Weirick, James: Submission to the National Capital Authority: Australian War Memorial Redevelopment – Main Works Packages

James Weirick*

‘Submission to the National Capital Authority: Australian War Memorial Redevelopment – Main Works Packages’, Honest History, 26 September 2021

This was one of 587 submissions to the NCA on the Australian War Memorial Main Works. The Authority expects to release its consultation report before the end of October.

The Authority’s job is to assess whether the works are consistent with the National Capital Plan. In practice, this has meant waving projects through on the basis that they are ‘not inconsistent’ with the Plan. This was the case with the Memorial Early Works.

Honest History and Heritage Guardians have followed the progress of the Memorial project for almost three years. We believe Professor Weirick has provided an expert and devastating critique. He focusses sharply, as the NCA will, on where the Memorial works fail to meet or to comply with Objectives and Planning Principles in the National Capital Plan, that is, on aspects of the works that are ‘inconsistent with’ the Plan.

Professor Weirick’s submission is reproduced here with his permission. The submission has been reformatted in some minor respects and a summary has been provided. Paragraph numbers have been inserted. The changes have been cleared by Professor Weirick.

Professor Weirick has also provided his compilation of relevant photographs and renderings from the material lodged by the Memorial and its architects. This compilation was accessed from the Memorial’s website on 10 September 2021.

David Stephens, convener, Heritage Guardians

***

Summary of the submission

The War Memorial and its setting on Anzac Parade are profound manifestations of Australian history and culture. We must not besmirch this vision. (See paras 5-10 in the submission proper – below)

Main Works Package 1 – New Southern Entrance

Viewed along the Land Axis from New Parliament House to Anzac Parade, the voids and slots in the southern façade of the underground complex (called ‘the bladed wall’ by the architects and the AWM) will weaken and confuse the base of the Memorial and its stepped, pyramidal massing. The strong, noble form of the Memorial will rest on a weak base. (Para 11; see also Professor Weirick’s compilation of photographs)

The evocative presence of the Memorial at the foot of Mount Ainslie, subliminally keyed to the bush ethos of Australia and the Anzac landing place below the heights of Gallipoli, will be undercut and compromised for ever. (Para 11)

Closer to the Memorial, the extent to which the retaining wall, voids, slots, stelae and steps of the underground complex are pushed south along the Land Axis, together with the height of the vertical retaining wall and central steps, will mean that, from the Stone of Remembrance, almost nothing will be seen of the Memorial and its Hall of Memory. (Para 12)

The drawings and renders in the AWM’s and architects’ documentation provide in a number of respects a misleading impression of the southern perspective on the works and do not meet accepted architectural standards. (Paras 13-18; see also Professor Weirick’s compilation of photographs)

The setting of the Memorial at the head of Anzac Parade is an essential part of the landscape character of Canberra, the National Capital. The proposed New Southern Entrance will not maintain and enhance this character, it will destroy and diminish it. (Paras 19-20)

The amphitheatre-like setting of the War Memorial at the head of Anzac Parade is a superb landscape. It should not be destroyed. But the AWM proposes a large underground complex topped by a treeless plaza and complete reshaping of the landform stretching down to Anzac Parade. (Paras 21-26)

Instead of the embracing form of the current amphitheatre, mass excavations and earthworks are planned to reshape the landform into a rectangular slot of space. Gone will be any engagement with the larger landscape of Canberra and all that it symbolises and evokes. (Paras 26-27)

The existing entrance to the Memorial is one of the most substantial, most significant works of architecture in Canberra. (Para 29)

The proposed underground entry of the New Southern Entrance weakens, vitiates the perfectly calibrated power of the existing entry by making it possible for the visitor to miss the commemorative heart of the building altogether. (Para 32)

The existing entrance will be retained, but it should not have to compete with an easy path below. It will have to be approached across a new paved plaza, vastly expanded from the existing condition, treeless, extremely hot in Canberra’s long summers, exposed in winter – in other words, designed to be uninviting. (Para 33)

If the underground entrance complex is built, the existing entrance will be closed to the public for security and budgetary reasons in due course, just as the grassed ramps of New Parliament House have been closed. (Para 34)

The Memorial should work with its existing entrance, perhaps with a new means of universal access, small-scale, set within the front façade massing elements. It does not need a new underground complex. (Para 37)

