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Historical Tours of the Canberra Glassworks

Home > Canberra > Architecture | Art and Craft Centres | Tours | Workshops
by Sue W (subscribe)
Lover of exploring, family, food and fun!
Published June 10th 2017
Learn about its history & watch glass art being created
The history of Canberra is a fascinating story - the more you delve into its past, the more you uncover interesting stories about how the city began. There are buildings still standing today that were built in the early 1900's, which helped transform the stark Limestone Plains into the liveable city that we have today. One example is the Kingston Power House, which was built between 1913-1915, to provide electricity for the building works around the city and for the workers who came to live here. It became the first permanent public building in Canberra and provided electricity for the city until it closed in 1929 (but was reactivated for periods between 1936 - 1942 and 1948 - 1957). After decades of inactivity, the heritage-listed building opened again in 2007 as the Canberra Glassworks - a place for professional glass artists to work on their art, as well as be a tourist attraction open to the public. It is part of the modern Kingston Foreshore precinct with cafes, restaurants and the Old Bus Depot Markets next door.

Each Saturday there are free historical tours of the Canberra Glassworks, to learn about the Kingston Power House and how it has changed to present day. To join a tour, book online through Eventbrite and then wait in the foyer for the tour to begin...

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The heritage-listed Canberra Glassworks (and Fitters Workshop next door) today

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The original Kingston Power House, built in 1913-1915. Source: Canberra Glassworks Facebook

The tour begins out the front of the building, with the guide pointing the original features of the building, that still remain. The most obvious is the large hopper-like structure near the entrance, which is where the coal ash was collected from under the Power House floor. There is also the remains of a railway line at the entrance to the building, which was used to carry coal up to the front of the Power House before being dumped and transported inside. We then learnt that the Power House was always part of the Walter Burley Griffin design for the city, however he wanted it closer to where the suburb of Mitchell is today. The plan was changed however, as the Power House needed a water supply to create steam, so it was built in this area close to the Molonglo River (which was later dammed to create Lake Burley Griffin).

Also at the front of the building is the hugely popular Brodburger restaurant, which opened in 2012 and whose architecture was designed to blend into the original building. Often described as having the "best burgers in Canberra", it is a popular attraction for locals and visitors to the Canberra Glassworks.

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Ash hopper, coal railway tracks and Brodburger

At the back of the building, there is a long glass pipe that reaches up to the sky and glows blue during the evening hours. This is where the gas emissions of the Power House were emitted, originally through a brick and then steel outlet, before being replaced with decorative glass. You can view the underside of this inside the gallery below.

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The beauty of the Canberra Glassworks by night. Photo taken during the Winter Glass Market (2016). Source: Canberra Glassworks Facebook

The tour then continues inside to the foyer and the guide explains how the building was empty for many years before it opened as the Canberra Glassworks in 2007. Previous to its opening, graduates from the ANU School of Art Glass Workshop were completing their degrees and then leaving the Capital, as there was nowhere for them to create their work. The head of the workshop at the time, Klaus Moje, championed for the Glassworks to be built and worked closely with the ACT Government to open this state-of-the-art facility. The Canberra Glassworks today is the largest dedicated glass studio facility in Australia.

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Industrial architecture and colourful neon chandeliers in the foyer

The tour group then moved up the internal staircase and then turned left at the top of the stairs to look over the artists workstations and view the various neon and glass projects on display, which were being created for the Winter Glass Market in 2017. There are various work tables around the room, where artists hire their space and time in the Hot Shop (which public can view), so they can utilise the quality equipment, originally imported from Germany.

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Looking down onto the artist work stations, with neon tubing and blown glass artworks.

The tour then continues through a door into the previous Kingston Power House Engine Room, which is now where "cold" glass is manipulated. This is where workshops are held to make glass beads, tiles and lamps, where some items are fused together with melted glass to attach extra components. This is also where the tour goes "behind the scenes" into this area, down the stairs and into the underground workings of the Canberra Glassworks. Here we walked past artists workstations, glass sandblasting machinery, polishing equipment and privately-rented studio spaces.

As well as looking at the original features of the building downstairs, we also learnt of an interesting glass-making technique that was being used. A small sculpture is hand carved from wax, pushed into a jug of plaster to harden and then the wax is then melted to create a mould. Glass beads are then poured into the mould, melted and then the solid glass sculpture is turned out when cold, creating a beautiful (and heavy!) result.

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Baby Wombats (2017), by Luna Ryan. Lost wax kiln cast Blackwood Crystal. Source: Canberra Glassworks Facebook

At the end of the tour we were then encouraged to spend some time overlooking the Hot Shop, to watch the glass artists in action. On our visit, we were fortunate to watch three glass artists creating vases and blown glass, as well as a member of the public make a glass tumbler right in front of the viewing platform. This was particularly interesting as we could see the entire step-by-step process - see here to book a lesson. To ensure you see artists at work on your visit, see here for the Hotshop Calendar.

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Make your own glass tumbler with a one-on-one lesson (cost $120)

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Viewing platform to get close to the action

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Source: Canberra Glassworks Facebook

Although the tour mainly focuses on the history of the building and the original architectural features which still remain today, the second part of the tour is a fascinating insight into the life of a professional glass artist. If you are anything like me, you will leave inspired, informed and most of all, appreciative of how much work goes into this beautifully delicate art form.

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Original photos from the Canberra Glassworks Facebook.

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Why? Enjoy this creative, historical facility with free entry and free historical tours!
When: Historical Tours - 11am Saturdays
Phone: 02) 6260 7005
Where: 11 Wentworth Ave, Kingston ACT 2604
Cost: Free
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