Our Work

Southbank Cultural Precinct Re-development (Hamer Hall refurbishment)

2009-2012   |   Estimated Value - $135.8

Hamer Hall refurbishment


The Arts Centre concert hall building known as Hamer Hall is part of the Southbank Cultural Precinct on the south side of the Yarra River in Melbourne. The precinct includes the Victorian Arts Centre, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Ballet Centre, the new Melbourne Recital Centre, the Melbourne Theatre Company, the CUB Malthouse Theatre, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Victorian College of the Arts, among other facilities.

A grand plan, or vision, for a performing arts centre and National Gallery on the site had been developed by Sir Roy Grounds in 1960. Construction of Hamer Hall began in 1974 and it opened in 1982. In those days, the Yarra was a dirty unappealing river and the low-lying land beyond the Hamer Hall site largely an industrial area, with some contaminated land arising from the tanneries, abattoirs and breweries that used the Yarra as a convenient means for the disposal of their waste products. As a result, Hamer Hall was inward looking, designed to protect visitors to Hamer Hall from the unpleasantness beyond its perimeter.

By the early 2000s, the industrial area of Southbank had been almost entirely superseded by new developments of the 1990s, and waterside land had become favoured. A master plan for the redevelopment of the Southbank Cultural Precinct was announced in 2006, and in September 2008 Victorian Premier Brumby announced the first stage of the project – Hamer Hall and its environs. The new master plan reoriented the precinct with the introduction of the Sturt Street axis, noting that “whilst Grounds’ buildings are articulated along St Kilda Road, the orientation of the Theatres Building and Hamer Hall are actually related to the Sturt Street orientation, although the design of the buildings largely ignore this relationship. … The new Sturt Street cultural spine meets with the traditional Swanston Street/St Kilda Road axis at the Arts Centre Plaza. This intersection creates an opportunity for a key, new, significant public open space at the junction of these two important axes, emphasising the importance of the new spine to Southbank’s arts, cultural and education facilities.”

The Southbank Cultural Precinct Redevelopment was conceived as an opportunity for a “visionary re-imagining” of the precinct, creating world-class cultural facilities for performers and the public and dramatically improving the connectivity – views, pathways, light – between the precinct and the city. It would become a destination attraction, including food and retail outlets, and with a range of animation, interaction and engagement experiences for a wide demographic to enjoy.

Alchimie’s role

Alchimie was responsible for providing implementation strategic advice, facilitation and coaching throughout the project development phase.

Selecting the high-level delivery model for the project

Stage I of the Southbank Cultural Precinct Redevelopment project, would include the refurbishment and redevelopment of Hamer Hall, and its connectivity with the surrounding area. However, a more detailed scope was hard to define, not least because of the unusual way in which the budget had been established. The original funding request related to a more extensive redevelopment and was several-fold greater than the $135.8 million actually awarded. Reportedly this smaller amount equated to cashflow projections for the early period of the proposed redevelopment, and so did not equate to any particular scope. The subsequent project stages (whose funding was, and remains today, uncertain) was envisaged to include the refurbishment and redevelopment of the Theatres Building; development of major external plazas linking the Cultural Precinct with the broader surrounding Southbank precinct; and development of a new cultural facility on the adjacent former YMCA site.

The funding approval for Stage I came with a very clear message that the budget was fixed and was not to be exceeded. The requirement for a very high level of quality in all design and construction work was also a non-negotiable. Hence project scope was the variable that would need adjustment to ensure the budget constraint was met.

This presented a range of challenges. For example, how much design work should be undertaken in respect of later stages? What assumptions should be made regarding the sizing of rainwater-harvesting and air-conditioning systems regarding the timing of subsequent stages and the possibility of a larger system serving multiple stages?

The absence of reliable ‘as built’ drawings contributed to the difficulties in defining project scope, as there was no indication what costly problems might be encountered once construction work began. Requirements relating to heating and ventilation machinery and to elevators and escalators were readily discernible, but the extent of hidden asbestos could not be assessed beforehand.

Any project to redevelop of a precinct is inevitably complex, and the refurbishment of Hamer Hall added its own, such as the limited lay-down area and access, and the interconnectedness with the surrounding plaza and buildings. Balancing some fairly radical change, the refurbishment was also to retain elements of the 2006 master plan, including the character of the interior design (by John Truscott) of the original building, which “...emphasised the use of Australian minerals and gemstones as an interior theme for Hamer Hall, shifting the focus from the sombre earth tones of Grounds’ vision to one of precious minerals. The emphasis was on hidden treasures beneath the Australian earth and all that was precious and metallic, rather than that which was geomorphic.”

Another aspect of the project’s complexity was the huge number of stakeholders, many of whom would require significant input to the project. Chief amongst these, in what was termed the “Owner Team”, were Arts Victoria, the Arts Centre, and Major Projects Victoria (the latter being responsible for project delivery. But, added to this list were other government departments and entities (such as the Office of the Victorian Government Architect), and then the facility users (including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Ballet and the Melbourne Theatre Company, for example), as well as precinct stakeholders such as the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Ballet Centre, not to mention precinct neighbours.

