Northbourne or bust

Paul Costigan 22 January 2018 17

Motor Registry Dickson. Photo: Paul Costigan.

A new year and already the look, the aesthetics, and the whole nature of what will be the new Northbourne Ave gateway to the National Capital is up for discussion.

A development application was lodged for a six to eight storey complex to be built on the former vehicle registration site in Dickson on Northbourne Ave. This will be the first of many.

This proposal has been discussed previously so it was no surprise. I suspect that most people think it is basically OK. I agree. And if the quality is delivered, then it should be a good start to what will follow down the rest of Northbourne over the coming years.

We hope.

The application does bring to mind a couple of related urban design issues.

Out of the last ACT election, following the demise of the LDA, rose the new agency, the City Renewal Authority. It has some wonderful vision statements: “Creating a vibrant city heart through the delivery of design-led, people-focused urban renewal”. And – “is charged with shaping the growth of the central parts of Canberra to make it a great place to live, explore and enjoy”.

So you have to ask – is this development application one that fits in with the vision the City Renewal Authority has for Northbourne? Is there such a vision?

Or is this the first ad hoc development that will be plonked along Northbourne with no connections being made as to how the whole of Northbourne will look in several years time – with a host of new towers along each side?

My point being, this proposal looks OK in isolation. But it should not be assessed in isolation. Rather it should be assessed as being part of the ‘design-led’ renewal and one of many to come exciting pieces of 21st century architecture that are to appear along this (vibrant) national gateway.

The last thing we need is for the present bland boxes that dominate Northbourne to be placed with a new set of 21st century glass and steel bland boxes.

Images from the submitted planning documents.

One positive is that it seems that the new complex will have texture – being some form of brick on some of its main facades. We will have to wait and see what materialises – as we have all seen developers introduce changes to the design once it gets under way. Again, I hope for the best and we are to see a building with some attractive aesthetic qualities.

And I have to comment on some of the silly spins that developers think they have to use. For instance, it is a wonderful prospect that there will be a laneway-type atrium through the centre of one of the buildings.

Did they really have to say “bringing a Melbourne laneway feel into the development”? Obviously the developers have not been to Melbourne when some of those laneways, those that were former semi-industrial delivery lanes, become very cold and windy and lack sunlight during winter. I have sat there in winter with Melbournians who seem to enjoy the experience – and I have wondered as I tried to deal with the cold southern breezes – why are we doing this?

Another thought on these developments along Northbourne – this was brought up by someone else at a meeting with the Planning Directorate a year or so ago – and I don’t think I heard an answer.

With the introduction of more commercial outlets, cafes and some supermarkets located within the new clusters of apartments that are soon to be located along Northbourne, are we seeing a change in the former planning strategies on where the local shopping hubs were located in the inner north?

Canberra’s suburban planning has been based around suburban shops and the larger group centre, being Dickson. Potentially there will soon be several new medium size supermarkets and associated outlets dotted along Northbourne.

This could be a good thing. But one hopes that the current Planning Directorate is working with the new City Renewal Authority to plan for the potential impacts these new shopping hubs will have on the established suburban shops. We already have ‘For Lease’ signs as semi-permanent features in the Dickson shops.

I hope someone within the various planning bureaucracies is ahead of the game and is not continuing the present ad hoc approach to planning and development – whereby problems surface and are partially dealt with well after the damage is done.

Here’s my main message in this post: When delivered, this development on Northbourne will be the first piece of evidence of what the new City Renewal Authority really stands for.

Fingers are crossed that this development turns out to be something that sets a high standard of architecture, landscape architecture and integrated design for many others that are to pop up along Northbourne.

The devil will be in the architectural and landscape detail of what is delivered.

No bland boxes – please!

What are your thoughts on this? Are you pleased with this planned development in Dickson? Comment below.

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17 Responses to Northbourne or bust
Queanbeyanite Queanbeyanite 9:16 am 26 Jan 18

Paul, the only priority for this local council is to maximise the flow of funds to the CFMEU. Go and have a walk through Braddon.

Allan Evans Allan Evans 8:50 pm 24 Jan 18

Now that the trees are down, driving north from the city you can see the beginning of a European Boulevard. The main barrier is whether cafe’s / garden eating / commerce is planned for the ground level. If developers just build sterile apartments without any ground level activity it will be a disaster.

