Sustainability is important – except when carparks are involved, it’s my right to park for free

September 18, 2011

There have been a couple of pieces of news that have been floating around in the past few days that really do highlight the backward attitude of South Australians (Adelaideans in particular) to driving and parking; the reactions to both Rod Hook’s view that parking prices in Adelaide’s city centre should be increased and the proposed introduction of parking fees at Westfield Marion.

In some aspects, Adelaide is getting better over time at being sustainable. We outlawed plastic bags at major retailers, we are increasingly capturing and making better use of our water supply and we’re amongst the leaders in recycling in Australia.

But we still think it’s our right to be able to drive everywhere and park wherever we like for free. We complain about petrol prices, we complain about having to pay for parking and we complain about not having enough parking spaces. We think road transport should be free. Hold on, doesn’t excessive driving go against the argument of sustainability?

And this is a problem we face, but continue to ignore or deny. When it comes to transport, one of the biggest contributors to global warming, Adelaideans are terrible in terms of how much they drive compared to other major cities. A big part of it comes down to our attitude. Another part of it comes from the fact that most Adelaideans don’t know anything better, and I don’t blame them since the substandard public transport system has never been taken seriously.

If Rod Hook thinks that decreasing the number of car parks or increasing parking prices in the city is the holy grail to dealing with peak hour congestion, then I think we need to consider a replacement for the chief executive of the Department for Energy, Transport and Infrastructure.

Adelaide City Council design guidelines in new developments plays a big contribution to the excessive number of car parks we have now. There are minimum requirements for car parks in residential developments instead of maximums and there have been numerous car park towers approved left, right and centre.

One only needs to look along Franklin Street to see how many car parks are being built, there are almost as many buildings for car parks being constructed as there are buildings for offices. The number of people who visit central Adelaide per day may be less than one-third of those in central Melbourne or Sydney, but there are more car parks than in either of these cities. Not car parks per capita, but total car parks. There are some 41000 car parks in central Adelaide versus 35000 and 30000 in Melbourne and Sydney respectively. Many of these are completely empty on weekends as they serve working commuters on weekdays.

Early bird all day parking in Adelaide typically costs anywhere between $11 and $15 in most places. Even if prices were jacked up to over $20 a day, most people would still drive because it’s easy to drive along Adelaide’s wide and straight streets and because the alternative – public transport – is still not good enough to make people consider it.

Hopefully the investment in public transport continues to pick up and Adelaide City Council eventually comes to its senses on the issue of the appropriate provision of car parks in the city. It may be challenging to get the two coordinated as one is a state government responsibility while the other is a local government responsibility.

On the issue of Westfield Marion charging for parking – the proposed system appears to be the same as what is currently in place in several car parks at Norwood. That is, two hours of parking for free and pay for anything more than this. And it works brilliantly, particularly in stopping the free-loaders who don’t actually go into the shopping centre or cinema that owns the car parks. We should be encouraging people to use buses and trains to get there, there’s plenty of routes that go to Marion. That is, if the government ever improves the system to the point where people consider public transport to Marion as a serious option.


The importance of effective communication in transport systems

August 31, 2011

I have just returned from Sydney a couple of days ago and have to share with the readers of this blog about an experience I had with the commuter rail system operated by CityRail. Locals in Sydney often complain about the rail system and how poorly it is run. I can now understand why.

On Monday I was waiting to take a train from Town Hall station in the Sydney CBD to Newtown several kilometres just west of the city centre. The indicator boards on the platform were showing that the approaching train was stopping at all stations to Strathfield (including Newtown). So I boarded the train.

As I boarded the train, the guard made an announcement: “Please disregard the indicator boards, this train will be terminating at Central”. Central is the next station along the line from Town Hall.

Upon arrival at Central station, it became apparent that the indicator boards at Central were still showing that the train was proceeding to Strathfield. As was the automated announcement: “The train on platform 19 goes to Strathfield…”

As I was disembarking from the service others were boarding the train unaware that the train was terminating. Then transit officers walked through the train and kicked everyone off on to the platform. The indicator board then changed and the automated announcement followed: “The train on platform 19 terminates here. Would all passengers please alight from the train. Please do not join this train”.

