28 March 2023

Architects appointed to design Kingston Arts Precinct

| Ian Bushnell
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Kingston Arts Precinct

Construction at the Kingston Arts Precinct site is expected to start in 2024-25. Photo: ACT Government.

The revamped, government-led Kingston Arts Precinct project has taken a big step forward with the appointment of the principal design team and the release of the Place Brief that will guide it.

The Suburban Land Agency has engaged Melbourne-based NH Architecture as the principal design team, while RPS AAP Consulting and Turner Townsend will deliver project management and quantity surveying services. The SLA took over the development of the Precinct after the ACT government dumped Geocon as its development partner.

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Chief Minister Andrew Barr said NH Architecture would develop a detailed design that reflected the Place Brief this year, ahead of construction starting in the 2024-25 financial year.

“Over the next 12 months, the project team will develop a concept design for the new subdivision and arts buildings,” he said.

“Further engagement with the community and arts organisations will take place through different stages of the design to prepare submissions for formal approvals that will permit construction to commence.

“Engagement is already underway to ensure community input on incorporating Ngunnawal language across the precinct and the development of the new ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art space.”

Minister for the Arts Tara Cheyne said the Place Brief complements and furthers the work of the Founding Strategy, released in September 2022.

“The vision and values identified through community consultation align strongly with the arts sector’s vision,” she said.

“Together, these documents will guide the future place facilitator and design team, helping them to meet the growing needs of our artistic community.”

Director of NH Architecture Astrid Jenkin said the firm was thrilled to be involved in the project to transform the Kingston Arts Precinct into a world-class arts and cultural destination for Canberra.

“We bring extensive experience in precinct design, sensitive heritage restoration and the realisation of contemporary arts facilities with our work on high-profile projects like the Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation and the Queen Victoria Market Renewal,” she said.

The SLA and artsACT have worked closely with the community and key stakeholders to develop the brief.

The community welcomed the decision to abandon the previous model of partnering with a private developer and bring the project back under the government umbrella, following concerns about the direction being taken by Geocon.

These concerns included the emphasis given to residential development, interference with the views of heritage buildings and plans for a four-storey above-ground car park.

Kingston and Barton Residents Group president Richard Johnston said the new approach was encouraging.

“The Place Brief has picked up some of the things we’ve been saying about respecting the heritage buildings and making sure the views to the heritage buildings are not unduly interfered with from Wentworth Avenue and down to the lake,” Mr Johnston said.

He said a critical vista to retain would be from the Powerhouse area to the lake and looking back from the lake to the Powerhouse.

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The brief also mentioned that car parking should be discrete, which suggested that it would be below ground.

But Mr Johnston said there was no mention of the 2013 Master Plan for Section 49, in which the government had invested a lot.

“We want respect to be paid to the 2013 Master Plan and want that to be seen as an important background document at least,” he said.

While there will be residential and commercial development, including “bespoke” retail, the SLA said it viewed the Precinct as a legacy project that it wanted to get right.

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This is a unique opportunity to really celebrate the heritage of the place and make it a destination that is very special. In the long run avoiding short term block yield maximisation will pay off as the area is acknowledged as a premier tourist destination and creative hub. The returns to Canberra will grow over time.

So glad Geocon aren’t involved in this, hopefully by engaging architects from outside of Canberra, we might get some bigger thinking and planning, however one thing we DONT need is some hideous high rise apartments with 100 floors.

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