InDaily: Destruction and 'activation' side-by-side at old RAH

InDaily can reveal that the Government is planning a carefully staged process of bringing down some of the non-heritage buildings, including the East Wing, while still attempting to attract visitors to the key city site.

From next week, historic building facades on North Terrace will be illuminated with strobe and static lights, to be followed in early October by the installation of an interactive lighting sculpture that will change shapes and colours as people move around and through it.

The light theme will continue in November with a lighting “festival”, followed by a festive event – Christmas in the Laneway – which will feature artists, entertainers and pop-up stalls.

New York tech company, Shared Studios, will set up its first Australia “portal” – a series of installations that allow people to interact with others in real-time with connected “portals” across the world. The gold-painted shipping containers are filled with immersive technology, with the promise that when you enter, you will come face-to-face with someone in a distant portal “live and full-body, as if in the same room”.

The Government is also promising that Fringe and Festival performances will be hosted at the old hospital site, along with musical performances and temporary public art.

The demolition project will start in December and continue for up to two years, with the East, Hone and Cobalt wings the first buildings to go. While the Government says the buildings – built between 1950 and 1980 – are mostly metal, concrete and masonry, some also contain asbestos, which will need to be removed and processed.

The Government says it isn’t uncommon for demolition of buildings in the CBD to occur near public areas, and the old RAH buildings will be “encapsulated” during removal of asbestos.

A spokesperon said the old RAH’s seven-hectare site allowed for “the appropriate separation of simultaneous demolition, construction and activation activities”.

“The safety and access of the demolition zone, and consequent relationship with the wider site will be managed with the preferred contractor McMahon Services, in conjunction with the independent superintendent and Renewal SA,” the spokesperson said.

“McMahon Services have the responsibility to prepare a Construction Environment Management Plan that manages noise and dust in accordance with EPA regulations. To ensure public safety, the building will be encapsulated during asbestos removal.

“The activation zone is separate to the demolition zone with events carefully staged to maintain distance between parts of the site being activated and the parts under demolition.”

The first stage of the demolition “will not impact on the activation planned for the existing helipad” – a “luxury camping hotel” involving high-end tents on the rooftop site.

Urban Development Minister Stephen Mullighan said the Government didn’t want the site “locked up” during demolition and construction.

“We want to bring new life and economic activity to the East End as soon as possible and we are achieving that through these activation opportunities and demolition works,” he said.

“The old Royal Adelaide Hospital site provides some unique opportunities for people with creative and innovative ideas, with sites like the helipad which provides 360-degree views of the city, including the Riverbank precinct.”

While the activation plan is well advanced, what will eventually be built on the site is very much up in the air, with the Government giving strong indications it is preparing to dump the preferred proponent to develop the site, a joint venture of John Holland and local firm Commercial & General.

The Government has been in negotiations with the developers for almost a year, but as the discussions near their conclusion, it is strongly considering overseeing the redevelopment site itself, through its land management body, Renewal SA.

InDaily reported earlier this week that an announcement on that topic was imminent.

Mullighan indicated yesterday that the Government wasn’t happy with the price of the John Holland/Commercial & General proposal.

He said it was a “live option” for the Government to abandon the deal and manage construction itself, using several smaller developers.

Asked what would happen if the State Government was not satisfied with the proponent’s final offer, Mullighan said: “We’ll get on and develop the precinct in the same way that we’ve developed the precincts of Bowden and Tonsley.”

The Government has been attempting to come up with a formula for the huge – and valuable – CBD site for the best part of a decade, including an abandoned master planning exercise by the now defunct Integrated Design Commission and a design competition, completed in 2013 but largely, it seems, ignored.

Since October last year, the Government and the preferred proponents have been negotiating a new masterplan for the site.

Whatever happens next, Mullighan says the site’s redevelopment will include returning some of the land to the Botanic Gardens, adaptively reusing and keeping the heritage buildings that line North Terrace, the development of a research and a development precinct to support activity on the site and residential development.

The Government is about to launch a $1.9 million search to find a designer for a proposed contemporary art gallery for the site.

The vision for the site revealed last year included more than 1000 apartments, a massive 5-star hotel and the possible addition of a contemporary art gallery. An unpublished proposal, obtained by InDaily last year, also showed an underground recital hall and aged care facilities.