Tasmania’s The Hedberg bridges old and new through culture and architecture

The Hedberg, Hobart’s sparkling new creative arts complex, celebrates its opening in Tasmania to a design by local studio Liminal and Singapore-based WOHA

Daytime image of the dramatic exterior of the Hedberg building from the street side in Tasmania, road at the front of the building, Trees to the right, stone building to the right, street light, blue cloudy day sky
(Image credit: Natasha Mulhall)

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’.

Foyet interior, Red patterned carpet, Lady dressed in black walking creating a blurred image, Marble stone wall and stone pillars leading up to wooden and glass gallery with spotlights

(Image credit: Natasha Mulhall)

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.’ 

Daytime image of an external wall close up of the building, Narrow black framed windows, marble to lower wall area

(Image credit: Natasha Mulhall)

Wood panel design sound proofed music room, wooden floor, man sitting and playing a black piano in the middle of the room, to the left a man sat playing a guitar, left hand corner a man sat on a raised platform playing a red set of drums, pale blue electric guitar on a metal floor stand, speaker mounted high on the left hand side corner wall, table covered with a dark blanket, with sound equipment, wires and chair in the far right corner of the room, black frame doorway to the right

(Image credit: Natasha Mulhall)

Interior room with a neutral colour marble effect stone wall, wood flooring, red patterned rug, two dark red sitting swivel chairs on silver metal stands, small round side table in the middle of the chairs

(Image credit: Natasha Mulhall)




Daven Wu is the Singapore Editor at Wallpaper*. A former corporate lawyer, he has been covering Singapore and the neighbouring South-East Asian region since 1999, writing extensively about architecture, design, and travel for both the magazine and website. He is also the City Editor for the Phaidon Wallpaper* City Guide to Singapore.

With contributions from