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Government Architect – what’s that?

By Paul Costigan - 7 September 2016 10

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Canberra is usually referred to as being a designed and/or planned city. Sadly this boast is becoming a thing of the past given recent bad planning and development decisions.

Despite these on-going errors, there are core aspects of Canberra that we can still be proud of, that deliver the amenities we love and are the reasons we live here.

The issue is – what next? The city desperately requires design leadership to guide the complex integration of landscape design, architecture, planning urban development, housing and more.

Last week the ACT Government announced the appointment of Catherine Townsend as the new ACT Government Architect.

I am sure there was dancing in the streets by residents who have been calling for Design to be a top priority in the decisions about our urban spaces and suburbs. Maybe the ACT Government will now care for how the city will look in the future rather than leaving it to the developers to do what they wish.

Well, maybe not!

Is there any chance that having an ACT Government Architect will deliver a better city? And just what is a government architect?

There are optimistic expectations around such a role – given the title. Unfortunately based on the history of the outside influences on the planning and development agencies, I suspect anyone in this position will have an uphill battle on their hands.

It is a big ask for any one person to influence the current bureaucracies and their political chiefs and to get them to accept that ‘Design’ should underpin the city’s planning and development.

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Go back a century and the role of government architect was quite powerful. They designed and oversaw the building of significant buildings – here’s an example – click here.

This is definitely not the situation across Australia today. While the roles vary from state to state, government architects are now more advisory with limited influence on the real outcomes.

You can read here what the architects think the positions are about. They have lofty ambitions and fairly high-minded statements about how the world would suffer without architects providing design leadership for our cities. OMG! A world without architects – who could imagine that?

In general since the role reappeared about a decade ago within state and territory governments there has been very little evidence of improvements to how our cities are being developed. One has only to glance at the quality of most of the new suburbs and the quality of those towers popping up within the inner city areas.

In Canberra the role of the government architect is housed within the infamous planning and development departments – who are seen to be heavily influenced by the voices of the property lobbies. Best of luck with that!

The Minister said in his statement that they ‘may’ ask for advice from the government architect. In other words, advice is all it is – and then only when it is deemed necessary.

To date we have seen no change in how a government architect has influenced the ACT Government to place any priority on residential issues such as neighbourhood character, climate change, green infrastructure and the future of open spaces – especially parks.

The government architects have probably attended loads of committee meetings. But what has been achieved? Not much except that they attended a load of meetings.

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But – there is a ray of hope in all this doom and gloom.

I know of panels where Catherine Townsend, the lucky person just appointed as ACT Government Architect, led discussions on complex topics. She inspired others with her wit and her expertise. And then there is her statement quoted in the press: “How do we capture the citizen voice?”

So maybe – and I am being optimistic – maybe the new ACT Government Architect could somehow extend her levels of influence and – maybe – she could bring about a design-led revolution to the way planning and urban development happens here in Canberra.

And while I am at it – maybe she could also get the ACT Government to understand the value of aesthetics – which is something that current politicians and their consultants, such as architects, seem unable to deal with.

Maybe she could get the government to understand the value of community engagement.

Maybe we could see climate change issues actually addressed in planning and urban redevelopments (no more green wash).

Is all this too much to hope for?

It is spring – so why not!

What’s Your opinion?


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10 Responses to
Government Architect – what’s that?
Arthur Davies 2:58 pm 15 Sep 16

I don’t much about the new Architect but I do wonder as she appears to be a Govt appointee. But the “documentary” “yes minister” showed how the Govt always appoints a “sound chap” for these positions & can be relied on to come up with decisions that the Govt wants. To have real credibility the appointee would have to be nominated by a body totally independent of the Govt (but not by the developer’s association, they are not sufficiently independent of Govt!)

madelini 3:00 pm 09 Sep 16

Acton said :

Why can’t Canberra have some truly creative architects designing buildings that inspire and amaze? There are some exceptions, but overall we have a mediocre local architectural profession and an unimaginative building industry that has adopted a cram in as many as possible, build as cheaply as possible approach driven by a government policy imperative of urban densification.

