Sunday, April 15, 2007

Canberra Rebuilt

Former Prime Minister and Cabinet building being demolished at 3–5 National Circuit, Barton. Photo 14 April 2007 by Tom WorthingtonA buildings boom is going on in Canberra at the moment. Many of the government buildings I worked in and visited are being demolished for new privately owned offices to be rented to the government. One of the latest to go is 3–5 National Circuit, Barton, which housed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I took a quick snap.

You might think there would be calls for these historic buildings to be retained. But like the recently demolished Cameron Offices , these buildings are from the 1970s and coincided with the Brutalist period in architecture . The buildings are raw concrete boxes up on stilts, with flat grooves. They were ugly to look at, the roofs leaked and the services were inadequate. The grey walls were relieved only by some patches of bright colors, usually from fiberglass which has now weathered to a milky white.

Some in the architectural profession have argued for the retention of these buildings and part of Cameron Offices will be retained. But I don't think that anyone who worked in the buildings will miss them. Perhaps Cameron Offices should be stripped of the metal deck roof and other modifications added to try and make it livable and be turned into an architectural school, to remind that profession that buildings are not just artistic statements: they have to actually work.

The replacements buildings, such as ABS House, on the outside are bland shiny, cubic metal and glass clad boxes. But on the inside they are much more comfortable and efficient than the old buildings. Canberra is starting to look like a generic business park, which could be anywhere in the world.

There are other alternatives, such as Australian Ethical Investment's new environmentally friendly office in Canberra. This is a a low rise office building retrofitted with energy saving features. Unfortunately many of the energy saving features, which make the building interesting had to be hidden around the back to satisfy the local rules.

NICTA Building under construction in Canberra. Photo by Tom Worthington 14 April 2007Another alternative is the new
National ICT Australia (NICTA) Building. This is several glass boxes, but interestingly arranged with a sloped roof on top. It is being built on London Circuit in Canberra City 8,000 of the 20,000 square metre space will be for NICTA and related startups. While it has the sloping roof, it is not quite the design I suggested.

UniLodge@ANU Student Accommodation in CanberraThe NICTA Building is adjacent to the eastern edge of the Australian National University (ANU) campus. This area, called the
"ANU City West Precinct", "ANU City West Integration Precinct", or "The Exchange" has its own Master Plan and is being developed with a mix of office buildings for technology companies, university offices, student accommodation and entertainment. The first new building is UniLodge@ANU, providing student accommodation and some retail services. It avoids the shiny glass box look.

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