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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.


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Westside wonder
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Holden Caulfield 4:14 pm 02 Jun 15

vintage123 said :

Was there anything that recorded your attendance? I am just wondering how they are tracking visitor numbers.

Not that I could see. There was a person handing out a brochure/guide as we walked in, but he didn’t appear to have a mechanised counter or anything like that.

vintage123 2:55 pm 02 Jun 15

Holden Caulfield said :

I went again on the weekend. I think the idea of using this otherwise dead space by the lake is to be applauded, but it’s a summer venue.

On the weekend it was cold and the food outlets that were open had sold out of a lot of their menu options (I was there a bit after 12:30pm).

I’m not sure if all the construction is finished, but there’s still a few barriers up and it could be mistaken for a building site if you didn’t already know Westside existed.

Mostly, it’s just too cold at this time of year and it’s not a great location, so I can’t see it doing too well until the weather warms up.

Was there anything that recorded your attendance? I am just wondering how they are tracking visitor numbers.

Holden Caulfield 1:03 pm 02 Jun 15

I went again on the weekend. I think the idea of using this otherwise dead space by the lake is to be applauded, but it’s a summer venue.

On the weekend it was cold and the food outlets that were open had sold out of a lot of their menu options (I was there a bit after 12:30pm).

I’m not sure if all the construction is finished, but there’s still a few barriers up and it could be mistaken for a building site if you didn’t already know Westside existed.

Mostly, it’s just too cold at this time of year and it’s not a great location, so I can’t see it doing too well until the weather warms up.

dungfungus 9:28 am 02 Jun 15

Andrew Barr was just on ABC Radio 666 defending the “outstanding success” that Westside has delivered. He even hinted that it may be there for a long time.
He admitted that the concept was focused on the under 50’s.
Shame he didn’t say all this before.

dungfungus 3:43 pm 01 Jun 15

vintage123 said :

One of the biggest stumbling blocks my company uncovered when we investigated usage of used shipping containers was the existence of chemical residue within the wooden floors as a result of fumigation during the containers shipping existence.

We found it almost impossible to guarantee safety unless the container was brand new and manufactured in Australia. We also found whilst the floor could be replaced it was not cost effective.

I wonder if the containers used at Westside have been certified safe and free of fumigation residue?

McCabe is on his way there now.

vintage123 3:23 pm 01 Jun 15

One of the biggest stumbling blocks my company uncovered when we investigated usage of used shipping containers was the existence of chemical residue within the wooden floors as a result of fumigation during the containers shipping existence.

We found it almost impossible to guarantee safety unless the container was brand new and manufactured in Australia. We also found whilst the floor could be replaced it was not cost effective.

I wonder if the containers used at Westside have been certified safe and free of fumigation residue?

dungfungus 12:13 pm 01 Jun 15

Ezy said :

timesup said :

I’d go, but there is no wheelchair access except for the ground floor. Let me know how the rooftop bar is.

I went there to check it out for the first time on Saturday during the day – I walked up to the top level and it looks as though there is space for a lift. Wether this is going to be part of the future plan, or it was only used for carrying things up during construction, I am not sure.

For me, the precinct feels a bit lost and it certainly isn’t something that you would go out of your way to visit the way it is now. I really feel sorry for the vendors who have set themselves up here – for it to be the way it is (incomplete) at the start of the coldest months in Canberra, isn’t going to do them any favours. I think the real success of this venue will be when it hosts events and gives people a reason to visit the site.

I really hope something happens where it turns around and becomes a success.

A good gust of wind could turn it around.

Ezy 8:43 am 01 Jun 15

timesup said :

I’d go, but there is no wheelchair access except for the ground floor. Let me know how the rooftop bar is.

I went there to check it out for the first time on Saturday during the day – I walked up to the top level and it looks as though there is space for a lift. Wether this is going to be part of the future plan, or it was only used for carrying things up during construction, I am not sure.

For me, the precinct feels a bit lost and it certainly isn’t something that you would go out of your way to visit the way it is now. I really feel sorry for the vendors who have set themselves up here – for it to be the way it is (incomplete) at the start of the coldest months in Canberra, isn’t going to do them any favours. I think the real success of this venue will be when it hosts events and gives people a reason to visit the site.

I really hope something happens where it turns around and becomes a success.

rubaiyat 5:56 pm 31 May 15

karmatraveller said :

Architects were Cox Architecture, I’d say they’re pretty competent based on their portfolio of previous works.

Good one mate.

It is getting hard to get past the heavy handed censoring here.

I’ll try again. Cox and Associates were lambasted by their fellow architects for the Star Casino in Sydney and I really doubt this one is going in their portfolio.

timesup 5:34 pm 31 May 15

I’d go, but there is no wheelchair access except for the ground floor. Let me know how the rooftop bar is.

dungfungus 5:26 pm 30 May 15

karmatraveller said :

rubaiyat said :

rosscoact said :

However in this particular instance I would have assumed that say, the structural engineering design was almost certainly done by a consultant. And the engineers were probably well-paid, or at least paid as well as any professional, but probably less than they themselves think they are worth.

Whenever you want a vastly overblown, poorly sited, extravagant eyesore, engineers are your go to.

Thankfully they didn’t turn to any competent architects for this job.

However we got to this position, IMHO it is poorly sited, unimaginative and gets barely any usage, even with the laughable target of “every long weekend”. Held up against every other similar pop-up it is wanting in execution, visual appeal and results.

So yes I have reluctantly joined the chorus yelling “Get your garbage off my lawn!”

Architects were Cox Architecture, I’d say they’re pretty competent based on their portfolio of previous works.

Good one mate.

No doubt about their competency but they should review the slightly incorrect timings that they quoted on industry media reports:

“Steering away from the traditional stereotype of a “quiet, clean and tidy Canberra”, designer and Cox associate Ronan Moss says the design of the space will be “real” and “grungy”.

“This starts with our use of shipping containers as the core element – allowing for flexibility of design and use, economy, and for us to create dynamic spaces which can be easily and rapidly disassembled and rebuilt in multiple locations around Canberra,” he explains.

The shipping containers, which stack up as a cost-effective building module, will contain programs such as cafes and retail. Tenants will fit out their own spaces to suit their needs.

A steel structure will then be built around these containers, and which will be erected in just three weeks. The materials will be pre-fabricated off-site, with no traditional trades expected to go through it during construction.”

karmatraveller 1:43 am 30 May 15

rubaiyat said :

rosscoact said :

However in this particular instance I would have assumed that say, the structural engineering design was almost certainly done by a consultant. And the engineers were probably well-paid, or at least paid as well as any professional, but probably less than they themselves think they are worth.

Whenever you want a vastly overblown, poorly sited, extravagant eyesore, engineers are your go to.

Thankfully they didn’t turn to any competent architects for this job.

However we got to this position, IMHO it is poorly sited, unimaginative and gets barely any usage, even with the laughable target of “every long weekend”. Held up against every other similar pop-up it is wanting in execution, visual appeal and results.

So yes I have reluctantly joined the chorus yelling “Get your garbage off my lawn!”

Architects were Cox Architecture, I’d say they’re pretty competent based on their portfolio of previous works.

Good one mate.

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