Monaro Mall makes history (again)

Genevieve Jacobs 8 November 2018 62

Monaro mall’s rep design echoes the building’s 1963 origins. Photos: Dianna Snape.

When the Monaro Mall opened back in 1963, it was a landmark moment for the locals, a sign that the big country town was growing up. It was Australia’s first three-story, fully enclosed and air-conditioned shopping centre, important enough to be opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies.

Now more than 50 years later, the refurbishment project has garnered a national award, the only project co-designed by a local Canberra firm.

“Monaro Mall has always had iconic status in the city. It’s listed as one of Canberra’s 20th-century significant buildings,” says architect Jeremy Mather, whose firm, Mather Architecture, shared project responsibility with Universal Design Studio. Together, they’ve collected the National Interior Architecture award from the Australian Institute of Architects.

“The Centre wanted to celebrate and acknowledge being the first covered mall in Australia. It’s always had that history of being a building of significance. This project gives the building the chance to continue to be that into the 21st century.

“It is great to see Canberra recognised on the national stage. This award is a tribute to the whole project team and the collaborative design and construction process that delivered this outcome. And to QIC who had the vision and leadership to restore and revitalise this significant twentieth-century Canberra landmark”, Jeremy said.

The project involved a major redevelopment of the existing building, across three levels to create a beauty precinct and, in the terminology of architects, “a common language for the retailers, a sense of belonging” that was different from anonymous shopping mall designs of recent years.

Local firm Mathers architecture won a national award for their work on the Monaro Mall re-fit.

To do that, the project architects did a deep research dive into the archives for the old Monaro Mall. They looked extensively at original photos from the 1960s and reintroduced elements like the scalloped awnings on the street front that derived from the original David Jones awnings.

The street itself was also given a greater role. “We wanted the shops to re-engage with Petrie Plaza and Bunda Street,” Jeremy Mather says. “There’s now a shared pedestrian way, outdoor seating areas, new urban design and landscaping, gardens and seating areas, and paving.

“There’s a food offering with outdoor seating on Bunda Street and a more traditional retail space on Petrie Plaza but essentially the retailers now have an opportunity to be part of the life of the street instead of looking inwards.”

The results and the national recognition are, he says, a tribute to everyone on the project team. “Canberra has a very successful history of design excellence. I feel the Design Canberra festival is a wonderful opportunity to showcase that on an annual basis.

“It brings all the different design disciplines together: architects, industrial and graphic designers, artists and craftspeople working collaboratively to showcase their contributions. The great thing about design is that it’s made up of so many different disciplines. There’s a collaborative effort to create a particular outcome.”

Sydney-based architects Hassell received a national commendation for their work on the Australian Federal Police Forensics and Data Centre by Hassell, while BVN were given the Sustainable Architecture national award for their work on the CSIRO Synergy project at Black Mountain.

Do you remember when the Monaro Mall first opened?


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62 Responses to Monaro Mall makes history (again)
Judith White Judith White 3:16 pm 10 Nov 18

If you lived in the hostels nearby in the late 60's and early 70's, meeting up with friends at the Mall was standard Friday night entertainment. The Mall buzzed with young people then, mostly from other States, brought to Canberra to work in the Public Service. It is a time that will never happen again and it was pretty amazing. Living the adventure away from home at young ages was exciting and for some, lonely. But Canberra needed the workers and people came to work and earn, and to travel. There were hardly any seniors around, but young people everywhere. The Monaro Mall was enclosed and comfortable in the cold Winters and hot Summers so ideal as a 'meeting place' for the young people. Around the escalators was the focal point.

Bella Morgan Bella Morgan 3:13 pm 10 Nov 18

I always liked the look of the facade of David Jones

Kevin Gill Kevin Gill 12:18 pm 10 Nov 18

Back then there were only 2 reasons for southsiders to come to Civic, the larger swimming pool with dive tower and if you had missed seeing the movie at Manuka then you caught it in ‘town’. The arrival of the Monaro Mall changed our habits markedly.

Trish Bamford Trish Bamford 12:18 pm 10 Nov 18

I remember it well. Good times were had there.

Meg Daly Meg Daly 12:00 pm 10 Nov 18

Sure do!

Helen Zelko Helen Zelko 10:38 am 10 Nov 18

Mark Foys the fur shop, Walton’s, treasure trove, hapkes Jewellers, the hat and glove shop (name?), wedding shop, etc

    Margy Robbins Margy Robbins 9:09 am 12 Nov 18

    Remember it all....mum worked in DJs setting up 4 the opening & afterwards 4 a number of years...

