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Government must prioritize architects in cultural development plans, says NT chapter president

The president of the Northern Territory chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, Andrew Broffman, has welcomed the NT government’s 2017 budget announcement that it will invest in cultural and urban design projects that it hopes will stimulate the territory’s economy. One of five projects announced by the government was a $100 million investment in the rejuvenation of Darwin’s CBD, including the construction of a fine arts gallery and the launch of a design tender for a second, $50 million territory history museum. Other projects include $50 million for a National Indigenous Art Gallery in Alice Springs. Broffman has cautioned, however, that architects should be included in the planning process from an early stage and that good design decisions must not be rushed for the sake of political expediency.

Announcing the $100 million renewal project, NT chief minister Michael Gunner said that “Darwin is the capital of north Australia and we must invest in it to provide a sense of significance. To do that we need to revitalize our CBD which has become tired.”

Three main projects have been marked as priorities for the Darwin CBD renewal, which includes the demolition of the Chan Building and the construction of a controversial fine arts gallery on the site.

The government said that all of the major projects outlined in its announcement of the development of Darwin’s CBD will begin during its current term. In response, Broffman said that “decisions will by necessity take time, and may indeed span government terms. We urge the Northern Territory Government to allow the time necessary to craft these projects into truly wonderful contributions to our urban and regional places.”

The NT unveilied designs for a fine arts gallery on the site of the Chan Building in 2015 by DKJ Projects Architecture and Fender Katsalidis Mirams. The government had set aside $18.5 million in the 2015 budget for the planning and construction of the gallery.

The art gallery design for the Chan Building site unveiled in 2015 by DKJ Projects Architecture and Fender Katsalidis Mirams.

The art gallery design for the Chan Building site unveiled in 2015 by DKJ Projects Architecture and Fender Katsalidis Mirams.

Image: NT Government

At the time, Fender Katsalidis Mirams founding director Rob Mirams told ArchitectureAU that “Darwin currently has no cultural centre in its CBD,” which “presented a perfect opportunity for an iconic, cultural building for Darwin.” The design, with high ceilings and a glazed atrium, was guided by references to cathedrals. “Our view about museums and galleries is they’ve become the new cathedrals of modern society,” Mirams said. “the new addition to the building being a large circulation volume is also somewhat cathedral-like in its vertical proportions and will be designed to inspire people to interact with the gallery.”

NT government architect Lawrence Nield flagged his concerns at the time over the viability of the new museum. “I made my view clear to the government about issues of cost and design of the redevelopment,” Nield told the ABC in April 2016.

“These important projects offer great opportunities for locally engaged design services and building procurement processes,” said Broffman in a statement this week. “As part of this we believe that there would be benefit in a roundtable, drawing upon local knowledge and past experiences to discuss some of the successes and failures of strategies used in the development of cultural facilities.”

The second part of the $100 million package for Darwin involves collaborating with Charles Darwin University to consider options to move facilities closer to the CBD along with some student housing. Gunner said, “having students in the CBD has brought the city to life in other areas, including Melbourne and Hobart.”

The last major part of the plan is a $50 million allocation for a new Museum of the Northern Territory in the historic Old Hospital site. A design tender is expected to be launched in June.

Elsewhere in the territory, the government has announced plans to spend $50 million for a National Indigenous Art Gallery in Alice Springs, a $20 million urban renewal program in the Alice Springs city centre, investments in the Katherine region, $100 million for a ship lift and marine business park in Darwin and funding for a feasability study into a mining and processing facility at Tennant Creek.

In his announcement, Gunner also said that the territory government would seek additional funding through the federal government’s City Deals program, which encourages local governments to identify infrastructure and development projects for state, federal and private funding. The initial group of City Deals included investment packages that are funding the relocation of the University of Tasmania’s Launceston campus and the construction of a Cox Architecture-designed stadium in Townsville and infrastructure to support the newly announced Badgerys Creek airport in West Sydney.

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