|Photography by Jeff Turnbull, left and below, and Peter Freeman, below right.|
A carpark will soon replace the Cameron Offices at Belconnen. Despite continuing efforts to demonstrate their heritage value, modern buildings are often the first to go. Peter Freeman and Graeme Trickett lament the Offices’ imminent demise. Why, they ask, does the Federal Government not follow its own guidelines.
|The Cameron Offices in Belconnen, ACT, by John Andrews, are Australia’s only examples of structuralist buildings.|
Structuralism in architecture was characterised by an understanding of buildings as integral and contributing elements in an overall urban order, rather than as separate and isolated structures.
The Offices were the first buildings constructed in the new Canberra town centre of Belconnen and the complex aimed to provide a relatively compact, pedestrian-oriented urban environment.
This complex is now considered an important part of our architectural heritage.
The whole of the Cameron Offices is listed on the Australian Commission’s Register of the National Estate. They are included in the RAIA’s Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture indicating their international significance.
Further, the RAIA is in the process of nominating nationally and internationally significant Australian architecture to the UIA (International Union of Architects). The Cameron Offices are included in the initial list of seven buildings. They are also one of only 35 Australian buildings included in the Oceania volume of World Architecture: A Critical Mosaic, a ten-volume history of 20th-century architecture.
But as architecturally accomplished as the Offices are, their cultural significance (including political, social, workplace and urban values) is even more important.
None of this seems to matter, however. More than two-thirds of the Cameron Offices are to be demolished. A 340 space, on-ground carpark is planned for the current site of the two northern office wings, while medium density housing will replace most of the southern office wings only two will be left standing. This will result in the loss of all but one of the original native landscaped courtyards; the loss of the unique structural system, where each wing was supported by its preceding office wing; and the removal of most of the Mall, with its compelling social-urban planning basis.
Why is the Federal Government sanctioning this demolition? Why does it not meet the standards it requires of others in the retention of nationally significant Australian architecture? Why does it appear unwilling to show leadership through its own property management practices? Why is the Federal Government unwilling to maintain and adapt a heritage place, listed on its own Register of the National Estate, especially when it has been demonstrated that the buildings could be feasibly and prudently adapted to suit the existing use or another similar use?
We believe that it is time the Federal Government took the lead from other governments such as that of the Netherlands which treat their significant International Style architecture as a marketable cultural asset, worthy of retention and celebration.
Peter Freeman and Graeme Trickett are on the RAIA ACT Chapter Heritage Committee