Curious NT: Chan Building was the last of a series of Commonwealth structures originally proposed in the 1930s

by | May 31, 2020 | News | 0 comments

This is the latest in a series where you get to ask a question about the Northern Territory’s rich, peculiar history – anything you’re curious about – and have your questions answered by the NT Independents friends at the Historical Society of the NT.

There’s a wide-range of experts at your disposal including historians, anthropologists, archaeologists (including marine archaeologists), medical practitioners, architects, curators, taxidermists, librarians, surveyors, nurses, genealogists and a great deal more.

There are so many questions about the NT and its strange, colourful history. Did Banjo Paterson really visit Darwin? Was the Darwin Rebellion really a grog riot? Was there ever a coup staged in the Northern Territory? Did an Administrator really walk around stark bollocky naked? What was a ‘visitation of god’ and how many times did he make his presence known in the NT?

Simply post your question in the comments section on this post on Facebook, direct message us or email [email protected] and we’ll send the best one each week off to be answered.

This week’s question:

With the Chan Building being torn down this week, can someone explain why it was built and what it was used for? It always seemed like a pretty ugly building in the CBD.

Curious NT

Answer:

The Chan Building was the eighth and final in a series known as the Commonwealth Administrative Centre for public service departments. 

Originally proposed in 1939 and halted by World War II, construction commenced in the 1960s. 

By 1968, Blocks 1 to 5 had been completed in the Brutalist style of a monolithic, blocky appearance, rigid geometric style and use of concrete.

The Nelson Building – one of the eight Commonwealth buildings

A 1970 Commonwealth Parliamentary Public Works Committee reported “substandard and overcrowded accommodation in use by Commonwealth departments” and proposed the addition of Blocks 6, 7 and 8 at a cost of $3.3 million.

“Block 8,…comprising a basement, ground and two upper floors, will accommodate an automatic data processing centre, a file registry, a cafeteria, staff recreation areas, a PABX system and the Finance and Welfare Branches of the Northern Territory Administration.”

Construction was completed in 1974.

Each was initially known by its number and, with the approach of self-government in 1978, was named: Block 1 (Stuart), Block 2 (Wells), Block 3 (Nelson), Block 4 (Ward), Block 5 (Brennan), Block 6 (Gregory), Block 7 (Leichhardt), and Block 8 (Chan).

The first seven buildings were progressively demolished to make way for State Square: Liberty Square replaced Block 1; Parliament House replaced Blocks 2 and 3; the Supreme Court replaced Blocks 4 and 5; and the Supreme Court car parks replaced Blocks 6 and 7.

The Chan Building was named after Harry (Hen Fook) Chan OBE who was simultaneously the Mayor of Darwin and President of the Legislative Council during the 1960s. An immensely popular man who sat in both chambers as an independent, he died in 1969 at the age of 51.

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