In summary, the New Southern Entrance is not necessary. It is over-designed, destructive of the all-important entry sequence for visitors and, in relation to actual visitor numbers, unnecessary. (Paras 36,  39)

Main Works Package 2 – Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant

How is it possible that we have three architectural practices designing three different schemes around the Memorial building? And possibly a fourth practice still to come. (Paras 45-46)

Nowhere in the documentation of the redevelopment has the Memorial provided a clear, comprehensive account of the design procurement process. There are many gaps and deficiencies in the history of the project. (Paras 47-51)

There is a case for expanding the Bean Building so all administrative, support and research functions of the War Memorial can be moved out of the Main Building, freeing space within it for new and expanded museum displays. (Para 55)

However, the way in which the Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant is proposed to spread across the eastern flank of the Main Building and take out the space around the trees of this open woodland, would ‘suburbanise’ the setting of the Memorial, filling it with a clutter of elements, destroying its landscape character for ever. (Paras 56-66)

Main Works Package 3 – Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall

The Memorial has not provided a clear, comprehensive account of the design procurement process for the project. So, there is no assurance that the design of the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall is the best we can do. In fact, there is a strong indication that it is not, particularly based on the Design Jurors’ report. (Paras 71-75)

The valour and sacrifice of recent years is important, but it must be seen in relation to that of esrlier years. Representation of recent operations can be intense and informative, but it must be modest in relation to the horrific price we paid in lives for victory in World War I and defence of our shores in World War II. (Paras 76-80)

The Memorial has further justified the scale of the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall by the need to display a large number of large objects. Once again, this objective must be placed in proportion. (Paras 81-83)

The program for the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall set by the Memorial is too big for what needs to be displayed and too big in relation to the Main Building as a work of architecture. The scale of the Main Building is set by the Roll of Honour, the wall space needed for the names of all who have died for Australia. The scale of the redevelopment is set by a desire to display large-scale weapons of war. This is wrong. (Para 84)

There is a simple way to right this wrong. Reduce the scale of the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall. There is a simple way to do this, eliminate the Glazed Link. (Para 85)

As an architectural element, the Glazed Link is unacceptable. It smothers, engulfs the great work of Emil Sodersteen and John Crust. It smothers, engulfs the semi-circular apse that resolves the spiritual, cruciform plan of the Sodersteen/Crust building. It smothers, engulfs the sculptural composition of masses that rise from the apse and its flanking transepts. (Para 86)

The Glazed Link is also roofed in a highly problematic material – not glass but ETFE membrane, a lightweight fabric made from Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a fluorine-based plastic. This is not the material for a national institution built for the ages. Furthermore, it burns. (Para 87)

Even if it survives the inevitable bushfire hazards of Canberra, the Glazed Link will be subject to formidable heat build-up, requiring a great deal of air conditioning. (Para 88)

The need for performance glass in the Glazed Link also suggests that the level of transparency indicated in the architectural renders will not be achieved. The Glazed Link will not be an ethereal element in the landscape, with the sandstone walls of the Sodersteen/Crust building still visible; it will be a hulking mass, battleship grey if not black. (Para 89)

All these problems will be avoided if the Glazed Link is not built and connection from the Main Building to the New Anzac Hall is reduced to a narrow bridge or corridor, as in the original Anzac Hall. This will create the opportunity for a beautiful external environment of landscaped courtyards and re-establish the architectural presence of the Sodersteen/Crust building in the vista from the top of Mount Ainslie. (Para 90)

Eliminating the glass link, with its high air conditioning demand, will also significantly reduce the capacity needed in the Central Energy Plant, allowing a reduction in its size near the Bean Building. (Para 91)

The New Anzac Hall is almost bound to leak, given it will have a roof with 17 box gutters. This is problematic for a museum. (Para 92)

In summary, the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall as currently proposed is out of scale with the Main Building, connected to it in a totally unacceptable way with a Glazed Link that smothers and engulfs it and destroys the integrity of the spiritual, cruciform plan of the Sodersteen/Crust composition seen from the summit of Mount Ainslie. Furthermore, the Glazed Link is highly problematic in its materiality, environmental performance and immediate visual presence. (Para 93)

Conclusion

The NCA should direct the Memorial to modify the project in a substantial way, reducing its scale and scope, and supported by a new, principled design process. The Memorial must not be ruined for ever by over-development. (Paras 95-96)

The inauguration of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ANZAC Day 1929 (Louis McCubbin 1929/AWM)

Recommendations contained in the submission

Main Works Package 1 – New Southern Entrance (Para 40)

In failing to meet Objectives 4 & 5 and comply with Planning Principle 2.4.2(c) of the National Capital Plan, the proposed New Southern Entrance to the Australian War Memorial should not be approved.