About a minute later, the indicator board changed yet again showing the train was heading to Strathfield. By now, even the train driver who was standing outside his cab looked confused as to what was happening. Then came an announcement, this time manual: “This train service has been altered and is now going to Strathfield.”

And so a few hundred angry passengers re-boarded the train which was already running late and holding up the train services which were queued up behind it.

Ideally, this should not have happened in the first place. Somewhere along the line, it’s obvious that someone responsible for monitoring train services made an error in telling or not telling someone about a change in the planned route of the train.

The overlooked potential bottleneck: Adelaide Railway Station

August 6, 2011

When the topic of congestion comes up, it is often in relation to congestion on packed trains and roads filled with vehicles. What doesn’t often come to mind are the footpaths and spaces that pedestrians use. To create user friendly environments, we must continue to create spaces that are easy for pedestrians to navigate, encourage social interaction and foster strengthening relationships.

In recent times there has been a lot of media coverage about bringing people to Adelaide’s river front on the Torrens and upgrading and building new facilities in the precinct. One space, however, continues to be overlooked by the media and is a key component of the precinct and I dare say, the most important. It is in relation to how foot traffic through Adelaide Railway Station will be affected with a number of projects and developments that are currently in planning or under construction which include:

  • The electrification of the commuter rail network
  • Extension of the Noarlunga Line to Seaford
  • Adelaide Oval Redevelopment
  • New Royal Adelaide Hospital
  • Health and Medical Research Institute
  • Adelaide Convention Centre upgrade
  • SkyCity Casino Redevelopment
  • Riverbank Redevelopment

All of these projects will contribute to growing patronage through Adelaide Railway Station, and this station is effectively the gateway to the precinct. This is the biggest and busiest station in South Australia and it only has one exit with some 14 turnstiles. Even in the current situation without the above projects completed there are already queues during peak periods for those entering and exiting the platform area of the station. Furthermore, having the only exit on the eastern end of the station means that commuters who are heading to Uni SA’s City West campus, the new RAH and the Health and Medical Research Institute – which are all west of the station – will have to continue exiting to the east and then taking a long walk back west again. A western exit is needed, a topic which has been of much discussion recently in the forums over at Sensational Adelaide.

Providing a western exit is easier said than done. There is currently space for an exit and concourse in the space between the Convention Centre and the Montefiore Road bridge which crosses the tracks west of the station. However, this space is currently planned for the extension of the Convention Centre and cannot be constructed at this location.

Aerial view of the Adelaide Convention Centre and the Montefiore Road bridge to its west. Adelaide Railway Station is hidden under the buildings to the east of the Convention Centre. (Source: Nearmap)

If a western exit cannot be provided in the space above the tracks, where else can it go? Providing access at ground level across the tracks could done, but there are a lot of trains arriving and departing from nine tracks so this probably is not the safest approach.

I believe that the best approach in the current circumstance would be construct a tunnel to provide a north-south passage under the western end of the platforms, with escalators and elevators providing links between the tunnel and the platforms. The tunnel would be more of an underground excavation under the platforms with a paid concourse area and a non-paid section to allow pedestrians from North Terrace to access the river precinct and vice-versa. The southern end of the tunnel would provide access to North Terrace with exits on both sides of North Terrace while the northern end would provide access to the river precinct.

A vision for a new entrance to Adelaide Railway Station and the creation of a new pedestrian link between the city and river precinct.

A more detailed concept of the tunnel and underground concourse.

This tunnel and underground concourse may also serve as a link to future underground platforms as discussed in a previous article here on Urban Rediscovery. In this case, the concourse would provide a interchange function to allow passengers to transfer between the existing terminating platforms and new underground platforms that would take commuters closer to their destinations in the city.

