Tasmanian heritage home Dorney House to open its doors for comedy gig

1 year ago
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Perched on an abandoned military fort in Hobart, the architectural masterpiece that is Dorney House – touted as “one of Australia’s best kept secrets” – is getting ready to throw an unusual party.

The former home of esteemed architect Esmond Dorney, now a heritage-listed property, is known for its dodecagon plan and breathtaking 360-degree views.

But visitors to Dorney House will be in for an extra special treat this month, when the home will double as a comedy venue for one night.

Australian funnyman Tim Ross has brought together his love of music, comedy and design in his unique “Man About the House” shows.

Alongside musician Kit Warhurst, Ross turns grand feats of architecture into performance spaces for the public. The basic idea? The pair throw small shows in iconic and extraordinary homes and buildings.

The intimate nature of the performances, and the stunning environments they are delivered in, have proven popular.

“Half of this show is about exploring the house, half is about the show,” says self-declared house nerd Ross.

He believes homes come alive when they are filled with people, and he’s excited to perform at the house Esmond Dorney lived in for decades.

Architect Esmond Dorney lived in the house until he died.

On April 21, the duo will head across the Bass Strait to take over the iconic Dorney House at Fort Nelson in Hobart’s Sandy Bay.

“There’s a degree of experimentation with an architect’s own house,” Ross says. “They tend to be laboratories of ideas.”

Dorney House is considered among many architects as one of the greatest modern houses in Australia.

Melbourne architect Dorney acquired the old military site in 1949. He built three houses on the property but two were destroyed in bushfires.

The house that still stands today was built in 1978, when Dorney was 73. It was built on a round concrete gun emplacement left over from World War I after a series of batteries were built on different headlands in Hobart.

After Dorney and his wife passed away years later, the house was rezoned and eventually sold to the Hobart City Council in 2006. It has sat largely unused since, with the exception of a few occasions it has been opened to the public for special events, such as this.

The house was built on a gun emplacement left over from WWI.

Dr Helen Norrie, a lecturer in the University of Tasmania’s school of architecture and design, says Dorney’s house remains “one of Australia’s best-kept secrets”.

“The site was bought by Esmond Dorney for his own house and it was used to make a series of these experimental round houses between 1944 and 1978,” she says.

Dr Norrie says while modernist architects built a lot of well-known round houses around the world during this time, Dorney’s work flew under the radar.

“A lot of people knew of his work but didn’t necessarily have a lot of access to it,” she says.

Nowadays, the experimental architecture of Dorney is the subject of research being conducted by the University of Tasmania and the Hobart City Council.

A key idea behind modernist architecture is the idea of “form follows function” and making buildings that practically respond to their position, but Dr Norrie says Dorney took this a step further.

“This building was also responding to the specifics of the site, which is the round battery that is sits on,” she says. “The centre of the house is actually a sunken living room so it actually makes a mini auditorium inside.

“On one hand it will be a great place for the performance because everyone can sit around the fireplace but on the other hand because it’s surrounded with glass all the way around, it provides an amazing outlook up and down the river.”

Dorney House has been called one of Australia’s best kept secrets.

Dale Campisi, a producer of Open House Hobart, says the house “captures the public imagination in a way so few houses do”.

“Its floor-to-ceiling windows embrace the surrounding terrain from its location high on Porter Hill overlooking Sandy Bay and the Derwent Estuary,” he says.

“Entering the house, you immediately feel like you are somewhere special, and that makes you feel special.”

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