If only a mother could love some faces, then only an architect could love the Acton pop-up container village, the Kingston foreshore apartments, Sky Plaza in Woden and now the uglification occurring within the Molonglo Valley suburbs of Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect:

http://www.allhomes.com.au/ah/act/sale-residential/coombs/121957310

Can we not do better than this?

Obviously something as large as the MahaNakhon building in Bangkok is unsuitable for Canberra. But what an amazing structure. Built for both function and aesthetics the concept of an unfinished building has produced an architectural masterpiece:

http://www.allhomes.com.au/news/thailands-new-tallest-building-mahanakhon-is-designed-to-look-unfinished-20160905-gr8run/

On a smaller scale such innovation and creativity needs to be encouraged in Canberra. One way to name and shame the annual contributions of blandness from Canberra’s architects and builders is to revive this competition:

http://the-riotact.com/ugliest-architecture-in-canberra-a-call-for-submissions/1395

For the ugliest architecture in Canberra there is so much to choose from in Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect.

Why are you picking on Molonglo? Contemporary Australian architecture is ugly, across the board. Have you been out to Gunhalin recently – particularly places like Jacka? Also, the glass and concrete residential monstrosities that replace some of the beautiful older houses in the inner south and inner north.

When concrete and glass is done well, it can be beautiful (looking at you, National Portrait Gallery). Unfortunately, it’s not often the case that you find an outstanding example.

Heavs 9:29 am 08 Sep 16

chiflean said :

Didn’t the former Government Architect just die? I’m assuming that is what is meant by ‘classy timing’.

Memorial service was held on the day of publication. Classy.

Acton 7:50 am 08 Sep 16

Correction:

Community feedback (until cob 16 September 2016) can be sent to: worksapproval@natcap.gov.au

Acton 10:33 pm 07 Sep 16

The National Capital Authority (NCA) has received an application from the Land Development Agency (LDA) seeking approval for the Westside Village installation to remain on site until 20 April 2019.

Westside has an ACT Labor petition organised to keep it open, but I have not seen a counter petition to gauge community opposition. I can think of a few objections:

. The Westside Village (also known as the pop-up container village) is an aesthetic failure.

. It is an ugly structure, attracts derision and has not gained widespread patronage from the Canberra community.

. It has not met the original stated objectives of becoming “an urban play space” or “thriving precinct” and there is no evidence it has succeeded “in attracting people to our city”.

. Its attempt to be grungy, ghetto-like and a favela showcase for graffiti are reasons for its removal, not retention.

. As the NCA has responsibility for the appearance of areas of national Importance, including approach routes and ceremonial avenues, these works should not be approved because their unsympathetic architecture detracts from the surrounding built and natural environment.

If the NCA is to be presented with a supporting petition, it should also be informed of public opposition. Unless there is opposition we have to anticipate further use of shipping containers as core building elements around Canberra given already low architectural standards.

Community feedback (until cob 6 September 2016) can be sent to: worksapproval@natcap.gov.au

https://www.nationalcapital.gov.au/index.php/commitment-to-community-engagement/public-consultation/4437-westside-container-village-acton-park

chiflean 9:32 pm 07 Sep 16

Didn’t the former Government Architect just die? I’m assuming that is what is meant by ‘classy timing’.

dungfungus 1:03 pm 07 Sep 16

Acton said :

Why can’t Canberra have some truly creative architects designing buildings that inspire and amaze? There are some exceptions, but overall we have a mediocre local architectural profession and an unimaginative building industry that has adopted a cram in as many as possible, build as cheaply as possible approach driven by a government policy imperative of urban densification.

If only a mother could love some faces, then only an architect could love the Acton pop-up container village, the Kingston foreshore apartments, Sky Plaza in Woden and now the uglification occurring within the Molonglo Valley suburbs of Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect:

http://www.allhomes.com.au/ah/act/sale-residential/coombs/121957310

Can we not do better than this?