Other opportunities exist by providing this western pedestrian link. The access points down into the tunnel at both the North Terrace and Riverbank ends could be sheltered by interesting architecture in spaces that are currently blank and dull while the tunnel and underground concourse itself could provide retail opportunities and spaces for advertising. The greatest potential reaching effects go beyond the station and the river precinct, encouraging increased pedestrian activity in Adelaide’s west end and providing the catalyst for reviving the area and furthering its development which has often lacked behind the more developed east end of the city.

The tunnel may end up being an expensive investment and challenging on a technical level as the tunnel would pass directly under the foundations and pilings of the Adelaide Convention Centre, but it may become necessary to avoid creating a bottleneck if Adelaide Railway Station is to cope with growing passenger numbers.

Providing adequate access: St Clair

July 30, 2011

Driving around in the newly developing St Clair area in Adelaide’s north west – located on the site of the former Actil Factory and Cheltenham Racecourse – a shortcoming in the development stage planning is apparent. There is only one access point into the new suburb at present and it becomes congested at times on certain days.

In the map below, it looks as though there are a couple of roads into the development – Actil Avenue and Brocas Avenue. However, Brocas Avenue is blocked in the middle outside Woodville High School leaving Actil Avenue as the only road access currently open.

The current access arrangements to St Clair as of July 2011. (Source: Nearmap)

Until another route into the development is open, there will continue to be congestion on Actil Avenue at certain times of the day. These are on Monday and Wednesday when the display homes are open and school begins and ends, and also on Saturdays when language classes are run at the school. Actil Avenue is a narrow street, often lined with parked cars which creates further obstructions to the movement of vehicles through the area.

I am not opposed to the St Clair development. All I am saying is that the construction planning needs to be better thought through. In fact, I am well and truly in support of the development as it utilises a site for infill purposes as opposed to fringe area development and it makes for better use of existing infrastructure in the surrounding area – the Outer Harbour railway line in particular which has a lot of spare capacity. (Yes, it will require new infrastructure but so does any new development.) It also provides an opportunity to rejuvenate the heart of Woodville along Woodville Road which is currently little more than an auto alley linking Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Arndale Shopping Centre – through the creation of a development framework for the area and by relocating the St Clair Reserve to allow a TOD to be constructed adjacent to Woodville Station.

Speeding up commuter rail services without providing excess capacity

July 15, 2011

With increasing passenger numbers using the commuter rail networks in Australia’s major cities, a great deal of attention has been aimed at providing upgraded and new infrastructure to cope with the increasing stress on the networks – particularly in Melbourne and Sydney.

In many cases the new infrastructure is necessary and the investment is well justified. But in many cases all the new investment does is exacerbate an existing problem elsewhere on the network, or create a lot of spare capacity in the process. This is certainly true of the rail networks in Australia’s metropolitan areas.

Think of your typical suburban railway corridor that runs through most Australian cities – two tracks, one serving trains travelling in each direction. Most lines that fit this description are in Melbourne, but can be found in every one of Australia’s five major cities. Some of these lines are very long and become very crowded near the city end of the line during peak hours.

No one wants to be sitting on a crowded train from the city to reach their outer suburban terminus destination that stops at every station along the way. But with only one track serving trains in each direction, how else can the services be run?

Many of these longer lines in Australia run a mix of slower and faster services. However, with limitations posed by having only two tracks there is a tradeoff between the speed of the services and the frequency of the services provided. More faster services means a larger required gap between services to prevent faster services becoming stuck behind slower services – as there is no way for services to overtake each other.

A typical solution used to allow for more services and express services to overtake slow all station services has been to upgrade corridors to three or four tracks and dedicating one or more tracks to the express services. The four track setup with a slow and fast track in each direction can be found on the East Hills Line in Sydney between Wolli Creek and Kingsgrove. The less common three track setup is found on the Belgrave and Lilydale Line corridor between Burnley and Box Hill in Melbourne, with one track serving trains in a certain direction according to time of day.

The four track setup used on the East Hills Line in Sydney (left), and the three track setup used on the Lilydale Line in Melbourne (right).

