I am not sure how many times I have driven people up Mt Ainslie take in the magnificent panoramic views. It remains the best lookout to take in Canberra’s urban infrastructure, to appreciate the planning that underpins the city’s layout and to witness just how the nation’s capital is nestled in the landscape.
The facilities at the lookout have always been basic and this has not been a problem as most visitors go there simply to be above the city and to gain an insight into the city’s layout. What they most want is a clear view. Sadly, today these views are not quite what they used to be.
The announcement of the competition earlier this month to bring about a long-term plan for improvements to the lookout are definitely welcomed – but with some serious caveats.
This is a fantastic bushland site and it should not become an architecturally designed archi-park complete with all the latest shiny metal features, trendy gabion walls and useless rusty metal seats such as those in the park in the Kingston Foreshore.
Another concern is that too many good projects in Canberra end up being delivered badly. The most recent example of this is the Bunda Street Shareway that remains a good idea but the final design work is a mess.
Over the years, I have been witness to several concepts by agencies to introduce some heavy-handed architectural features to Mt Ainslie lookout. One in particular would have dumped a load of buildings, a major restaurant and viewing glass house to the side of the mountain. Luckily none of these ever got past the thought bubble stages.
There is no doubt that the site is overdue for some serious tender love and care as well as some minor enhancements.
At present the stone walls are in good shape and there is no reason for them to undergo major changes. There are few bits that need repair but beyond that they are functioning well. The handrails could do with a paint job and that should happen straight away – no need for any expensive plans for that to happen now.
There is talk of a need for a café. I would say no to that and instead rely on pop ups for food and coffees etc. I would however look for the provider of this service to have something attractive.
The major change required, that also does not need any major planning as it is obvious to visitors, is that some of the side terraces should be redesigned and landscaped to include some formal picnic facilities including bench seating with shade roofs.
Several trees now obstruct what used to be a clear view of the panorama. This problem particularly occurs when you ascend the steps around the light and you find that two trees have been allowed to pop up and are about to completely take out this viewing opportunity.
Any tree is important, but in the case of several around the top of Mt Ainslie, the decision needs to be made to remove them.
Several times on the journey up the road to the top, my visitors have commented on their pleasure of seeing the Australian bushland, and if they were lucky, about seeing a kangaroo or two. This bushland aspect of Mt Ainslie has to be preserved.
However, it seems that others do not always appreciate this for the same reason, as there are several locations beside the road that are being used to dump rubbish. Some people just do not get it!
Mt Ainslie requires a design approach whereby ‘less is more’. This should definitely not become an archi-park.
To be honest, any changes could be delivered without an expensive competition and without the intrusion of the panel of experts who dominate such processes and favour a few interstate firms.
This job could be delivered through the services of one of several local and very experienced landscape design firms. Let’s keep these jobs local for a change!
This announcement of the competition needs to deliver a plan that has as its basis a sensitive design approach to changes and enhancements.
Fingers have been crossed in the hope that this wonderful site does not get messed up.
Meanwhile we will now witness eager interstate consultants having lunch with government staff here in Dickson or over at the National Library (near the NCA) — all such major competitions have side benefits for our cafes.