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Good architecture for Canberra – we wish

By Paul Costigan - 25 January 2017 10

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2017 in Canberra began with announcements that many new building developments are about to change the city’s landscape.

Of course, that could be taken two ways – either for the better – or …

One of these announcements was about the replacements for the Currong Flats/Apartments. These old buildings dominated the skylines around Civic and were definitely due for replacement. We now await the developer’s (and by default the government planners’) offerings that will apparently “add to the vibrancy of the city centre and the Braddon area”.

But wait there’s so much more. Gungahlin will have a Geocon tower, there’s a group of towers for Belconnen, Lake Tuggeranong will soon have several new developments by the lake, there’s the much promoted Campbell developments that is to be a village within the suburb (whatever that means), the Canberra Centre is about to be extended (again), and of course we will soon see more ‘unique’ and ‘striking’ buildings in Braddon. Then there are proposals for suburban centres such as Dickson and Curtin – and probably others elsewhere.

And we must not forget there’s the most significant of them all – Northbourne Avenue – an avenue of grand new buildings – and landscapes.

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Cities all over the world are experiencing serious changes as a result of a proliferation of high-rise. The former London Mayor, Boris, allowed developers free rein and most of the east of the city of London was due to be become a solid wall of towers. The new mayor has put some sense back into this while still allowing a more appropriate level of tower developments to proceed.

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Likewise Los Angeles, known for urban sprawl (as far as the eye can see), is now experiencing intensification programs that will see many towers popping up in areas that till recently have been low rise.

According to the Canberra announcements, there will be soon significant towers in many of our centres. In theory this could be a good thing. But (there’s always a but) …

Up till recently, this has been a ‘bush capital’ and one more or less based around being a city of gardens and greenery. The continuation of this ideal is still achievable. Our planning directorate needs to be increasing (not reducing) greenery when they are looking to encourage and approve high-rise developments across the city.

What you rarely see in these announcements by the government or the developers is how their developments will deliver enhancements to our cherished green environments. When did our government stop caring about such things?

Should the ACT Government be doing more to ensure new development is in keeping with Canberra's 'bush capital' heritage so it remains a city of gardens and greenery?

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Other cities have embraced renewables and progressed sustainability. These new Canberra buildings should be designed to be part of the climate solutions – but that is not mentioned. Visiting specialists have noticed that we do not take design seriously.

The future image of this national capital should be about good design, about good architecture and enhancing the landscapes around these new developments. It should not be about more bland glass and steel boxes with a few decorative additions – and less greenery (trees and loads of other stuff).

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The ACT Government should stop taking a back seat on architectural design and should not allow the market to deliver what they see fit. Based on recent developments, the end results have been pretty ordinary – being about profit rather than the total ambience of the city.

There’s a lot of spin and the use of similar words across many of the recent proposals.

We need to file away all these recent announcements and then revisit them in a year or two (or whatever it takes) – in time for the next elections. By then we should be able to judge whether the Government and developers have as a minimum delivered what they said they would and whether all these new developments have become pleasing additions to the skyline of this city – and whether the government has added to (or diminished) the cherished legacy of the garden/bush city they inherited.

It is not about objecting to developments in our backyard – being a so called NIMBY – but wishing and hoping for good architecture and great landscapes. These new buildings should not be just more ordinary stuff – they should not be boring.

Then again maybe it is about being a NIMBY – about not wanting any more of that crap in our backyards, front yards or anywhere in our streets or suburbs. If so, I’m happy to be a NIMBY.

Again – good architecture and great landscapes – not too much to ask for – is it?

What’s Your opinion?


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10 Responses to
Good architecture for Canberra – we wish
reddy84 10:07 am 15 Feb 17

The problem is the current planning system. Over the years it has evolved in to reactionary legislation; the community object something, lets stop that happening.
The planning system needs an overhaul if we are to get any kind of decent development and the only way you will get a developer to give you something good is if you give them an incentive.
“If you provide a stunning architectural design, we will give you additional development rights”. This is how it works everywhere else.

Maryan 8:39 pm 03 Feb 17

With that definition, I’m happy to be a NIMBY too!

Bush Capital is just an old name that used to apply to Canberra.

I was in Deli a few months ago, and even there (although I was not there to be sight-seeing), I saw more evidence of keeping large trees in the city, working roads & buildings around them.

There & in The Netherlands, I saw more innovative architecture; more beautiful buildings; new development built sensitively beside old; and old, maintained & updated to current standards to make them environmentally current. Eg. tripple glazing (they’ve had doubleglazing as regular requirement for over 30 years in most places).

Poor Canberra.

We really have become a “would be if we could be” haven’t we? How very sad. But there do not seem to be any leaders here. Barr took us to the tram & “we” voted him back in – God help us!

Maryan 7:09 pm 03 Feb 17

It would be interesting to have a little more information in that little poll above.
It would be good to know the age distribution of the voters.
It would also be good to know the proportions of the voters who are Canberrans – live here because they have done for a long time, know the social history of the place & how the whole city functions, and how many are people who have moved in recently from other cities which were not designed this way & who cannot get their head into a space that is not Sydney or Brisbane or . . . who cannot concieve of a city without a CBD, where light industry is confined to specific, planned areas and where people live & raise their children away from transport corridors.
I think the results may be more useful.

JC 6:44 pm 03 Feb 17

Paul you write “Again – good architecture and great landscapes – not too much to ask for – is it?”