While the above solutions certainly allow express trains to overtake slower trains on the longer lines, is building long sections of duplication of existing track necessarily the best way to deal with this issue? In the East Hills Line situation, where the line was converted from two tracks to four at the turn of the millennium, the capacity of the corridor is effectively doubled. Suddenly, there’s a whole lot of spare capacity on the network while junctions further along the corridor at Glenfield and Wolli Creek continue to restrict it! By international standards, almost none of Australia’s commuter rail lines run what can be classified as “frequent services” which is a train at least once every 10 minutes during the day. Even in Australia’s largest city, the trains certainly don’t run that frequently.

So how else can commuter rail services be sped up without providing long sections of duplicated line that can require large numbers of compulsory property acquisitions, new bridges and tunnels, rail and other associated electrical and civil works? My inspiration comes from how the Japanese run their trains. The western rail corridor between Redfern and Strathfield out of Sydney has six tracks and carries over half a million people daily. The Hanwa Line out of Tennoji terminal in Osaka’s southern suburbs moves almost as many people with only two tracks, runs trains every few minutes all day long and still runs a variety of faster and slower services. How?

Efficient track layout and infrastructure usage.

Traditionally, passing loops have been used on the long distance freight lines operated by the ARTC to allow trains to pass trains travelling in the opposite direction. But in Japan, they are sometimes used to allow trains travelling in the same direction to pass other services. And the location that this is technique is most often implemented is at stations.

An example of a passing loop used at a suburban train station.

There’s a number of additional benefits from operating services in this manner other than allowing for a mix of fast and slow services. It makes for much more efficient use of the existing infrastructure. It also allows cross platform interchange for passengers to transfer between faster and slower services. This gives opportunities for passengers travelling to and from minor stations served by only slow services to change to a faster service at a major station (where the passing loops could be installed) instead of wasting time on a slow service for the entire trip. It also reduces the potential disruption that would otherwise occur for a track duplication.

One place where this could be implemented is along Adelaide’s Gawler and (newly extended) Seaford Lines. These two lines are Adelaide’s longest and busiest rail corridors, with many stations and a variety of train services. With proposed peak hour frequencies as often as every 7 minutes during peak hour on the Seaford Line when it is commissioned, and more frequently between Ascot Park and Goodwood where the tracks are shared with the Tonsley Line, something will need to be done to the rail corridor to make this frequency sustainable. And with the corridor hemmed in by homes for much of its length, I believe that implementing passing loops at a number of stations will help the situation.

Is this passing loop solution always better than the duplication alternative? Absolutely not. By allowing trains to run more often on existing tracks, there is the potential to create long delays at railway crossings and there are still capacity restrictions posed by having only two tracks. To make it work properly, the trains have to run on schedule otherwise any delays will create knock-on delays across other sections of the network. Running longer trains or duplicating corridors can still be better choices than implementing passing loops.

Watch out: Cyclists ahead

July 6, 2011

Over the past few years, councils and authorities have gradually been trying to encourage increased travel by cycling across the Adelaide metropolitan area. Some of them are genuine efforts including the dedicated cycle way that is being established alongside sections of the Noarlunga train line and Southern Expressway in Adelaide’s south. Other schemes have been trialled and then reversed such as the Sturt Street bike lanes that were established and then removed due to local opposition. And then there are other token efforts that make you wonder what the responsible planners were thinking when the plan was implemented.

One of those examples of token efforts is at the intersection of North Terrace and Pulteney Street in Adelaide’s CBD. A few months ago, this intersection had a small upgrade which introduced dedicated zones and lanes for cyclists to cross North Terrace in both the north and south directions. However, the upgrade demonstrates some of the issues that have continued to discourage cycling around Adelaide particularly when it comes to safety considerations.

New bike lanes. Northbound is indicated by red and southbound is indicated by green. (Source: Nearmap)

For the north bound approach to the intersection, cyclists have this small indented bay to allow them to wait until the signal on the other side turns green. However, cyclists must negotiate other road traffic on the left turning lanes on Pulteney Street in order to reach this bay which is far from safe. As the bay is not very large and not isolated from the adjacent lanes, it is also possible that a waiting cyclist may be clipped or knocked over by a turning vehicle.

