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2007 Award of Merit

The Bonython Hall

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Project Title: Bonython Hall

LocationNorth Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia, 5005, Australia

Size100 square metres

CostUS$ 1,575,000

Responsible PartyMcDougall & Vines, Swanbury Penglase Architects, Jim Wilson, Built Environs, University of Adelaide, Glenn Industries and Heritage Stone Restorations

Heritage ArchitectElizabeth Vines, Katrina McDougall, Bill Kay and Eric Swanbury

ContractorBuilt Environs

Date of CompletionJanuary 2006


Project Synopsis

Bonython Hall was built in the 1930s as a gift to the University of Adelaide from newspaper magnate and philanthropist Sir John Langdon Bonython. The building was designed by Walter Hervey Bagot of the firm Woods, Bagot, Laybourne Smith and Irwin. Bonython Hall follows the Tudor Gothic style of the halls of the two most distinguished Oxbridge colleges, Christ Church at Oxford and Trinity College at Cambridge.

The elevations of Bonython Hall are constructed in Murray Bridge limestone, which forms the external facing of the building, over an essentially brick structure. Extensive use was also made of the cutting-edge materials of the day, notably pre-cast concrete , an innovation Bagot had probably come across during his travels in Italy, which closely resembles carved stone and was used to make synthetic stonework, thus  providing a lighter and more plastic alternative to limestone. Sound-absorbing panels were also introduced to improve the acoustics of the building.  

Included on the South Australian Heritage Register in 1980, the hall has functioned since its construction as the University’s principal convocation space. Unfortunately, structural deterioration had gradually taken place over the years, particularly in the northern turrets. Under the weight of their heavy limestone finials, the turret shafts and the corbelled brick-and-render cupolas had cracked. Such damage had made the building incompatible with the current earthquake code and posed a danger to occupants. Conservation of the structure was carried out in tandem with the installation of an air-conditioning system intended to increase user comfort. As the first major conservation project undertaken for the university’s thirty heritage listed buildings, it has strengthened interest in conserving the buildings in the university’s care.

Conservation Approach

A conservative approach was taken towards addressing the restoration issues facing the building, with a view to maintaining the hall’s original Tudor Gothic aesthetic unity. The cracked brick-and-render cupolas were removed and recast in glass-reinforced concrete (GRC) for greater lightness and strength. Despite having caused the original damage, in the interest of architectural authenticity, the limestone finials of the turrets were retained. Their 400 kg weight is now shored up by interior carbon-fibre and steel structures within the turret shafts.

The northern elevation was cleaned using a low-pressure system to minimize damage to the stone surfaces. Stone window tracery, which had suffered from settlement and differential shrinkage of the pre-cast concrete, stone and brick elements, was repaired. The technique of indenting was used to repair damaged limestone, which required chiselling out damaged stone and installing replacement pieces that matched the original Murray Bridge limestone using hairline epoxy bonded joints. Displaced sections were pinned with stainless steel pins, fractures were filled with injected epoxy resin and repointing was undertaken.

Air-conditioning was discreetly introduced through a series of vents unobtrusively installed in stair risers and seating tiers. Where such concealment was impossible, as in the floor of the hall, vents were fabricated of jarrah wood (Eucalyptus Marginata) to match the original floorboards. Additional vents were introduced throughout the ceiling, with openings cut to match the original tracery of the coffers.

Conservation and the Community

As the venue for every graduating class of the University of Adelaide since its inauguration on 8 September 1936, Bonython Hall understandably occupies a special place in the life of the university and among alumni. Preeminent among the historic academic buildings of the North Terrace, it is a symbol of the university and an iconic element in the Adelaide cityscape as a whole. It continues today in its original ceremonial role and, with its usability expanded since the introduction of air conditioning, will be able to serve a wider range of functions in the future. 

Bonython Hall now stands as an excellent exemplar of how new technology and services can be used to extend the viable use and the integrity of a significant building in the public domain. The success of the project of Bonython hall has had effectively raised public awareness for heritage conservation. Academic members, local communities and the State government were actively mobilized to contribute to the fund raising appeal, for the restoration of other buildings with heritage significance both inside and outside the University’s campus.

Quote from the Project Team

“The character of the building and its “Gothic” design intent were the basis for new design decisions and any new works were carefully integrated into the existing structure. Bonython Hall now stands as an excellent example of how new technology and services can be used to extend the viable use and the integrity of the fabric of a significant building in the public domain.”