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Westside wonder

By Paul Costigan - 27 May 2015 52

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Last July the ACT Government announced plans to develop a shipping container village by the lake on the west side of Commonwealth Avenue. I missed the original announcement, but having now read some of the media releases, I can see that there was a lot of optimism about how this wondrous project was going change our lives.

I was out of the country for quite a bit late last year, but when I was in Canberra in late September I drove past the Westside construction for the first time and was unable to work out at exactly what I was looking.

To be honest, having walked around the Westside site in April, I am still not sure what it is really all about. I have read the spin and looked at information online, but the reality is something else. This thing they called Westside is a mess! I wonder, did our glorious National Capital Authority, who came down heavy on that red burger van on the other side of the lake, provide their approval for this blight on the landscape?

Last September I attended a photography festival in Singapore and was taken aback when we walked to the site early in the week to see that construction was just starting for a major opening to be there on the Friday night. Well despite all our doubts, it happened. The centre has continued to be an innovative art centre to this day. When I questioned the event director about how she brought it all together in time, she laughed and explained that Australia was at the leading edge in the use of shipping containers for such innovations. Here’s a picture or two from the opening night in Singapore.

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So what is going on here in Canberra? The ACT Government generously blessed someone’s bright idea with close to one million dollars on the grounds that it would be ready for Floriade (no, not this year’s Floriade. Floriade 2014).

Whether you agree with this initiative or not, many – myself included – are stunned that this million dollar so-called pop-up centre is yet to fully pop-up. There are some food vans now open, and apparently they are optimistic about being fully functional very soon. I just love optimism!

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The use of shipping containers and other materials to build exciting structures for cultural activities is now a well-accepted model. In the hands of people who know what they are doing, previously overlooked spaces in cities have certainly been brought to life and become fun places to gather. Sadly for Canberra, this Westside project is yet to be one of these success stories, despite all the tax payer money.

I would usually throw heaps of praise at any government that takes calculated chances and goes out on a limb to something that is culturally innovative. So far this isn’t one of those.

I can only imagine that someone in our government has believed their own hype around the developments in Braddon and they thought that it could be easily exported from Braddon to another part of the city. Naivety in government can be a dangerous thing when it comes to cultural events and a million dollars.

I hope that this Westside shambles is not going to spoil opportunities for realistic creative ideas for cultural activities any time in the near future. I cannot help to think what the same amount of money assigned to some of our established artists or experienced arts organisations could have done to bring some life to that piece of our cherished landscape.

Someone in this government needs to re-think how such decision are made.

What’s Your opinion?


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52 Responses to
Westside wonder
Mysteryman 8:15 am 28 May 15

Maya123 said :

Shipping containers can be used in exciting ways. I visited the shipping container shops in Christchurch, NZ and was ‘blown’ away by how exciting they were. They were used after the original building were destroyed in the earthquake.
https://www.google.com.au/search?q=christchurch+shipping+containers+shops&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=InVlVYiNA83d8AX41YPoAQ&ved=0CB0QsAQ&biw=1435&bih=940

That’s exactly right. And despite what others are saying, they are generally much cheaper. Anyone who has worked with them will tell you that.

rommeldog56 9:37 pm 27 May 15

Sandman said :

The problem with doing public projects in this city is that the public feels entitled to appoint themselves as consultants on every aspect of the project.

Now, why would that be, I wonder ?

Anything to do with the often hopeless, inept planning and city design that has become the norm in the ACT now ? Perhaps its the project management and infrastructure spending priority setting by the ACTs Labor/Green’s Government, then ? Nah, surely not……..

Sandman 7:47 pm 27 May 15

The problem with doing public projects in this city is that the public feels entitled to appoint themselves as consultants on every aspect of the project.

Maya123 5:46 pm 27 May 15

Shipping containers can be used in exciting ways. I visited the shipping container shops in Christchurch, NZ and was ‘blown’ away by how exciting they were. They were used after the original building were destroyed in the earthquake.
https://www.google.com.au/search?q=christchurch+shipping+containers+shops&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=InVlVYiNA83d8AX41YPoAQ&ved=0CB0QsAQ&biw=1435&bih=940

Milly Withers 4:15 pm 27 May 15

Tymefor said :

At 33 I admit to not totally “getting” everything that people like at that place. So I’ll steal from my apprentices responses to some clients talking about it much like this article does.

