24 November 2020

Kingston Arts Precinct design changes 'tokenistic', heritage concerns ignored

| Ian Bushnell
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Kingston Arts Precinct design

An aerial view of the proposed design released last year. Photo: File.

Recent changes to the proposed designs for the $78 million Kingston Arts Precinct project have been labelled tokenistic and minimal, and fail to address community concerns that the heritage aspects of the site are not being respected.

The ACT Government last year selected Geocon to develop the 5.6 ha site and its architects, Fender Katsalidis, unveiled its design proposals last August but there has been little news since.

In response to questions from Region Media, a government spokesperson said the design team had made a number of design improvements based on community feedback.

These were retention of the 1948 Switch Room, improved views to the Power House from Wentworth Avenue, the introduction of a green forecourt and retention of heritage trees on Wentworth Avenue, and improved views to and from Eastlake Parade and Bowen Park.

The spokesperson also listed the early development of a Place Plan and establishment of place themes together with the Community Panel and arts organisations.

”The plans continue to be updated in response to ongoing engagement, however, these are planned to be released to the broader public for comment in 2021,” the spokesperson said.

Community Panel member from the Kingston Barton Residents Group Richard Johnston described the changes, which were presented at design update in July but not made public, as marginal, and the panel’s questions had been met with ”architectural arrogance”.

He said the government had already decided to retain the Switch Room.

”We’ve been hammering since we first saw their proposals for greater respect to be paid to the heritage buildings, particularly for there to be much much greater visibility of the Power House,” he said.

”They are still proposing four to six-storey buildings along Wentworth Avenue, and they’ve only marginally moved around a bit of open space that now gives you direct view through the treed area to the Power House.

”But essentially the existing view of the Power House is almost obliterated.”

Mr Johnston said the design team had made some attempt to marginally open the view down towards the lake, but that is very much restricted by the location of the four-storey car park, which remains a sticking point.

The Panel had argued for the car park to be at least partially built underground but the architects say the government had insisted it be above ground.

Mr Johnston said putting part of it below ground would reduce its length and enable it to be opened up at least to the view from the Power House to the Lake.

The Panel is sweating on the advice from the ACT Heritage Council, which Mr Johnston said had gone to the architects but not been released.

”The indications are the Council is not happy,” he said. “We hope they will be strong enough to say you have to make significant changes.”

A view from Wentworth Avenue

A view from Wentworth Avenue: hard to see the heritage buildings.

The other significant piece of work is a Conservation Management Plan for the heritage assets, which Philip Leeson and Associates has been working on for some time, and a draft of which has gone to the Heritage Council.

“If it’s consistent with previous heritage studies, it will certainly argue for much better visibility of the heritage buildings,” Mr Johnston said.

Mr Johnston also said that a June report on the consultation from the Community Liaison Elizabeth Judd had listed 56 key issues but there had been no response from the architects.

They had also offered little response to three sets of advice from the National Capital Design Review Panel.

”We’re really surprised that they are not more responsive to the pretty consistent comment they’ve been getting for more than a year about what is not a fundamentally changed scheme from what they showed us in August last year,” Mr Johnston said.

”My impression has been that there has been a fair degree of architectural arrogance in responses we’ve been getting. We know better, we’re going to do it our way.”

The Panel has also been pushing for a public exhibition, hopefully by February.

”By that stage, we should have all the heritage advice. That will give us a much clearer idea of where things might go.”

Of the site’s 5.6 ha, a total of 4 ha is able to be developed, with the rest housing already existing buildings such as the Power House and the Fitter’s Workshop. That 4 ha is split 40:60, public and private, and according to Geocon will be a $750 million development in total, including a hotel.

The Territory land will host the arts facilities and galleries, artist accommodation, the public car park, outdoor events space and public domain.

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