The disruption caused to the facility users in particular by such a major refurbishment was bound to be considerable, but what could not be allowed to happen under any circumstance was a delay to the re-opening date that would be set well in advance. This provided another input to the selection of delivery model.

Unsurprisingly, given the project’s inherent uncertainties and therefore risks, it was decided that the delivery model would be an alliance between Arts Victoria, the Arts Centre, MPV, an architect consultant (Ashton Raggart McDougall (‘ARM’)) and a builder (Baulderstone).

Implementing the delivery model

This would not be a conventional alliance, by any definition!

For a start, there had previously only ever been one building-related alliance – the National Museum in Canberra, which was also facilitated by Andrew Hutchinson, of Alchimie. This meant that the architects community was unfamiliar with the alliance model and would need a rapid education. Indeed, not all architect proponents were comfortable with the model, and one of the four firms chosen to participate in the selection process withdrew. The privately held nature of architect practices, not necessarily in a conventional company structure, called for flexibility in the establishment audits held to establish some financial parameters in the alliance model.

Secondly, the very rigid budget, linked with uncertainty of scope (relating to requirements that would only become apparent once work was underway) and a desire to make every dollar count, meant that the gainshare/painshare regime had to be completely re-thought. For example, a substantial proportion of any savings was reinvested in additional scope. Also, given the small/private nature of most architecture firms, painshare was capped at a smaller amount than would be typical. For symmetry in the event that the project might experience difficulties – bearing also in mind that in an alliance risks are shared – a similar arrangement applied to the builder participant.

Thirdly, and whilst not unique to this project still unusual, was the progressive nature of the alliance. In a progressive alliance, participants are selected separately rather than as a consortium of participants. The concept of a progressive alliance is an innovation pioneered by Alchimie on Melbourne Water’s Sugarloaf Pipeline Project and VicRoads’ West Gate Bridge Project, and used where a project is not sufficiently advanced initially to allow the selection of both the designer and constructor. In a ‘progressive alliance’ selection of the designer proceeds ahead of selecting the constructor, allowing the designer to complete a preliminary design which can be used for defining the project scope, preparing a project budget and completing a business case.

Fourthly, there was a very limited field of suitable companies able to provide certain resources, such as the theatre planner and acoustician, and to require every proponent to field such a member within its consortium would likely have skewed the selection process. For these, the specialist service provider was sourced separately, ie independently from the selection of either the architect or builder participant.

A way with words

A fundamental principle of an alliance is that the desired outcomes of the project are thoroughly explored and defined, since the model is structured so that all participants win or lose together according to the extent that these outcomes are, or are not, achieved.

Considering the parties involved, it was only to be expected that the Key Result Areas would be debated with eloquence and erudition. Indeed, the development of the KPIs and KRAs for Hamer Hall was one of the most thorough processes Alchimie has known.

Some KPI examples, at least during the discussion phase prior to distilling to a manageable number, were:

  • Ambience: The ambience and style of the activity mix is relaxed, stylish, contemporary, flexible, and seasonally variable…and depending on age segment, hip, cool, hot, or totally sick. (Editor: You might want to look up that last word in Urban Dictionary if you’re unsure).
  • Icon of Melbourne: The Arts Centre is remade as a premium destination attraction. It is recognised by most Victorians as the focal point of Melbourne’s cultural precinct, and central to defining the character, quality and reputation of Melbourne. (Editor: This had its roots in frustration over taxis mistakenly driving to the National Gallery when the request was for the Arts Centre).
  • Multiple Choice: Scheduled and spontaneous activities in the public realm offer numerous avenues for curiosity, discovery, entertainment, social engagement, relaxation and reflection.
  • Digital Platform: The redevelopment transforms the capacity for broad based digital delivery of, and access to, performing arts experiences.

    Once the list had been whittled down and finalised, an entire KRA remained focused on the outcomes of commercial operations, and this effectively linked the financial return of both architect and builder to the success of the retailers and other stakeholders within the redevelopment precinct – something that also contributes to the success of the Arts Centre.

    Certainly, through these discussions all participants understood the desired outcomes at a very deep level. And, throughout the project, the KRAs and KPIs served their purpose well, ensuring the desired project outcomes were front-of-mind and ultimately, to an impressive extent, achieved.

Project timeline

In April 2009, architects Ashton, Raggart, McDougall (ARM) and urban designer and architect Peter Elliot were appointed. Subsequently, the construction company Baulderstone was selected to join the alliance as the builder participant, with construction beginning in mid-2010. Hamer Hall re-opened, on time and within budget, in July 2012, with the precinct expecting an additional 600,000 visitors annually. Hamer Hall is re-established as Melbourne’s premier concert venue, seating 2500 and now with the technical capability to host performances across the full spectrum of musical genres.