    Michelle Nagle Michelle Nagle 1:14 pm 14 Nov 18

    Was the hat shop called Tracey something or something Tracey - driving me nuts trying to remember😊

    Robyne Mitchell Robyne Mitchell 2:07 pm 14 Nov 18

    Michelle Nagle Tracey Lord.

Dory Johns Dory Johns 9:48 am 10 Nov 18

Friday nights we all went to the Monaro Mall. Kids in their pyjamas and dressing gowns with their parents.

Tony Kevin Tony Kevin 4:33 am 10 Nov 18

Nice article, Genevieve Jacobs. I remember the initial buzz of the new Monaro Mall. Tony Kevin

Lauren KC Lauren KC 9:38 pm 09 Nov 18

I have vague memories of going down an escalator and there being a pet shop with fish tanks in the windows. This was the early 80s.

Not 100% sure this memory is of Monaro Mall though...

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 8:54 pm 09 Nov 18

Came to Canberra when I was 13 and the mall was 3. All during high school that was the place ro go especially Friday nights.

Pam Hall Pam Hall 7:08 pm 09 Nov 18

I used to go there on Friday nights. Friends and I used to stand at the railing on the top floor and people watch in the open area below.

Rick Barnes Rick Barnes 7:02 pm 09 Nov 18

Remember it well. Going there as a kid in the late 60's when my old man was the promotions manager there.

Cheryl Gay Cheryl Gay 5:16 pm 09 Nov 18

The Monaro Mall has been ruined by the addition of the Canberra Centre. It was the place to be when I was a teenager. Loved it.

John Moulis John Moulis 4:46 pm 09 Nov 18

And it wasn’t all that long ago, either. In 1988 ABC radio show Australia All Over released a series of folk music albums and I went to a signing/promo event by host Ian McNamara (Macca) at Music Lover’s Record Shop on the upstairs level. I remember it because I was younger and had the CD while the others in the queue were older and had the vinyl album.

When we remember Monaro Mall we tend to think of it in the 1960s and ’70s, but if I remember correctly it was redeveloped as part of the Canberra Centre around 1991.

Anne Gallagher Anne Gallagher 3:07 pm 09 Nov 18

It was the Friday night hang out place for the teens in the 60s

    Gabrielle Eagles Gabrielle Eagles 4:01 pm 09 Nov 18

    It was indeed. Up the top....watching the boys....then getting the 9o’clock bus home.

    Lee-Ann Hush Lee-Ann Hush 4:33 pm 09 Nov 18

    the milkshake shop on the bottom level

    Donna Lea Donna Lea 7:26 pm 09 Nov 18

    Lee-Ann Hush next to the pet shop

Trish Fawns Trish Fawns 12:44 pm 09 Nov 18

Our family went on holidays every Christmas to Sth Coast and came back just before school resumed. We would stay at a caravan park on Black Mountain and would go into the Monaro Mall to buy our school requirements, books, uniforms shoes etc. loved it and was fantastic as Canberra had late night shopping on a Friday night. Watched Canberra grow over the many years, even remember Lake Burley Griffin being built.

    Cheryl Gay Cheryl Gay 5:19 pm 09 Nov 18

    I lived in Turner and my brother and I would often sneak into the camping ground and have a swim in the pool or check out the Cobb & Co coach at the front entrance.

    Trish Fawns Trish Fawns 12:40 am 10 Nov 18

    Loved Canberra and still do. I just remembered there is a small hill near the centre of the city and before I got too old my brother and I would roll all the way down in the beautiful green grass. Dad had a week or so of work there once, thought we were going to move there.

    Cathy Burn Cathy Burn 9:45 pm 12 Nov 18

    Cheryl Gay l lived in Syme Cres O’Connor and my siblings and I would frequently sneak into the camping ground and swim in the pool.

    Craig Rogerson Craig Rogerson 9:12 am 13 Nov 18

    Showing your age Trish

Jenny Robinson Jenny Robinson 8:59 am 09 Nov 18

I worked at Waltons, then Venture. Loved the Monaro Mall.

Sue Muller Sue Muller 8:35 am 09 Nov 18

I do, I worked at Brian ELL Pharmacy.

Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 7:32 am 09 Nov 18

Yes, just. And it meant we didn't have to travel to Sydney to buy certain items like school uniform items that couldn't be bought in Canberra

Tod Davis Tod Davis 7:25 am 09 Nov 18

I was about 4 when they started construction of the Canberra centre but I can’t remember past that

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