The adaptive reuse potential of underused heritage gaols in Australia: a case study of Richmond Gaol, Tasmania

Waled Shehata, Craig Ashley Langston, Selja Sarvimaki, Ranka Novak Camozzi

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Many heritage-listed gaols in Australia have become obsolete in terms of their original function and were decommissioned decades ago. As a default management practice, decommissioned gaols are usually transformed into museums which are mostly empty and underused without considering other viable alternatives. This research challenges this mainstream thinking and demonstrates that among the entire stock of heritage-listed gaols in Australia, even the least ranked gaol in terms of its potential for reuse can be turned into a thriving and vibrant new function.

Hypothetically, if the least ranked Australian heritage-listed gaol in terms of its potential for reuse is in fact “reusable”, then the remaining heritage gaols have more chance of being successfully reused to accommodate a vibrant new function. To be able to test this hypothesis, first, the Adaptive Reuse Potential (ARP) model is applied to rank Australia's decommissioned heritage gaols which are spatially and structurally sound to accommodate new uses. Second, an architectural design concept was designed to adaptively reuse the lowest scored gaol (Richmond Gaol) to a boutique hotel. The conceptual design proposal was then assessed by three local heritage architecture firms to validate its applicability and viability.

The research showed that Richmond Gaol can be reused successfully to at least one function, and accordingly, the whole stock of heritage gaols can be expected to also be reused to more sustainable purposes. The research identifies several considerations for the reuse of heritage gaols in Australia: the careful intervention to their significant fabric; maintaining sufficient evidence of the gaol's original components, the importance of the new use being compatible to the gaol's morphology to ensure minimum alterations or demolitions in the significant fabric of the site; and evaluating the new use and its components to achieve financial viability.

Research limitations/implications
Due to the continuing closure of Tasmania's state borders amid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the researchers were not able to travel to Tasmania to conduct a site visit and to run the in-depth interviews with the architects in person. Most of the data of the current status of the site, its current layout, museum elements, historical data and photos were provided by Heritage Authorities in Tasmania and the Tasmanian State Library and Archive Service. Supplementary information and photos were acquired in March 2020 from visitors of the gaol who uploaded their trip images to Google maps or to their travel blogs. Topographical data of the site was gathered from Topographic Base-map of Land Information System Richmond Tasmania (2020). Due to travel restrictions, in-depth interviews with the local architects were done virtually, or over the phone in one case.

Practical implications
Challenges discussed in this research encourage creating nationally designed support programs to better vitalise and help preserve Australia's carceral heritage.

This research utilises architectural design in an empirical research paradigm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-366
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development
Issue number4
Early online date26 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


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