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 8:12 pm 24 Jan 18

I haven’t seen evidence of any spacious or pleasant apartments being built along Northbourne. That’s because the developers are exploiting students and first-home buyers, and taking advantage of unsophisticated investors. All the way along the corridor this lack of design and planning, and lack of upmarket apartments, is going to result in cramped and dull accommodation. The expectation is that people who live in awful little flats will socialise and spend much of their time outside their dwellings. So – where are the outdoor amenities other than bars and cafes? There is nothing magic that light rail or Geocon’s sexy billboards will bring to compensate for cheap building standards and downmarket flats. So many people are being hoodwinked!

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:56 pm 25 Jan 18

    I am glad someone other than me sees it as it is and calls it for for what it is.

    There will be social consequences.

Anthony David Anthony David 2:46 pm 24 Jan 18

Bold designs, not to copy Valencia , but to embrace the spirit.

Kate Olivieri Kate Olivieri 9:34 am 24 Jan 18

A building that is nice enough and well planned enough in design that it's not going to be knocked down in 20 years' time

Scott Welsh Scott Welsh 9:05 am 24 Jan 18

If it looks anything like purgatory (Flemington Road), then you can shove it. It feels like a never ending road of the same boring architecture

Louise Anne Louise Anne 8:55 am 24 Jan 18

Buildings to the boundary; a token tree; and we'll have the Northbourne "corridor"; turning off from "Flemington corridor". Please make Northbourne more lush and welcoming again, to symbolise the bush capital. (If it still is?)

    Philip Leaf Philip Leaf 8:56 am 24 Jan 18

    As part of light rail the act government is replacing the trees when construction is finished. It should have around 20% more trees when it finishes than were there before.

    You can actually visit the trees if you are interested, they are being grown at the yarra nursery

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:32 am 24 Jan 18

It will be interesting to see what car parking provisions are made for tenants and visitors in this proposal.

I am tipping there will be many of the apartments without any car parking at all.
The occupants of these will be “exploring and enjoying the vibrant city heart” solely by tram which also will give the added bonus of excursions to Gungahlin for a different sort of vibrancy.

What a great outcome.

Babs Mabbs Babs Mabbs 8:08 am 24 Jan 18

Taking the bland boxes right up to street level has been the preferred way to maximise building space in a low rise regulatory system. Let’s hope there’s another way!

Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 7:58 am 24 Jan 18

Yes what are the setbacks?

One of the nicest aspects of Northbourne Avenue was the fact that all of the older buildings allowed for more space at the front or side of them to create openings and landscaped rooms. The streetscape was varied and interesting.

I'm not seeing much of that in any developments anymore. There is too much overcrowding of the front boundary - not very clever, creative or Canberra.

    Andrew Boyd Barber Andrew Boyd Barber 10:37 am 25 Jan 18

    Amanda Evans, if my memory is correct, didn't WBG anticipate no setbacks, and instead placed the landscape within the wide road corridor?

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 1:09 pm 25 Jan 18

    I'm not sure what you mean Andrew. The easement on Northbourne is one of his wider ones and that was because he had a tram running up to what was intended to be the industrial estate roughly around where Dickson is now.

    The plan definitely changed both earlier on when the tram line which ran across the causeway over the Molonglo between the Causeway and Mt Pleasant washed out in floods in the 1920's and then post war because of the push by the yanks to sell their cars here and Holford's review of the city which determined it should a city connected by freeways (one of Moses' New York new experiments)

    Also at that time the need for public housing was immense as public servants were coming by the thousand to start the government properly. Thus the range of housing along Northbourne ranged from bedsits to 3 bedroom family style units. So the central median was quite wide but then so are all of the major avenues such as Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Commonwealth, Limestone etc. Needless to say, they all still had a landscaped setback from the front boundary.

    When I was young, I recall that the only building which sat on the front boundary of Northbourne Avenue was the old 2CA building. Even the Civic pub was set back behind the beer garden much like the Kingo is.

Kriso Hadskini Kriso Hadskini 7:36 am 24 Jan 18

I do not see how there can be a satisfying aesthetic outcome for Northbourne without government imposed covenants. The reason being that economically maximising these sites for developers means at all times a big bland box. If you do not want that look for a city then you impose strict conditions on developers, forcing them to curtail profits a little in order for a better civic outcome. This will not happen here, developers donate too much money to political interests and they have too many lobbyists working inside government. Sorry, I think it will just be a big ugly wind tunnel with no trees - the end.

    Philip Leaf Philip Leaf 8:55 am 24 Jan 18

    As part of light rail the act government is replacing the trees when construction is finished. It should have around 20% more trees when it finishes than were there before.

    You can actually visit the trees if you are interested, they are being grown at the yarra nursery

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 7:33 am 24 Jan 18

Any plans for foliage in these developments? Or is anything green not a part of “Creating a vibrant city heart through the delivery of design-led, people-focused urban renewal”?

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