They said to liken it more to a “modern” youthcentre. That is more for teens and young adults that want to do “stuff” that hopefully appeals to the broader community. But if it doesn’t they don’t care.

I’m in my mid twenties and Westside actually sounds like a really interesting space, even if it is THE SLOWEST pop up village to ever have popped. While I haven’t been down to check it out, the food vans that recently opened are at the top of my list to try this weekend. Perhaps, as Tymefor suggests, it depends on your generation.

Kudos to the ACT Government for trying something new and culturally innovative. For the amount of cash that has been spent already, my goodness I hope they can pull it off.

dungfungus 4:12 pm 27 May 15

Tymefor said :

Most of the events and action happens at nights there. Much like in the pictures you took in Singapore. Closer to and on the days of actual events there are hundreds of people using that space…. once again just like in Singapore….

The colab they did with Nat Cap the other weekend was hugely successful with thousands using the space and the events spilling into the carpark. Futuresessions was good from what I heard, couldn’t make it to that. There are bootcamps in the mornings and home brew beer festivals in the arvos lol. Do you know anybody with kids that dance?? then they would be able to tell you about the Aus dance week held there in April

The venders (rent) that have finally managed to open should, Hopefully, pretty much cover the cost of opening the place. If the markets end up working there that should also bring in a little extra to cover the cost aswell

EVERY long weekend there have been successful events held there. Maybe go check out ACT JAM 2015 which is being held there Q’s b’day weekend. rather than strolling around in the middle of the day during school holidays lol.

I worry how old a lot of the commenters are beginning to sound on riot.

At 33 I admit to not totally “getting” everything that people like at that place. So I’ll steal from my apprentices responses to some clients talking about it much like this article does.

They said to liken it more to a “modern” youthcentre. That is more for teens and young adults that want to do “stuff” that hopefully appeals to the broader community. But if it doesn’t they don’t care.

A winter night in Singapore is balmy at worst.
In Canberra? About 5 degrees and falling.
I find it hard to believe people are going there at night at this time of year but I accept your word.

rosscoact 3:49 pm 27 May 15

Tymefor said :

I worry how old a lot of the commenters are beginning to sound on riot.

At 33 I admit to not totally “getting” everything that people like at that place. So I’ll steal from my apprentices responses to some clients talking about it much like this article does.

They said to liken it more to a “modern” youthcentre. That is more for teens and young adults that want to do “stuff” that hopefully appeals to the broader community. But if it doesn’t they don’t care.

“…beginning to sound……”?

The Riot Act is often the digital equivalent of yelling “get off my lawn!”

Tymefor 3:04 pm 27 May 15

Most of the events and action happens at nights there. Much like in the pictures you took in Singapore. Closer to and on the days of actual events there are hundreds of people using that space…. once again just like in Singapore….

The colab they did with Nat Cap the other weekend was hugely successful with thousands using the space and the events spilling into the carpark. Futuresessions was good from what I heard, couldn’t make it to that. There are bootcamps in the mornings and home brew beer festivals in the arvos lol. Do you know anybody with kids that dance?? then they would be able to tell you about the Aus dance week held there in April

The venders (rent) that have finally managed to open should, Hopefully, pretty much cover the cost of opening the place. If the markets end up working there that should also bring in a little extra to cover the cost aswell

EVERY long weekend there have been successful events held there. Maybe go check out ACT JAM 2015 which is being held there Q’s b’day weekend. rather than strolling around in the middle of the day during school holidays lol.

I worry how old a lot of the commenters are beginning to sound on riot. At 33 I admit to not totally “getting” everything that people like at that place. So I’ll steal from my apprentices responses to some clients talking about it much like this article does.

They said to liken it more to a “modern” youthcentre. That is more for teens and young adults that want to do “stuff” that hopefully appeals to the broader community. But if it doesn’t they don’t care.

dungfungus 3:03 pm 27 May 15

And we all thought Kate had lost it when she built a futsal slab there last century.

vintage123 2:14 pm 27 May 15

Mysteryman said :

vintage123 said :

Why on earth would someone use shipping containers as a base for building? Firstly, they are not cheap, or environmentally friendly and always require modification, which is always expensive.

