Canberra Glassworks

Canberra Glassworks in the Kingston Power House The Kingston Power House, an iconic building has substantial significance for the ACT community. Occupying a prominent position on the south eastern edge of Lake Burley Griffin, the building was designed by architect J.S. Murdoch. The powerhouse commenced supplying Canberra with coal-generated electricity in 1915 and was decommissioned in 1957 and subsequently used as the supplt authority’s training facility until 2000. It is the oldest permanent public building in the ACT - Australia’s national capital. The Canberra Glassworks, a three stage project, was finally completed in May 2010 with the installation of the Glass and Light tower in the remnant smokestack base. This public art commission designed by Warren Langley emulates the form of the former steel smokestack, a new symbol for the building, visible day and night. The ACT Government sought architects for an innovative design solution for establishing a glass centre in the heritage listed powerhouse. The design needed to meet the requirements of a functionally operating glass centre with workshops for glass artists within the constraints of the existing structure with its heritage limitations, budget limitations and utilise environmentally sustainable design principles. The heritage significance of the building was to be protected in a manner that encouraged adaptive re-use and promoted public access. This project reflects the synergies between the Capital’s creative art glass industry and the history of energy supply in Canberra. The facility is a hub of activity supported by a small team of operational staff, providing access to facilities and equipment hire for artists; offering glass making demonstrations for visitors; exhibition and sale of high quality glass artworks; workshops and classes for the public; and sale and commission of the centre’s own products. Design Statement The industrial nature of the Kingston Power House, complete with patina of its former uses, provided the ideal backdrop for creative glass art production and workshops. The design challenges of the adaptive reuse was one of differences and contrasts - the contrast of the mass, solidity, dull tones and monumental cathedral-like spaces of the former Power House with the lightness, transparency, fragility, vivid colours and small scale of the art glass object. Our design minimises intervention for the qualities and strengths of the historic fabric and spaces to be retained, respected and given new life. Establishing a glass centre, the Canberra Glassworks in the Kingston Power House building was a complex and high-profile project of local, national and potentially international significance. The design provides an innovative design solution which meets the functional requirements of a public accessible glass centre, respects the existing structure and heritage significance, and allows the public to appreciate the building’s past and current use. The Canberra Glassworks has two unique and exciting glass art gallery spaces – a larger space, Gallery I, is located within the main building hosts major survey and cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions. This glass art gallery space is linked via a low level tunnel to Gallery II located in a circular masonry drum - the base and remains of the old smoke stack. Both gallery spaces retain original raw industrial building materials which are adapted with minimal insertions for contemporary exhibition spaces. The new glass and light tower designed by Warren Langley, emulates the form of the former steel smokestack and is now the new beacon for the Canberra Glassworks, and is seen from across the Lake Burley Griffin and surrounding areas. Internal planning for different uses and circulation patterns with different access requirements was critical for the building’s function and was resolved by separating artist users from the public. The public route via elevated and separated walkways allows artists to work yet be viewed from above. A centrally located lift transports artists and public alike to all levels as well as being for materials delivery. The adaptive reuse required extensive upgrade of services with fire engineering to meet code and access requirements. Integral to the buildings’ adaptive reuse was that no building fabric be removed unless absolutely necessary. The condensing pits below ground are now reused for rainwater storage and water used for washing down the workshops; timber planks from the condensing pit walkways were reused in new seats in the Hotshop viewing area; heat from glass furnaces is reclaimed for heating water for in-slab heating; natural ventilation is optimized and windows automated. Retained existing windows allow abundant natural light into the large spaces which influenced the functional layouts. The project has delivered on all key on all key brief objectives - to provide industry infrastructure and access to facilities for glass artists for the production of high quality innovative commissioned glass art and exhibition work; to be a significant cultural tourism attraction for local; interstate and international visitors to experience the process of glass art production; to position Canberra as the pre-eminent glass art producing location in Australia and provide a high profile centre for glass artists; to conserve and protect the heritage values of the Kingston Power House building and interpret its cultural significance to the Canberra community. AIA Jury for Stage 1 said: “The revitalization of Canberra’s limited historic buildings is a key issue at a time when government interest or involvement in the built environment appears to be diminishing. The Canberra Glassworks and Gallery is to be applauded as a great initiative. Locating the Glassworks into this former Power Station demonstrates an appropriate synergy of old and new. United in a new purpose the spaces of the heritage building bring richness to the new function in a manner that might not otherwise have been possible. The Glassworks represents its ‘design-by-making’ philosophy by incorporating its structure into the very fabric of the old building. In such an industrial enclosure, the structural elements and materials are rudimentary, unadorned and explicit in their purpose and making – designed for heavy and un-careful use but not for contemplation or appreciation. The historic use is now seen in delightful contract to the glass artifacts crafted within.`


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