Well unfortunately what is good and great to you may well be mediocre to someone else and vice versa of course.

I know you love Dickson shops, but to me that highlights to worse of 1960’s architecture. Cold featureless and windswept (in winter). But matter of opinion right?

tim_c 5:06 pm 03 Feb 17

Benjamin Rose said :

It’s been many years since anything interesting was built in Canberra and unfortunately it will be many years before anything interesting or innovative is built in Canberra.

There are some unique buildings in Canberra that represent arguably interesting solutions for the clients needs at the time (almost exclusively for the federal government via the NCDC). Cameron, Callam and Benjamin Offices … represent to me good architecture despite their questionable aesthetics. Visit the parked Doctor Who space station that is Callam Offices and do some research and you’ll uncover a diamond of architecture (albeit incomplete and in the rough)…

…It’s gone from thought out solutions to satisfy building users to barely satisfying the end user while cutting corners on basic functional design and presenting a trendy spin on Soviet apartment aesthetics with gaudy colours picked from Microsoft Paint.

The examples of Benjamin/Cameron and Callam offices might be “interesting solutions” in so far as it is incredibly intriguing that someone would propose such designs as “solutions”, or that someone would actually give the nod to go ahead and build them. Ask anyone who has worked in those buildings and they’ll tell you that they certainly were NOT a successful solution, hence why they have spent long periods largely empty (or have had to be “repurposed” for other uses).

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I thought a large part of architecture was about aesthetics, so I struggle to reconcile your comment that a building could represent good architecture while having questionable aesthetics.

It’s also rather ironic that you conclude your remarks with a reflection on the period of these buildings by saying “it’s gone from thought out solutions to satisfy building users…” when the buildings cited failed to do just that (satisfy building users), as well as being horrible eyesores to everyone else.

I often look at the apartment buildings currently being built (or recently built) and wonder what people will think of the designs in 20-30 years time. Some are fairly timeless, while others…. well, let’s just wait and see!

Southerly_views 9:57 pm 30 Jan 17

Isn’t the architects’ creed “If the public like it….then it must be in bad taste”?

Benjamin Rose 12:29 am 28 Jan 17

It’s been many years since anything interesting was built in Canberra and unfortunately it will be many years before anything interesting or innovative is built in Canberra.

There are some unique buildings in Canberra that represent arguably interesting solutions for the clients needs at the time (almost exclusively for the federal government via the NCDC). Cameron, Callam and Benjamin Offices along with the Sir Edmund Barton building and Campbell Park represent to me good architecture despite their questionable aesthetics. Visit the parked Doctor Who space station that is Callam Offices and do some research and you’ll uncover a diamond of architecture (albeit incomplete and in the rough).

Granted the offices are obviously not housing of any kind (except for re purposed sections of Cameron Offices) but it best explains the change of mindset for civic planners and developers in Canberra.

It’s gone from thought out solutions to satisfy building users to barely satisfying the end user while cutting corners on basic functional design and presenting a trendy spin on Soviet apartment aesthetics with gaudy colours picked from Microsoft Paint.

Maya123 11:12 am 25 Jan 17

I would like to see more adventurous architecture. Much of what is out there is too similar. However, when I hear many people complain about today’s architecture, I suspect they yearn for more mock Tudor and the like, not more adventurous designs, because that is too hard for them to handle.
Here are some pictures of the mentioned la Confluence, Lyon:
https://www.google.com.au/search?q=La+Confluence+in+Lyon&client=firefox-b&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiy6ufi_9vRAhXLXrwKHS9uDUEQsAQIKg&biw=1687&bih=989#imgrc=_

dungfungus 10:19 am 25 Jan 17

rommeldog56 said :

So, what drives the proliferation of those higher density, square’ish, cement, leggo land dog boxes often dressed up with a splash of gaudy coloured paint, in Canberra ??

Is it that the cost of land to developers is so high that they need to cut corners on architecture, design and aesthetics ? Do developers “follow the leader” and build more of what sells – more of the same ?

Are they just squeezing every cent of profit because buyers do not care as much now about the look or design of unit blocks ? – after all, u live inside a unit, not so much outside ? Or is it that the planning authorities just don’t give a toss at the expense of pressure from the ACT Labor/Greens Govt to raise revenue/push DA’s through asap ?

Will the newly appointed ACT Govt Architect be ready, willing and able to fix this trend ?

Our planners/developers are trying to emulate this:

https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2014/10/la-confluence-in-lyon-europes-biggest-urban-development-project/

Some of the already completed units at the Kingston Foreshore are straight out of the Lyon vision.

rommeldog56 10:02 am 25 Jan 17

So, what drives the proliferation of those higher density, square’ish, cement, leggo land dog boxes often dressed up with a splash of gaudy coloured paint, in Canberra ??

Is it that the cost of land to developers is so high that they need to cut corners on architecture, design and aesthetics ? Do developers “follow the leader” and build more of what sells – more of the same ? Are they just squeezing every cent of profit because buyers do not care as much now about the look or design of unit blocks ? – after all, u live inside a unit, not so much outside ? Or is it that the planning authorities just don’t give a toss at the expense of pressure from the ACT Labor/Greens Govt to raise revenue/push DA’s through asap ?

Will the newly appointed ACT Govt Architect be ready, willing and able to fix this trend ?

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