That’s not even close to true. They are cheap. VERY cheap. Yes, modification is required, but it is not “always expensive”. A full size house can be built with shipping containers for somewhere between a quarter and half the cost of standard construction – and it doesn’t even look like it was made from shipping containers.

vintage123 said :

Once modified they lose a lot of their inherent transportation quality in which case they need to be re engineered. Any way you skin this, what appeared as a speedy, basic, affordable, simplistic solution to building has resulted in an unapproved, unengineered, costly, untransportable, unusable, inhabitable, unsightly was of money.

In the context of the “pop-up” Westside Action Park, you’re absolutely right. The use of shipping containers should have made the whole project fast, simple, and cheap. But in true ACT Government fashion, it has been none of those things. To make matters worse, it’s ugly. Very ugly.

Like Paul, I ventured down there one midday in April to see what it was all about. I found the place almost abandoned. I wandered around for 5 mins and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was supposed to be, or what one is supposed to do there. There was nobody around, and the place honestly looked like it had been forgotten about, and left in a less-than-half-completed state. I went online with my phone from the carpark to try and find some information about Westside Action Park, but there was nothing useful to be found.

So far it seems like a giant waste of money. A giant, disappointing waste.

I am sure you are aware I was a very successful property developer in a past life. So I do know a thing or two about building and the associated costs. As for engineering, yeah, I have a bit of experience on that too. I know a hundred ways of building something the size and function of a shipping container for half its price. The actual design of a shipping container does not even comply with BCA. Once you add manpower to convert one to habitable following the BCA process, you will find an A grade container (6k) turns into a 60k single door, single window, dark, mouldy, low ceiling box.

Mysteryman 1:31 pm 27 May 15

vintage123 said :

Why on earth would someone use shipping containers as a base for building? Firstly, they are not cheap, or environmentally friendly and always require modification, which is always expensive.

That’s not even close to true. They are cheap. VERY cheap. Yes, modification is required, but it is not “always expensive”. A full size house can be built with shipping containers for somewhere between a quarter and half the cost of standard construction – and it doesn’t even look like it was made from shipping containers.

vintage123 said :

Once modified they lose a lot of their inherent transportation quality in which case they need to be re engineered. Any way you skin this, what appeared as a speedy, basic, affordable, simplistic solution to building has resulted in an unapproved, unengineered, costly, untransportable, unusable, inhabitable, unsightly was of money.

In the context of the “pop-up” Westside Action Park, you’re absolutely right. The use of shipping containers should have made the whole project fast, simple, and cheap. But in true ACT Government fashion, it has been none of those things. To make matters worse, it’s ugly. Very ugly.

Like Paul, I ventured down there one midday in April to see what it was all about. I found the place almost abandoned. I wandered around for 5 mins and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was supposed to be, or what one is supposed to do there. There was nobody around, and the place honestly looked like it had been forgotten about, and left in a less-than-half-completed state. I went online with my phone from the carpark to try and find some information about Westside Action Park, but there was nothing useful to be found.

So far it seems like a giant waste of money. A giant, disappointing waste.

rosscoact 1:28 pm 27 May 15

I would like to say ‘Great idea, abysmal execution’ because I’m happy enough to criticise without really knowing the reasons behind the apparent lack of ability to execute a simple project.

Perhaps we could get the Christchurch people over to help? A boatload of Maori’s and getting out of the road can solve most things.

GardeningGirl 12:22 pm 27 May 15

“Whether you agree with this initiative or not, many – myself included – are stunned that this million dollar so-called pop-up centre is yet to fully pop-up.”
Is it still a pop-up when it takes so long? Or can there be a category for it in the Guinness Book of Records?

vintage123 12:07 pm 27 May 15

It looks hideous. Why on earth would someone use shipping containers as a base for building? Firstly, they are not cheap, or environmentally friendly and always require modification, which is always expensive. Once modified they lose a lot of their inherent transportation quality in which case they need to be re engineered. Any way you skin this, what appeared as a speedy, basic, affordable, simplistic solution to building has resulted in an unapproved, unengineered, costly, untransportable, unusable, inhabitable, unsightly was of money.

Holden Caulfield 10:40 am 27 May 15

I’ve only been to Westside once, during Art Not Apart festival. It seemed to be working pretty well then, when there was lots of other activity.

However, the rooftop bar, or whatever you want to call it, has a pretty major design flaw. The best viewing access from the top is looking towards Parliament House. Sadly that view has been blocked out by the bar. Yes, really, the best aspect has been blocked out.

Worse, the views that are left are not s good as you might hope. So the loss of the view towards the Hill is further impounded.

Facepalm.

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