Obviously something as large as the MahaNakhon building in Bangkok is unsuitable for Canberra. But what an amazing structure. Built for both function and aesthetics the concept of an unfinished building has produced an architectural masterpiece:

http://www.allhomes.com.au/news/thailands-new-tallest-building-mahanakhon-is-designed-to-look-unfinished-20160905-gr8run/

On a smaller scale such innovation and creativity needs to be encouraged in Canberra. One way to name and shame the annual contributions of blandness from Canberra’s architects and builders is to revive this competition:

http://the-riotact.com/ugliest-architecture-in-canberra-a-call-for-submissions/1395

For the ugliest architecture in Canberra there is so much to choose from in Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect.

“……..only an architect could love the Acton pop-up container village, “

That would be called “revenge architecture”.

rommeldog56 12:29 pm 07 Sep 16

Acton said :

Why can’t Canberra have some truly creative architects designing buildings that inspire and amaze? There are some exceptions, but overall we have a mediocre local architectural profession and an unimaginative building industry that has adopted a cram in as many as possible, build as cheaply as possible approach driven by a government policy imperative of urban densification.

If only a mother could love some faces, then only an architect could love the Acton pop-up container village, the Kingston foreshore apartments, Sky Plaza in Woden and now the uglification occurring within the Molonglo Valley suburbs of Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect:

http://www.allhomes.com.au/ah/act/sale-residential/coombs/121957310

Can we not do better than this?

Obviously something as large as the MahaNakhon building in Bangkok is unsuitable for Canberra. But what an amazing structure. Built for both function and aesthetics the concept of an unfinished building has produced an architectural masterpiece:

http://www.allhomes.com.au/news/thailands-new-tallest-building-mahanakhon-is-designed-to-look-unfinished-20160905-gr8run/

On a smaller scale such innovation and creativity needs to be encouraged in Canberra. One way to name and shame the annual contributions of blandness from Canberra’s architects and builders is to revive this competition:

http://the-riotact.com/ugliest-architecture-in-canberra-a-call-for-submissions/1395

For the ugliest architecture in Canberra there is so much to choose from in Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect.

Too right ! The architecture going up in the Molonglo Valley is near on ugly, with a sameness and boring. Maybe Future slums full of social problems down the track perhaps.

Maybe the current trend in Canberra of boring, sameness aesthetics of the new higher density infill, is due to the exorbitant prices developers have to pay for land. Something has to give in a price sensitive, over supplied unit market. So aesthetics and quality of construction suffer as do lack of green spaces and integration of greenery into the designs.

Architects have to design something to the developers spec and budget. And its cheaper to build square boxes rather than curves, irregular shapes, decent sized balconies, great facades, etc. There are plenty of examples in other cities.

Acton 11:34 am 07 Sep 16

Why can’t Canberra have some truly creative architects designing buildings that inspire and amaze? There are some exceptions, but overall we have a mediocre local architectural profession and an unimaginative building industry that has adopted a cram in as many as possible, build as cheaply as possible approach driven by a government policy imperative of urban densification.

If only a mother could love some faces, then only an architect could love the Acton pop-up container village, the Kingston foreshore apartments, Sky Plaza in Woden and now the uglification occurring within the Molonglo Valley suburbs of Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect:

http://www.allhomes.com.au/ah/act/sale-residential/coombs/121957310

Can we not do better than this?

Obviously something as large as the MahaNakhon building in Bangkok is unsuitable for Canberra. But what an amazing structure. Built for both function and aesthetics the concept of an unfinished building has produced an architectural masterpiece:

http://www.allhomes.com.au/news/thailands-new-tallest-building-mahanakhon-is-designed-to-look-unfinished-20160905-gr8run/

On a smaller scale such innovation and creativity needs to be encouraged in Canberra. One way to name and shame the annual contributions of blandness from Canberra’s architects and builders is to revive this competition:

http://the-riotact.com/ugliest-architecture-in-canberra-a-call-for-submissions/1395

For the ugliest architecture in Canberra there is so much to choose from in Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect.

Heavs 10:04 am 07 Sep 16

Classy timing.

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