Rant: The Tragedy of Kingston Foreshore

by The Editor

We were slightly bemused when reading an article by Catherine Carter in this week’s City News stating ‘Kingston Foreshore is exactly what Canberra needs’.  Ms Carter is the ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia, and is perhaps heavily vested in broadly owned developments such as the Foreshore.  What a shame the entire development is in fact a wasteland of empty streets and architecturally stunted structures.

If this is really what Canberra needs, we are destined to maintain our reputation of a city without a soul.  As proud residents we feel justified in raises a few issues, so allow us to go on.

Image: compassprojects.net

In the mid-Nineties the Foreshore was Canberra’s most exciting project.  With the housing boom still six or seven years away, the notion of for the first time having residential buildings sitting on the waters of Lake Burley Griffin represented a unique opportunity. The Land Development Agency was handed custody of this unique site.  It remained to be seen how the commercial, residential and community issues would be balanced.  Sadly, we copped the Waterfront apartment complex – a visually inert building somehow managing to be completely forgetful while absolutely dominating the lake’s shore and minimising public space.  A secondary insult is struck via turning its back on the cultural centre (the Old Bus Depot Markets and the Glassworks) with an entirely dull façade.  It’s almost impossible to believe one of the principal architects, PTW Group, designed the ‘Water Cube‘ in Beijing – a structure that received worldwide recognition.  Well, maybe not – they are also responsible for the much derided ‘Toaster’ at Circular Quay.

Instead, the Waterfront represented the first of the crimes for the apartments down Kingston way.  You barely have to cross the road in order to discover a dozen more.  Keep in mind there is almost no through traffic to support commercial enterprises that may contribute to any potential sense of community or atmosphere.  Tumbleweeds would not be out of place in this so-called centre of sophistication and culture.

Image: domain.com.au

One can only wonder how an otherwise excellent restaurant such as Wild Duck can maintain a viable business in the complete absence of foot traffic.  The lack of consolidated and focused business strategy for the Foreshore means anyone bold enough to open a business on the low side of Wentworth Avenue is very much on their own.  The establishment in Kingston of the Milkbar Collective, which Ms Carter highlighted as indicative of the ‘energy’ of the Foreshore are in fact nowhere close to the cultural vacuum so enthusiastically endorsed by the author, rather Milkbar has found itself a space in Green Square, in fact one of the oldest parts of our city.

The historic buildings, namely the old Power House-turned-Glassworks and the Fitters’ Workshop may ‘retain the linkages to our past’ however have no connection to the rest of the concrete edifices built in recent years, and link much more clearly to the adjacent Telopea and Bowen Parks.  In fact, the last vestiges of The Foreshore as a semi-industrial area connected more closely to Fyshwick reside in the ACTEW Substation at the Eastern end of the development.  Such an eyesore makes residing in the multi-million dollar single dwellings on Dawes Street a curious choice to reside – a Sydney Harbour vista it ain’t.

Art, Not Apart at New Acton, 2012.

The abject failure of Kingston Foreshore is particularly striking when visiting the Efkarpidis’ excellent development at the opposite end on the opposite side of the lake.  Their Molonglo Group has built the stunning New Acton precinct on the edge of the ANU.  Without the gift of waterfront location, New Acton has given Canberra three multi-award winning architectural projects (Nishi, the ApARTments and New Acton East) that respect their prominent position to the west of the city.

Image: realcommercial.com.au

The Art, Not Apart mini-festival last week was an absolute delight, demonstrating the strong desire by the developers of New Acton to cement a spot as a cultural precinct – and one that in only five years has left the Kingston Foreshore for dead.  Brilliant use of the street–level, where both residents and visitors are encouraged to wine, dine, indulge, relax and engage with restaurants, artworks, gardens and theatres, sets a standard for which Canberrans should be grateful.

Image: domain.com.au

While we can concede the City News article may be a result of the need to fill column inches (God knows we recognise that pain) certainly such articles do little to promote good outcomes for valuable parcels of land that become affordable for the few.  With Molonglo Group rumoured to be the future developers of Dairy Flat in a manner similar to New Acton, it looks as though the Kingston Foreshore could end up a bloated white elephant in comparison.

More’s the pity.