Kingston Powerhouse celebrates 100 years
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Kingston Powerhouse celebrates 100 years

Glass may not be first thing you imagine when you think of art. Just like the turmoil of a steam-powered engine room may not be the first thing you think of when you walk into Canberra Glassworks. But for its shell, the iconic Kingston Powerhouse, the walls are in fact steeped in industrial history and remnants of the building's prime can still be found in its architecture to this day.

The Kingston Powerhouse has become a Canberra icon in our cityscape, and in 2015 the landmark celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Glassworks Glassworks.

Glassworks Glassworks.Credit:Daniel Spellman

Built between 1913 and 1915, the building was one of the first permanent structures of Canberra and was designed by federal government architect J S Murdoch. Murdoch also designed other important heritage buildings in Canberra including Old Parliament House, Gorman House and Hotel Canberra (now Hyatt Hotel).

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Many of the original finishes and fittings remain and the building includes a range of heritage interpretation signage to give visitors a glimpse into the past life of the building.

Canberra Glassworks.

Canberra Glassworks.Credit:Colleen Petch

"It was a steam-powered power station back in the day, it used the Molonglo River water to convert to steam to generate electricity for Canberra from 1915," Canberra Glassworks general manager Beverly Growden explains.

"Steam power generated the first electricity in Canberra, so as they were building Canberra this big building played a big role."

You can also see part of the railway line that used to come in from Queanbeyan. It was used to deliver coal to fire the boilers through the big hopper on the side of the building, the coal then travelled on a conveyer belt down into shoots. The impressive coal elevator remains affixed to the building today.

"There's also the boiler room, which is where the hot shop now is, that was where everything happened. There were big turbines in the engine room and ash, steam and gases from the burning of the coal were excluded through our wonderful chimneys," Growden says.

The Kingston Powerhouse has become a Canberra icon in our cityscape, and in 2015 the landmark celebrates its 100th anniversary.

The Kingston Powerhouse has become a Canberra icon in our cityscape, and in 2015 the landmark celebrates its 100th anniversary.

"There's also a few hidden tunnels, one used to take people from the boiler room through to the smoke stack.

"You can just imagine the wonderful hustle and bustle that these walls would have seen."

Canberra Glassworks.

Canberra Glassworks.Credit:Daniel Spellman

In celebration of Powerhouse's 100 years, Glassworks is holding a number of special historic tours on Saturdays until the end of the year, where visitors can find out the more nitty-gritty information about the building itself.

Numerous ideas emerged concerning the fate of the Powerhouse and its land after its permanent closure in 1957, ranging from demolition for housing to becoming a warehouse space. But the establishment of Glassworks in May, 2007, saw the building reach national and international significance, expanding on the success of glass artists from the Canberra region.

"It's the only centre of its kind in Australia and its very state-of-the-art now," Growden says.

"The ACT government, who owns the building, has done an amazing job at capturing the essence of the old building in the refurbishments by establishing Glassworks as something amazing, contemporary and a 'making place'.

"It's quite a rare place because, in among Canberra where there are lots of national institutions that hold collections, we don't have a collection. We actually make glass here and artists are able to use this wonderful facility – our beautiful galleries in the historic smoke stack and the rooms adjoining them; the hot shop; tuition workshops; studio spaces in the boiler room and engine room; the kilns and much more."

In addition to this, Glassworks also showcases a range of exhibitions including its current display titled Borland + Borland until February 7. The exhibition combines contemporary photography and glass and invites us to consider the formal and conceptual qualities of each practice.

If you fancy yourself the creative type or just want to try your hand at glass making, Glassworks offers make-your-own sessions with a professional artist throughout the school holidays and weekends.

"You can learn how to make a tumbler or paperweight in the hot shop," Growden says.

"It takes 20 minutes to make a paperweight and 40 minutes to make a tumbler, and you get to take it home once it cools down to remember the experience.

"We also run professional workshops to make sure that we are offering glass artists within the region and nationally a chance to develop their skills further."

Growden says that the most important thing the centre allows people to do, which isn't so obvious but most unique, is see artists in the process of making.

"Learning about the world of glass, its possibilities, history and insights is just so inspiring. It's really fascinating seeing how artists operate and their level of commitment, and you can even get the chance to interact and speak with the artists," she says.

"I think that that's a really fantastic way of relaying how art is made and to get people appreciating it more thorough understanding the making process. It just makes for a richer city when you've got that fabric of cultural understanding and appreciation.

"For Canberra, Glassworks has become a part of the character of the city. Being in this amazing iconic building, seeing how glass art is made, it's distinctively different from the national intuitions – you're not just seeing the finished product or watching a demonstration, you're actually watching artists create."