The indented bay for cyclists heading north on Pulteney Street, adjacent to the left turning lanes of Pulteney Street.

On the south bound direction the situation is even worse for cyclists due to the traffic signalling sequence of the intersection. While cyclists have the safety of the footpath when waiting for the light to turn green, they must be careful of vehicles turning right from North Terrace into Pulteney Street as the cycle lane ends up on the left lane of Pulteney Street which some vehicles access as they turn right, creating the potential for a collision if drivers and cyclists are not careful. There is also a number of parking bays very close to the intersection which adds to the danger of cyclists being hit by vehicles turning in and out of the bays.

Notice where the southbound bicycle lane ends - on the left lane of Pulteney Street and next to several parking bays.

When planning to accommodate cyclists, the surrounding areas need to be considered and not just the individual focal point of the upgrade. Bicycle lanes along Pulteney Street to and from the intersection and the realignment of a number of lanes and parking spaces could have been considered. In the above instance, it is clear that the surrounding areas of the intersection have not been taken into consideration during the upgrade which has resulted in a number of new safety issues. I worry about some of the accidents that may occur as a result of the recent changes.

5000+: Integrated Design Scheme for Inner Adelaide

June 8, 2011

Just a quick post today: launched yesterday was a new Federal Government funded initiative to oversee the creation of a framework for the future development of central Adelaide and to ensure that it develops as a clean city with sufficient supporting infrastructure and vibrant communities. As part of that plan consultation will take place with business leaders, design consultants and most importantly the members of the community.

The initiative aims to create a united vision for inner Adelaide along five different themes: liveability, sustainability, vibrancy, mobility and leadership. It’s about thinking about the future and what Adelaide could be and the direction we want to take it as citizens who live, work or play the city.

The newly launched website is currently taking on ideas from the public. Go check it out here.

The North Terrace bottleneck on Adelaide’s light rail network

June 3, 2011

In 2007 the first expansion of Adelaide’s light rail network for over 60 years was opened from the Victoria Square terminus along King William Street and North Terrace to the City West terminal. At the City West stop, the access to and from the dual track terminal was provided in the form of a short single track section running through a signalised intersection (North Terrace/Morphett Street). To coordinate movements in and out of City West, an ingenious integrated traffic control system was installed at the intersection to coordinate tram movements in both directions in and out of the terminal with the road traffic.

However, in 2010 the situation at City West changed. No longer was City West a terminal, but an intermediate stop on a new extension to the Entertainment Centre at Hindmarsh. With the rest of the corridor dual track, the single track section at City West becomes a bottleneck holding up trams when two trams approach the intersection from opposite directions at the same time.

The installation of a duplicate track near City West, marked in black, would require moving the west bound lanes south and the trees, marked in red, on the south side of North Terrace to be relocated. (Source: Nearmap)

Currently, trams operate at a frequency of 7-8 minutes outside peak hour in each direction, and as often as every 5 minutes in peak hour. If further extensions such as a city loop are to use these tracks or service frequencies increase, then this single section of track will need to be duplicated otherwise the delays caused by this section will continue to worsen. That would require alterations to both tracks and road lanes through the area as well as relocating the trees on the south side of North Terrace to allow the existing lanes to be moved south, the right turn lane to be retained and space for an additional track.

Railway stations as destinations instead of just transfer points

May 27, 2011

The Japanese railway systems have always impressed me which is why I refer to them quite often in some of my posts. One aspect of their networks that stands out in my mind is how they utilise the spaces at their railway stations.

In most cities, the railway stations are simply nodes where people from nearby areas converge to travel on trains to and from other areas of the city. They serve as transfer points where people come and go on their way to other places.

In Japan, the thinking is very different. The stations themselves are part of the individual experience that goes beyond moving from A to B via C. They are more than just a collection of platforms, tracks and concourses. They are designed as part of an integrated component of the urban fabric of Japanese cities, rather than just connections to it.

How, you ask?

