Eight years in the making, The Hedberg – Hobart’s sparkling new creative arts complex – is finally ready for its close-up. Located on the corner of Campbell and Collins Streets in the city’s old wharf neighbourhood, the complex is a canny fusion of old and new – the old being the 1837 Theatre Royal, Australia’s oldest working theatre, and the 1926 Hedberg Garage, a heritage-listed car showroom and mechanics warehouse, and the new, a head-turning six-storey block co-designed by local studio Liminal and Singapore-based WOHA.

Like interlocking Jenga voids, the disparate buildings are linked in an organic cluster of recital hall, salon, studio theatre and theatre alongside a programme of cascading foyers. The design, says Liminal co-founder Elvio Brianese, ‘responds to its urban and heritage context, rather than expressing the complex as a single object’.

interior view of the lobby of Tasmania’s new cultural centre

Which also explains the deft use of symbolism throughout the project. ‘Storytelling is an important design strategy,’ says fellow co-founder Peta Heffernan. The irregular concertina-like aluminium folds of the façade cladding, for instance, evoke not just stage curtains and musical notation, but also the opalescent shimmer of Tasmanian abalone shells, a staple of the Palawa, the island’s original people. 

The public foyers, anchored with rugs woven in warm reds and yellows by First Nations Tasmanian artist Michelle Maynard, represent traditional gathering spaces where celebrations were held and stories told around fire pits. The rooftop gardens, meanwhile, offer views of Hobart’s modern waterfront, bristling with restaurants, galleries and hotels, and ancient Derwent River.

This subtle but effective nod to history goes deep into The Hedberg’s bones, not least in the use of local Blackwood timber that references the terroir, alongside old bricks and fragments of coins and pottery discovered on site during excavations and now forming part of the floors and walls. As Richard Hassell, WOHA’s lead architect, points out: ‘Our response to heritage was to use contemporary materials that are different from, but which also harmonise with, the historical fabric.’ §

exterior skin detail from the Hedberg cultural centre in Tasmania
music production taking place at sound proof space at the Hedberg in Tasmania
interior seating arrangement and textured walls at culutral centre in Tasmania