8/47 Belconnen: High Fashion or High Risk?

by The Editor

Image: Geocon

Image: Geocon

Brutalist Architecture:

is a style of architecture which flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, spawned from the modernist architectural movement. Examples are typically very linear, fortress-like and blockish, often with a predominance of concrete construction (source: wikipedia.org)



So, what happens when a local developer proposes another concrete monolith in the Belconnen Town Centre, outsizing everything else within sight – and taller than any other building in Canberra?

Should we be afraid? Very afraid? Perhaps.

We’ve been here before.  At the peak of the building boom, a realignment of Woden’s Callam Street opened a tract of land that was soon to become Sky Plaza.  Spruiked by local identities, this was to set a new standard in apartment living.  What we got was a white elephant now painted pale purple and yellow with the aesthetic appeal of ricotta.

However, Sky Plaza is only the latest and greatest atrocity in Canberra’s sometimes dubious development landscape. These crimes are committed, while the nearby residents and local commuters live with the consequences.  There’s no turning back once a bureaucrat signs off the development application – such structures tend to be permanent.

Oh, the horror.

(Before we go on, please take time to read our recent piece on New Acton, and the efforts of local developers to create landmarks along with profits)

Image: Geocon Constructions

Image: Geocon Constructions

So, here we are looking down the barrel of a new development in Belconnen – simply known as 8/47 by Geocon Constructions.  To be honest, we have a grudging appreciation of the brutalist design that permeates through the Belconnen Town Centre.  Even the internationally renowned magazine Wallpaper* once printed a photo essay of our concrete heart, showcasing the buttresses and unapologetic concrete edifices of the north.  Artfully shot, it revealed a beautiful side of the style sometimes easily shunned.

Back to 8/47 Belconnen: The proposed design on the table for discussion looks utterly unremarkable.  A couple of design flourishes for sure, but we’re confused as to what such a building adds its surrounds – after all, truly great architecture speaks to its environment.  One only has to look to Parliament House.

Some retail on the ground floor? Sure, probably. Still, we wonder what is the direction they are heading with such a precinct?  Is it a new New Acton style, with extensive public art and hand-picked tenants, or simply like the ground floor of every other large corporate or residential tower located in city areas complete with large windows and aluminium trim. We’ve seen them everywhere and they are boring, unimaginative and typically available to anyone who will pay the rent. No vision. No strategy apart from bottom line.

Why not something as elegant as the Sydney Masonic Centre?  A wonderful interpretation of Brutalism, updated for the new century, the design takes the weight of the style’s traditional forms and seems to make it lighter than air thanks to a tapering base.

Image: flickr user - glenhsparky

Image: flickr user – glenhsparky

Simple, elegant and tasteful.  More importantly, such a design pays respect to much of the architecture that surrounds it.

The battle may already be lost on 8/47 Belconnen – this one is a long way down the track already – but here’s hoping the ACT Government maintains increased vigilance on large scale developments in Canberra.  There’s an onus upon large scale developers who choose to alter the look of our skyline and the shape of our cities to value add for the community.

If they don’t – if the community and government chooses to allow such artistically bereft structures to fluctuate – then ten years down the track when the paint begins to peel, the metal a little less shiny and the weeds begin to grow through cracks in the pavement, we will be destined to think once again, “What were they thinking?”