This site has been associated with entertainment since the creation of the Torrens Lake and Elder Park with its rotunda in 1881. The Festival Centre complex covers the site of the City Baths, Cheer-up Hut and Advertiser Sound Shell as well as the Government Printery, and Lands Department stables.
The construction of the Festival Centre represented a milestone in South Australian history. It was a dramatic expression of the state’s role in Australian cultural development, and of local political commitment to that development. It was built by the state government as the centre for performing arts in South Australia and was officially opened on June 2, 1973. The architects were Hassell and Partners and the builders A.V. Jennings Industries (Australia) Limited.
The Centre is a modern complex notable for its bold structuralist form. The multi-purpose Festival Theatre, the more intimate drama theatre (Playhouse), the experimental theatre (Space) and the Amphitheatre are integrated successfully by the roof form and the formality of the dominant octagonal module. The individual components of the complex are noted for their versatility, the appeal of internal spaces, the quality of finishes, the good acoustics, and the planning of seating and facilities, which are held in high regard by artists and patrons alike.
The complex has been criticised as “strident” in colour and finish. There has also been concern that the Festival Theatre and Playhouse Theatre express themselves as concrete buildings when they are in fact steel framed. There are also some serious structural faults. Yet as a whole the Centre is genuinely historic and the architecture may be regarded as progressive, while reflecting the period in which the concept was first mooted.
The Centre’s striking form contrasts with adjacent buildings in the classical idiom and it dramatically punctuates the Torrens Lake. The Hajek sculpture plaza and additions such as the larger restaurant and conference centre are not as happily related, the plaza in particular butting uncomfortably against the exposed northern wall of Parliament House.