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The Sanitarium bows to progress

31 August 2018 | Posted in: News

The Room Project, 2008. Written by: Rayannon Innes 

As The Station doors roll open in October, the doors of 111 Hunter Street closed to make way for future development. The Hunter Street building known by those who occupied the space as ‘The Sanitarium’ – the name of the former sandwich bar that traded on the shop floor – tells a modest yet meaningful story in Newcastle’s cultural legacy.

In early December 2008, five participant agreements were signed, signifying the beginning of ‘Renew Newcastle’. The Sanitarium was one of three vacant properties on Hunter street that would quickly transform themselves into a hub of creative, community-driven activity.

Over the month of December, the people of Newcastle avoided an empty and vandalised inner-CBD for their Christmas shopping, clean-up was underway for those first few fixing up the commercial space dilapidated from years of unattended vacancy.

The Room Project, the first creative project to take place in the building, was a fitting testament to both the cosmetic and cultural change taking place in the city. Led by Kim Bridgeland and a number of fellow university architecture students, tens of thousands of small lengths of construction timber – a number of which were found discarded throughout the building – were intricately fit together in the floor of the space to create a tactile, sensory experience for the public. Through architectural installation, a creative groundswell could literally be felt taking place within the city.

Over the ten years following the month of hard community-led work, a plethora of unique projects populated the five floors of the Hunter Street building. Studio spaces occupied by graphic designers, architects, writers, oil painters, engineers, natural history and children’s book illustrators culminated in The Sanitarium playing a special role in facilitating Newcastle’s emerging creative community.

Many of these creatives were tucked away in their studios working behind the scenes, a number of public-facing projects also flourished in the space. One particularly memorable project was Totoro’s Tea House. At a time when finding a good coffee in the mall was rare if not futile, two young artists opened one of Australia’s first very tea houses. After a year of music, merriment and matcha, the movement would inspire today’s coffee-lover favourite One Penny Black to acquire commercial lease on the space – the rest is café culture history.

It’s the countless examples of creative experimentation like those that took place on the floors of The Sanitarium that tell the greater story of Newcastle’s creative-fuelled cultural revival. Despite what urban development might imply, the story of this city’s renewal hasn’t finished.

When one door closes, another door opens and we’re excited to continue our creative legacy at The Station.

Our approach to activity at The Station is different from our previous model. With many of our properties now being renovated, our participants have gone on to create successful co working spaces in the inner suburbs. Our new approach isn’t in competition with these businesses, but provides them an outlet to sell and exhibit the work they are producing.

We look forward to opening the doors of The Station to you in October.

It’s always bittersweet having say farewell to a commercial space, but it’s made easier when we learn of how far the tenants have come through their creative vocations.

What we know so far:

  • Kylie of boutique women’s knitwear label Klee will be moving her industrial sewing instruments to creative co-working space Studio One Marysville.
  • Upon receiving a High Distinction for their Masters paper, Bastian will be pursuing the last chapters of their memoir from a new hot desk space at The Roost Creative.
  • Karl Morgan of ZooKraft will continue to lead design courses at UoN and work on his other projects from his home studio.
  • Brandon McIntosh of Studio Brandon has just received the very exciting news of an offer as Smart City Project Officer at Ipswich City Council.
  • Music Therapist Carlin McLennan has just returned from speaking at a conference in Hong Kong and intends to continue taking his business Play Anything to other parts Australia and the world
  • Francois will continue to paint, spray, tan and build his repurposed artworks from home alongside other commitments.