Launceston is 'lucky' to have Brutalist building Henty House

Not many people might think it, but Henty House has a bit in common with Town Hall.

At first it may seem odd for the Goliath, grey building to be spoken about in the same terms as the decorative 19th Town Hall.

However University of Tasmania School of Architecture and Design lecturer Dr Stuart King says if you strip away the styles and materials used, they have similar roles in Launceston.

Both over-scaled buildings established and asserted their presence as civic institutions by their raw scale, Dr King said.

“They’re doing similar things, but through different materials and different aesthetic vocabularies.”

Wandering through Launceston, Dr King said he saw similarities with Holy Trinity Anglican Church, not in the style, but in the way they both celebrated the raw materials they used.

“I can start to connect it into the fabric of the city.”

The building was built in the early 1980s and is shaped by Brutalist architecture.

There was a common misconception about Brutalism that it was about being aggressive or rude.

The term came from the French phrase ‘béton brut’, which roughly meant concrete in the raw with no finish, Dr King said.

“It’s actually more about perhaps the notions of purity and truth to material and honesty of expression.

Off form concrete – which meant taking off the formwork and leaving the concrete as it is without any finishing touches – was the main feature of Brutalism, he said.

That was why the rough, timber grain had been left behind on Henty House.

“I think some people find the raw concrete challenging aesthetically,” Dr King said.

“The “decorative finish” is actually not applied, it’s inherent in the way the building was made.”

Sculptural form – which relied on the malleable nature of concrete to create facets and curved features - was another part of brutalism.

The building was gesturing to the public in a way by creating the beautiful chapel face on the south-eastern wall with the deep set windows, he said.

“It’s creating spaces for important events in people’s lives.

“You get these really sculptural forms being produced through these buildings, many of them are civic building so they are actually connected to communities and institutions.”

There has been resurgence in interest in Brutalist architecture around the world.

Henty House was recently featured in an international publication surveying Brutalist architecture, titled ‘SOS BRUTALISM: A Global Survey’.

“It’s not just locals who stare at it too much who think it might be something special, it is part of a family of brutalist buildings internationally,” Dr King said.

The interest was likely due to time, he said.

Brutalism could be traced back to the late 1940s through to the early 1980s.

“We’ve got a little bit of distance, so I think we can now have a critical perspective on them.”

Some people would not agree Henty House has a place in Launceston.”

However, Dr King said, “I think it makes a very positive contribution to the city … the building was designed to hold government services so it was about serving the community”.

“The city is lucky to have it.”

It has had a spotted history in Launceston after it was ordered off the state’s heritage list in 2012, less than a year after it was first added in

“Many of them people either love them or hate them so they’re an interesting topic because you get an emotional response.”

Launceston had an amazing 19th century decorative buildings, which many people could identify with, but Dr King argued Henty House has a place among them.