To the extent that bulk excavation to the front of the War Memorial has commenced under the Early Works approval issued on 7 June 2021 (WA102272), it should be halted and the amphitheatre form of the landscape setting at the head of Anzac Parade restored to its original condition, along with reinstatement of any architectural elements and monuments that have been removed for these works, such as the front steps of the War Memorial and the Stone of Remembrance.

New mature trees should be planted on the alignment of the ones removed to re-make the superb landscape space that has been the setting of memorable, moving ceremonies for decades.

Main Works Package 2 – Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant (Para 66)

In failing to meet Objectives 4 & 5 and comply with Planning Principle 2.4.2(j) of the National Capital Plan, the proposed Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant should not be approved.

Expansion of the Bean Building can be supported for the space it will free up in the Main Building for new and expanded museum displays. However, extending the Bean Building to the south, filling the space between it and Poppy’s Restaurant, is wrong. A whole new approach is needed. The building should be expanded to the north towards Treloar Crescent.

The large Central Energy Plant currently proposed for this part of the site, should be miniaturised, camouflaged and moved into a landscape setting so it cannot be seen.

Main Works Package 3 – Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall (Para 94)

In failing to comply with Planning Principles 2.4.2(c) & 2.4.2(j) of the National Capital Plan, the proposed Glazed Link/Anzac Hall should not be approved.

It may be possible to proceed with the New Anzac Hall if the Glazed Link is deleted from the project, thereby reducing the excessive scale of the extension and greatly improving its relationship with the rear of the AWM Main Building.

To proceed along these lines, the project needs to be stopped at this stage, reconsidered, redesigned and resubmitted.

The submission proper

Main Works Package 1 – New Southern Entrance

1. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Main Works Packages of the development currently proposed for the Australian War Memorial (Block 3 Section 39, ACT).

2. In the opening address of the public information session for Main Works Package 1 – New Southern Entrance held at the National Library of Australia on 10 August 2021, Ms Sally Barnes, Chief Executive of the National Capital Authority made the following statements, inter alia:

We know this is one of the most significant developments in the National Area for a long time. This will one of the most significant changes to the Land Axis that we have seen for many, many, many years. So what we need to make sure is that we get this right, that we get the input on the works that are proposed …

Our job, and your job should you help us with the work, is to make sure that what’s being put forward is in line with what the Griffins’ vision would have been for this area in terms of the landscape and how it sits within the Capital (Video recording, 10 August 2021, 01:33-01:56; 02:26-02:41 segments – posted at https://www.nca.gov.au/consultations/awm, accessed 10 September 2021).

3. I trust these statements were made in good faith, and the NCA is genuinely committed to modifying the proposal under the statutory provisions of the National Capital Plan, drawing upon input from the public.

4. The following comments on the proposed New Southern Entrance are submitted on that basis, with reference to the Consolidated National Capital Plan, April 2021.

Objectives of the National Capital Plan – 4. Respect the geometry and intent of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan for Canberra

5. A War Memorial on the Land Axis at the foot of Mount Ainslie was not part of the Griffin Plan as conceived before World War I and formally adopted in 1925. In evidence before the Public Works Committee in 1928, eight years after his appointment as Federal Capital Director of Design & Construction was terminated, Walter Burley Griffin did agree to the siting of the ‘National War Memorial’ in this location. In 1928, it is important to note, the landscape treatment of the Land Axis setting of the Memorial site, then known as Prospect Parkway, was in the process of being implemented in accordance with Griffin’s intentions.

