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How to maintain sensitivity to heritage in old buildings

By 13 August 2014 0

Canberra is now reaching an age where, in the older parts of town at least, decorating our shops and drawing attention to promotions requires an extra sensitivity to heritage values.

The good news is that for the most part, we’re taking care of our old buildings and although there have been some interesting architectural clashes, the city is looking quite beautiful as it grows into itself. But I’d like to offer a few suggestions for those buildings and businesses that are still striking a good balance.

1. Choose a sensible colour

I know it feels important to stand out from the crowd but when you choose hot pink or turquoise blue, you might be going just a little too far.

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Canberra’s colour scheme generally displays lovely warm creams and greys. If you want to stand out why not try a nice autumn tone or even a cleverly placed bit of subtle art.

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2. Choose a sensible logo and signage

The colour scheme of your branding is just as important as the colour scheme of the building and needs to blend in sympathetically to its environment. If your logo and branding involves too much bright colour, the ultra-modern branding makes the heritage building look dilapidated instead of antique.

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3. Graffiti is everyone’s problem

The “broken window” theory holds that if you let one thing fall into disrepair, then the whole neighbourhood gets devalued and goes to poop. One little bit of graffiti becomes a big mess of graffiti and the area looks unloved.

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I’m not sure that the broken window theory is valid but there are certainly some graffitied areas overdue for cleaning up in otherwise beautiful areas.

4. One well-placed sign is enough.

In one inner south shopping centre I noticed several businesses that had their name postered up five times or more.

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I understand the urge to make one’s signage prominent. But ideally we should see first the building and then the signs, not the other way around.

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5. Even if you’re in a modern building, have some sensitivity to the area around you.

Bright flashing lights may seem very modern and eye catching but when you’re sharing the corner with some of Canberra’s oldest buildings and a sea of green, it might be better to tone it down.

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6. Limit billboard advertising

Apologies to Josh, but I see a lot of billboards around town and they always disappoint me. Some of the worst offenders are on cultural institutions. OPH has put up posters to cover some scaffolding but I question the sense of aesthetics that concludes a big billboard is the best possible selection to cover scaffolding on a historic building. There are also additional billboards on the unscaffolded part of the building. Along with a rainbow of flags, the effect is a cacophony that rather reduces the dignity of this historic building.

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It’s not all bad newsI hope none of the businesses singled out feel too criticised. It’s easy to go around town with a camera picking on buildings that are due for their wash down or where the signage didn’t look the way it was originally imagined.

So I want to conclude by congratulating everyone for doing a great job taking care of their beautiful old buildings. Even the old and stately is blending with the modern and functional in their own special way.

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