A Fresh Canvas for Canberra

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Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
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It’s true that beauty is a matter of taste. 

And yet, any visitor to Canberra who bar hops along the Kingston Foreshore, takes in the art at the National Gallery of Australia or browses the shops along Lonsdale Street will see that people reward good design.  They reward it with their patronage and they reward it with their wallets.

We reward good design because it makes us feel good. The development industry instinctively understands this better than most – because developers are in the business of designing and constructing properties that people want to buy, rent or simply visit. Properties that are unattractive and uninspiring just won’t sell.

While the Property Council does not set standards for design and aesthetics, we certainly recognise and reward excellence in building design – by supporting the Urban Design Awards of Australia, and by hosting our own annual awards, to cite just two examples.

Good design is about more than aesthetics. It also delivers excellent environmental outcomes, enhances liveability and ensures long-term resilience.

When we get it right, we leave a legacy for future generations. Canberra sparkles with spectacular buildings – from well-loved jewels such as the Australian War Memorial and Old Parliament House, to hidden gems such as the RM Hope Building on National Circuit.

New buildings continue to raise the bar on good design. The National Arboretum was recently honoured by the Australian Institute of Architects with the ‘Canberra Medallion’ for transforming a devastated site into a major education, research and recreation venue. The buildings at the National Arboretum that now stand sentinel over Canberra truly make the spirit soar.

We do, however, need to adapt our buildings to meet our changing needs. After all, buildings are made for people. Juliana House in Woden, a discarded office transformed into a vibrant hotel, is just one example.

We must also recognise when buildings no longer meet our needs.  The 1950s public housing developments along Northbourne Avenue, which provide an unsightly and uninspiring introduction for visitors to the National Capital, are prime examples. In these cases, environmental outcomes are so poor, maintenance so costly, and the land so underutilised that the best solution is to start again.

The design of the Northbourne Flats was informed by Bauhaus design, and the principle of Bauhaus is that ‘form follows function’. When our buildings no longer live up to their function, then it’s time for us to seek a new form of beauty with a fresh canvas.

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