There’s three things I believe that make Japanese railway stations stand out from those of other countries:

  • Interesting architecture
  • Interesting public spaces
  • Interesting shops and restaurants

Interesting Architecture

Interesting architecture in train stations is not all that uncommon across the world. New York has Grand Central, Paris has Gare De Lyon and London has St Pancras. Even Sydney Central Station, Flinders Street in Melbourne and Adelaide Station could be classified as interesting. There is something in common to all of these stations I’ve just mentioned. They all have grand masonry facades as they were constructed prior to the 1930s.

Japanese stations are also grand, yet many of them were rebuilt for various reasons. Some of them were bombed in wars such as Tokyo Station, which is only now having its dome restored to its original condition over 65 years later. Others such as Kyoto and Osaka have become outdated or overcrowded and have been completely rebuilt.

At Kyoto Station, as part of the new millennium celebrations a new train station was built with large open spaces and a large spanning roof.

The exterior of the new Kyoto Station, from the north side.

At Osaka Station, work on rebuilding the station is under way and nearly complete. Part of the rebuild includes a new office tower, a large roof spanning the station and new concourses.

The recently redeveloped Osaka Station, with new roof, entrances and office building. (Source: GORIMON on Flickr)

Interesting Public Spaces

This is where the Japanese stations are very clever with their designs. Since many of the stations are completely surrounded by other buildings and structures, open spaces adjacent to the stations are often not feasible. Instead, they’ve opted to use the space within the footprint of the station to provide the open public space.

At Kyoto, the public spaces extend upwards from the lower levels of the station. One of the most intriguing features of Kyoto Station is the large bank of escalators that gradually allow the public to reach the top of the station, where the views over the rest of the station and Kyoto are amazing.

Kyoto Station looking down to the lower levels as seen from the upper roof area.

At Osaka, the public spaces are numerous and are located in different areas of the station. The redevelopment of the station features eight new public spaces This includes a rooftop area inspired by a Spanish patio (Sun Plaza) and a number of other plazas and rooftop gardens.

The new rooftop patio on Osaka Station. (Source: GORIMON on Flickr)

At the new Central Gate entrance to the station is also an interesting piece of street art, in the form of a computer controlled waterfall display which displays the time and cascading images of cherry blossoms.

More photos of the nearly completed Osaka Station redevelopment can be seen here and here. (This site is in Japanese)

Interesting Shops and Restaurants

For the Japanese railway companies who own these stations, not only does adding space for shops and restaurants encourage more activity in and around the stations, these are also a key component of their business which encourage commuters to use their railways.

This photo below comes from Kyoto Station, an important station in the historical city and is located on the Tokaido Main Line (JR Kyoto Line and JR Biwako Line) and the Tokaido Shinkansen Line which cross Japan from east to west. There are stations adjacent to the north gate (in image below) as well as the underground passageways which criss-cross the station.

The north gate of Kyoto Station, there are shops at the ground level and under the station (not seen here).

In Kyoto’s case, they have added more than just shops and restaurants. The station also a hotel (seen in the first photo of Kyoto Station in this post) as well as offices in the building above the station.

An Example of a Missed Opportunity

While some cities and suburbs in Australia are taking advantage of their key locations adjacent to major railway stations, often through property developers independent of the publicly-owned railway systems rather than through the railway companies themselves, others are building railway stations that turn their back on the very communities they are meant to serve.

In Adelaide, one of the biggest missed opportunities is at Mawson Lakes. The new station at Mawson Lakes on the Gawler Line was completed in 2006, but the community it serves commenced development in the late 1990s. The station was a late add-on to the development and sits on the edge of the community rather than near the middle of it. Rather than having a main street or significant residential or commercial property development near the station, it is instead surrounded by a large car park. As a result, most people who use the station drive there rather than walk, cycle or go by bus.

The station at Mawson Lakes is a fair distance from the main street or many of the residential areas it was built to serve. The station is marked by the red circle and the main street by the green line. (Source: Nearmap)

Although Mawson Lakes is one of Adelaide’s busiest stations, there are only people around when there are trains arriving and departing. For much of the time, it is a deserted space that really should have been better integrated into planning with the town centre about a kilometre away.

