The National Capital Authority (NCA) has this week approved the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall and the removal of 140 trees as part of the Australian War Memorial’s (AWM) “early works” program. The NCA public consultation process resulted in a record 601 submissions from the community, of which only 3 supported the redevelopment proposal in its current form.
This rubber stamp from the NCA in the face of widespread public criticism is the third and final approval gateway for the $500 million AWM Redevelopment which has previously been sanctioned by the Parliamentary Public Works Committee, and Environment Minister Sussan Ley (under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999), despite serious expert concerns relating to heritage and other matters.
In response to the decision, #HandsOffAnzacHall campaign spokesperson and former National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, Clare Cousins said: “Australia’s regulatory framework has failed Australians at every step of this abomination of an ‘assessment’ process.
Supposedly ‘independent’ decisionmakers have been shown to be nothing more than toothless tigers dancing to the tune of their political masters.
“Expert advice on the significant negative heritage impacts to the AWM from demolishing Anzac Hall, as well as widespread community opposition, have been equally ignored.
“The Environment Minister, the Parliamentary Public Works Committee and now the NCA have together created an abysmal precedent that endangers every other piece of public architecture in this country.”
Public architecture should not be treated as a disposable commodity. Huge amounts of time, talent, money and creativity are invested in each project and in an environment of constrained budgets and with the need for dramatic action to combat climate change, this type of waste is unconscionable.
Anzac Hall was designed with care and sensitivity to the highest standards of design excellence, and this effort was recognised when it was selected above any other piece of public architecture to receive the Institute’s Sir Zelman Cowen Award. But more than this, public architecture is not just bricks and mortar – it is memories, moments and experiences that are irreplaceable.
Anzac Hall is a building that forms an integral part of the War Memorial site itself, whose sacred and special significance is the sum of all its parts. It is now also a building that holds two decades’ worth of precious experiences where countless veterans, school children, families and their visitors have engaged in shared remembrance.
The AWM Redevelopment has become a case study exposing the enormous failings in Australia’s heritage protection framework and processes. The need for reform is clear and urgent to preserve the nation’s heritage into the future.
As a general principle, the Institute supports large-scale new public developments – this is, after all, a major source of work for many of our members. What we do not support however are deliberate, flagrant breaches of due process, failures to genuinely consult the community and attempts to mislead people, dismiss out of hand or misrepresent community views.
So, while the opportunities to make our voices heard on the demolition of Anzac Hall are almost over with the bulldozers approved and construction workers circling, the deep concerns we hold about the precedent this failed process sets going forward remain.
Consistent with our mission the Institute will continue its advocacy on behalf of members to see processes strengthened, hold decision-makers to account and better protect the enduring value of architecture in line with our duty to act in the interests of the profession as a whole. This includes upholding commonly accepted principles, including the protection of heritage sites, that form part of our responsibility to the community.
We will continue to work tirelessly to make our voices heard and we will not stay silent.