Stephens, David: Architects’ “implacable opposition” to demolition of Anzac Hall at War Memorial: roundup following the big reveal

David Stephens*

‘Architects’ “implacable opposition” to demolition of Anzac Hall at War Memorial: roundup following the big reveal’, Honest History, 20 November 2019

Today brings a number of items – mostly in the Canberra media – following up the announcement earlier this week of detailed plans for the Australian War Memorial’s $500 million expansion. There still seems a remarkable disconnect between the Memorial’s confident rolling out of the project and still-to-come approval processes, let alone public opposition. Meanwhile, locals follow developments. (It would be nice if the issues got more of an airing outside Canberra, too.)

First, Steve Evans in the Canberra Times reports the views of Philip Leeson, President of the ACT chapter of the Architects Institute of Australia, who is adamant that the award-winning Anzac Hall at the Memorial should remain, rather than being demolished. ‘Until the bulldozers arrive, [Anzac Hall] remains there and we would argue that it should stay there’, Leeson says. ‘It was a beautiful piece of work, a sensitive addition to the original war memorial.’ He reported that he and his fellow architects expressed ‘implacable opposition to the demolition’.

At the same time, however, Australian Design Review has an article by Online Editor, Natalie Mortimer, presenting salient features of Cox Architecture’s design for the new Anzac Hall and glazed link plus Scott Carver’s concept for the new underground entrance. The article treats opposition to the demolition of the existing Anzac Hall as if it is yesterday’s news and not a continuing concern of at least some architects.

Thirdly, Steve Evans, a journalist with international experience and a student of war memorials overseas, contributes a thoughtful piece in the Canberra Times on how the War Memorial is coming to look more and more like a museum and less and less like a memorial.

It seems to me that remembrance is a sacred, deeply emotional act and to put a huge museum near any of these sites risks detracting from the ability to reflect … The Australian War Memorial, it sometimes seems, doesn’t quite know its purpose, though its director and the Prime Minister at the unveiling of the new design would disagree.

But is it a memorial or is it a museum? It’s not easy for it to be both. The crowding around the weaponry might divert the mind from the solemness of remembrance.

Fourthly, there were letters pro and con in the Canberra Times, including one from Heritage Guardians’ Sue Wareham, who said:

AWM director Dr Nelson seems determined to build space to glorify the machinery of warfare alongside our war dead. He will probably get his way, because the general public, to whom the AWM belongs, have been ignored. One suspects that many of those to whom the memorial is dedicated would not be too impressed by such a disgraceful sham of a [consultative] process.

Finally, we bring to readers’ attention a public consultation on the expansion plans – apparently consultation has been brought forward from 2020 – to be held at 12 noon, Thursday, 28 November in the Memorial’s BAE Systems Theatre. RSVP and enquiries.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and a member of Heritage Guardians, co-ordinating a community campaign against the Memorial extensions.

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