Access between both sides of the station is difficult because there is only one place to cross – at the northern end – which is even further away from the town centre. Ideally, there should also be a second place to cross the tracks at the southern end of the station in the form of a footbridge. This would also improve pedestrian access between the residential areas on the western side of the tracks and the town centre on the eastern side. It would also serve to discourage individuals from illegally crossing the tracks such as in this incident in April 2011, where an express train narrowly missed a teenager. Fortunately, there is space to do this should it be decided upon in the future.


With public transport becoming an ever increasingly important part of improving the sustainability and liveability of our cities, it is imperative that railway infrastructure is not simply provided as an alternative to driving but that is also integrated into the existing urban landscape respectfully rather than as an ungracefully dropped add-on. The Japanese model has successfully demonstrated over many years that a modern railway service can be provided as a key component of the urban environment and done so profitably at no expense to taxpayers.

The private railway companies have done this by combining real estate and development opportunities at their railway stations with their railway operations and thus created entire sustainable communities around their railway systems. It also makes for better and more efficient planning as the well-being of the community is much in the interests of the railway companies if they are to remain profitable.

Bringing life back to Adelaide’s heritage buildings

May 20, 2011

Around Adelaide’s city centre there are a number of older buildings that are not currently in use and provide a real opportunity to restore some of Adelaide’s heritage while putting the buildings to effective use. Here are a few of the buildings that are currently unused for various reasons. Some of them have plans for renovation and reuse while others are not currently part of any plan and continue to deteriorate.

Electra House

Electra House is a heritage listed three level building on King William Street opposite the Adelaide Town Hall. Constructed in 1901, it was previously used as offices for the transcontinental telegraph line and insurance companies before falling into disrepair. The building has recently been cleaned up by volunteer groups including Renew Adelaide as part of its makeover for the new home of Tuxedo Cat venue for the duration of the Adelaide Fringe festival.

In the long term, the building has been planned as part of an entertainment facility including a bar and a restaurant as part of the City Central development but it is not known when or if this will take place. This will constructed over the site of the former Criterion Hotel as well. This site, adjacent to Electra House, has been empty since the Criterion was demolished in 2006.

The planned redevelopment of Electra House into bars and restaurants. (Source: Aspen Group)


Electra House in early 2011.

Gawler Chambers

Constructed in 1909 and extended to its present form in 1914, this heritage listed four level building sits on the corner of Gawler Place and North Terrace. For more than five years, it has remained empty and a lifeless spot on a premier boulevarde (North Terrace) that has gone through an extensive makeover in recent years. In late February, a plan to retain the building’s facade and construct a 13 level office building with ground floor retail in its place have been announced. If all goes to plan, it will be completed and in use by 2015.

The planned office building and retail concept for Gawler Chambers. (Source: Studio LFA)

Gawler Chambers in late 2010.

Colonial Mutual Life Building

Constructed in 1932 and extended in 1934, this 12 level building was the tallest building in Adelaide upon completion, a title it held for over 35 years. It was previously an office building, but currently sits and serves as an empty oversized bus shelter at the corner of King William and Hindley Streets.

There are plans to refit the building for use as a hotel. It is not known when this will commence or be completed.

The CML Building awaiting renovation in early 2011.

The Gallerie

Of the buildings listed in this post, this one is probably the most run down of the lot. The Gallerie Building was formerly a retail arcade which ran from North Terrace to Gawler Place and closed in the late 1990s when the former John Martins department store next door closed and was demolished. No known plans to redevelop the building or arcade have currently been proposed.

The Gallerie, all empty and boarded up, in late 2010.

There are a number of other significant heritage listed buildings that are currently not used. They include the former Bank of New South Wales on the corner of King William Street and North Terrace and the Tattersall’s Building on Grenfell Street. There’s plenty of opportunities for redevelopment as demonstrated by the clever plans for Gawler Chambers, but these have often been declared unviable because of restrictions on the use of the heritage listed buildings. Where there’s a will there’s likely to be a way.