No Place Like Dome

Forrest Chambers (image courtesy SLWA)

There isn’t a lot of demand for heritage assessments of places that don’t exist today. Perhaps there should be. We’d certainly like the extra money. So here’s how part of such an assessment of a building demolished in the 1970s might look.

Forrest Chambers was built in 1904 for John Forrest, to a design by Edwin Summerhayes. It is a neat summary of all things Edwardian, from the rusticated bluestone base to the classical columns, to the dome on the roof. And it’s this last thing we want to examine now.

The octagonal dome (or cupola, call it what you will) might make you think of Florence Cathedral (1436, Fillpo Brunelleschi), a building which could be argued to have kickstarted the Renaissance. It certainly has a family resemblance which cannot be coincidental.

Florence Cathedral (image courtesy Wikipedia)

But perhaps a more relevant reference is in London with Christopher Wren’s magnificent St Paul’s (1675). Granted the dome looks a little different to the building on St George’s Terrace but it shares a design solution with Summerhayes’ office block: a balcony under the drum. The 1904 building adds a balustrade at the top of the drum, but that’s just a little extra treat for you.

St Paul’s Cathedral, London (image courtesy Wikipedia)
Forrest Chambers (image courtesy SLWA)

The reason for these balconies and balustrades was not purely practical, but much more to make the aesthetics work. You’ll have to take our word for it, but it is almost impossible to place a dome straight onto a drum and make the whole thing work. Instead, the dome needs to have the appearance of being stepped back, even if it is not. Just as Summerhayes brilliantly carries out at the top of Forrest Chambers.

A similar, if somewhat grander, use of the same architectural principle can be seen at the Ashton Memorial (1907, John Belcher) which dominates the skyline of Lancaster, England. Built three years after Forrest Chambers, you can again see the balcony around the drum). It’s a fine solution taken from Renaissance buildings and applied in slightly different ways by different architects.

Ashton Memorial, Lancaster (1907, John Belcher)

So it’s clear that Summerhayes’ office building deserved a finer fate than to have been demolished sometime in the 1970s and replaced by a nondescript tower. If you’re going to demolish pretty buildings, put something at least as good in their place is our top tip for the day.

And with that heritage advice, the invoice is in the mail.

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