehash everything every couple of decades no matter what. What Truscott did was not necessarily the décor of the times (as with ARM architects) it was from the heart and imagination and every detail was related and balanced and linked with other details. The rich warm colours represented the red heart of Australia and the luscious and unusual materials used were breathtaking. Even the contrast of the Brutalist architecture against the soft luxurious warm interiors was perfect. I’m surprised that ARM didn’t even get that. I think The new interior looks so cheap, it even has big bold retro patterns all over the carpet, yuk! So tacky! It reminds me of an episode of Channel Nine’s “The Block”! that’s about the standard of interior design that it is. I don’t know if it was ever listed with Heritage Victoria but it definitely should have been. If it was listed with them then they are not doing their job or the guidelines they have are too weak to save anything, Heritage Vic. generally don’t give a hoot about interiors or context with most buildings. ARM are definitely out of their depth with a building like this (the interior at least) they are good architects for some things but not this, they have absolutely no class, sensitivity or understatement and have no sign of being true artists. They design for “People movement” rather than “Feeling or inspiration”. And the chandelier I believe was hated by these architects who wanted it gone, because it was in the way of their crap unimaginative “The Block” vision. And so the newspaper story that it was dismantled for cleaning then no one knew how to put it back together I believe was likely made up. This cheapo unnecessary reno job equals the Sydney Opera House interior disaster, where pollies ruin something because they basically don’t get it in the first place. Next they’ll be asking ARM to put some cheapo “pizazz” into the State Library to get a bit more “People movement” and more “utilisation” of every square inch. No more quite spaces, no more reflection, no more inspiration, no more contemplation, no more real beauty. Architects these days are all about ego and PR, the real art has gone.

On 3 March 2016, Robert Lichter wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

It is 6 years since the organ in the concert hall was distroyed with all the internal features of the building, representing the age the building was created.

It looks like an old church with a modern tower.

Now it is time to reinstate what ever we can. The organ, the original walls in the concert hall, with the beautiful sand stone finish all over and the exciting looking stage.

I am waiting for new long term plans from the Art Centre Management, following with discussion, who supports it and how can we get the money for it.

On 6 July 2019, Russell Eves wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

ITS does not require an apostrophe when it is a possessive pronoun.
You insist on providing one erroneously.

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