A new Canberra revealed in 2015 ACT Architecture Awards

Forty eight entries in the Australian Institute of Architects’ 2015 ACT Architecture Awards reveal a new Canberra emerging, says prominent Australian architect and Jury Chair, Hal Guida.

‘This year confirms Canberra as a growing and dynamic place with initiatives such as the Light rail, the new Canberra International Airport terminal, and coming developments along Constitution Avenue,’ declared Guida.

‘We see a dynamic global city with serious depth in what it offers. We know the best cities compete for talent. Talent looks for a mix of great city infrastructure, a real choice of housing and a thriving public life. Well, here it is,’ says Guida.

Guida points out the entries have a combined construction value of more than a billion dollars, completed within the last 3-4 years; evidence of a vibrant construction industry representing around 5.4 per cent of GDP in Canberra in 2013/2014 (reference ACIF – Australian Construction Industry Forum)

Entries range in scale from small projects such as shading devices and home additions, to new terrace housing, apartment buildings, a new urban centre and a new swimming pool for the Chinese Embassy completed to coincide with the visit by Chinese President, Xi Jinxing in 2014.

‘Every city has its own design culture, so not surprisingly, we see a new Canberra reflected in its new buildings, spaces and places’, says Guida.

So what Canberra do we see?

‘Canberra’s always been defined by its landscape, lifestyle and climate. But in many of these projects we see a new opening to the street and a more confident sense of “civic”; embracing a new transparency with our streets and open spaces.’

Guida points to just a few projects as examples;

A new freestanding house in Crace that radically reinvents the suburban block for a client that wanted to live in the front yard to get the most from the sun and northerly view to parkland.

A row of terrace houses in O’Connor for a group of friends that chose to pool resources and expertise to design, build and finance their own apartment development with a shared north facing garden.
The NewActon development, including public open space, and the newly refurbished Pavilion that almost burnt down in 2011 that incorporates public art and landscape as a magnet for the visiting hotel market.

A single house designed for three families on a standard sized Canberra block – each with their own entry, terraces and privacy.

But Guida shares that the annual awards have a serious side, too.

‘Sure, these award entries always show Canberra’s best side,’ Guida admits, ‘they also reveal how far we have to go. Almost every project here has had to spend precious budget on space for our cars. In one case, this meant expensive underground parking that few of the residents wanted to purchase because they were 100m from bus stops or an easy bike ride to the city.’

ACT Chapter President, Andrew Wilson agrees; ‘The ACT Government is making a solid investment in better transport choice, and a suite of bold policies are needed. The new Active Transport Office is a real policy reform as well as a tool to identify new projects that provide transport choice. No city has yet succeeded in bringing transport and land use planning together in a meaningful way. Architects, their clients and contractors are the ones who make this planning real so we look forward to making this reform agenda a reality too.’

Judging is underway with the winners revealed on 20 June 2015 at QT Canberra.

In the lead up to this announcement, members of the public will have the opportunity to vote on their favourite projects of 2015 in the Australian Institute of Architects annual People’s Choice Award for the residential projects. Voting closes 15 June – wp.architecture.com.au/news-media/act-peoples-choice-award