6. In the 1960s, however, this somewhat informal landscape was replaced by the formal commemorative treatment of Anzac Parade we see today. In its 2004 Griffin Legacy study (p. 121), the NCA described the Griffin concept for Prospect Parkway as ‘a grassy “plaisance” forming the central recreation corridor for surrounding residential areas and setting for a “Casino”’ and relegated it to the ‘No Longer Relevant or Not Recoverable’ category.

7. The War Memorial and its setting on Anzac Parade are not part of the Griffins’ vision. They are something else. They are profound manifestations of Australian history and culture. They are part of the Australian vision of what we have become as a nation over the past hundred years, forged from the sacrifice and suffering wrought upon our people in the Great War, and subsequent wars. We must not besmirch this vision.

8. The War Memorial and its setting bear no relation to the intent of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan of Canberra but in the alignment of these major elements on the Land Axis they do relate to the geometry of the Griffin Plan. The physical expression of this geometry is not the work of the Griffins, it is a construct of the inter-war years (with respect to the War Memorial itself) and the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) era (with respect to Anzac Parade). The issue under Objective 4 of the National Capital Plan thus becomes:

9. Does the proposed New Southern Entrance respect the geometry of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan for Canberra as reinterpreted by the architects of the Australian War Memorial in the 1920s/1930s and the professional staff of the NCDC in the 1960s?

10. Critically, it does not.

11. Viewed along the Land Axis from New Parliament House to Anzac Parade, the voids and slots in the southern façade of the underground complex [called ‘the bladed wall’ by the architects and the AWM HH] will weaken and confuse the base of the War Memorial and its stepped, pyramidal massing. The strong, noble form of the War Memorial will rest on a weak base. The evocative presence of the War Memorial at the foot of Mount Ainslie, subliminally keyed to the bush ethos of Australia and the Anzac landing place below the heights of Gallipoli will be undercut and compromised for ever.

New Southern Entrance and Parade Grounds (2/15; AWM). For related photographs, see Professor Weirick’s compilation.

12. Closer to the War Memorial, the extent to which the retaining wall, voids, slots, stelae and steps of the underground complex] are pushed south along the Land Axis (50m), together with the height of the vertical retaining wall and central steps (5.36m), will mean that almost nothing will be seen of the War Memorial and its Hall of Memory from the Stone of Remembrance, the commemorative focus of the Parade Ground. This is a fundamental flaw in the proposal. The words inscribed on the Stone of Remembrance – THEIR NAMES LIVETH FOR EVERMORE – will be severed from the aching void of the Court of Honour and the heroic mass of the Hall of Memory.

13. It is important to note that the perspective view of the New Southern Entrance from the Parade Ground in the Drawings Package is not taken from eye-level but from a ‘drone shot’ approximately 5.5m in mid-air, with a much wider cone of vision than normal sight. This rendering (AWM-0274-NCA-A-9001, Revision B [‘Supporting information’, page 1; the same rendering as reproduced above HH]) gives a misleading impression of how the strong, noble form of the War Memorial will be seen overall and in relation to the façade elements of the underground complex from the commemorative focus of the Anzac Day Dawn Service, the Anzac Day National Ceremony and other large-scale events in the Memorial’s calendar.

14. The Drawings Package is misleading in not providing a perspective that meets long-established standards in controversial cases, as specified, for example, by the NSW Land & Environment Court (paraphrased from NSWLEC Practice Notes):

A perspective proposed to be relied upon as an accurate depiction of intended future change to a site condition must be supported by (1) a photograph showing the current, unchanged view of the location depicted from the same viewing point; (2) a statement of the camera type and field of view of the lens employed in taking the photograph; (3) a two-dimensional plan showing the location and reduced level (RL) of the camera position; and (4) a statement confirming that accurate 2D/3D survey data has been used in preparing the perspective.

15. A version of this comparative documentation is provided in the ‘Anzac Parade Vista – Night Time View Analysis for NCA’ included in the Supporting Information package to the Works Approval application. The all-important view from the Stone of Remembrance is not included. The closest viewpoint is set 250m from the crown of the Hall of Memory. Scaled from available material, this appears to be the centre of the rarely-visited Anzac Parade/Limestone Avenue roundabout, approximately 100m from the Stone of Remembrance. This and successive views at distances 500m, 750, 1000, 1250, 1435m, 2250m, 2950m and 3530m (Forecourt of New Parliament House) show that even at night, the War Memorial rising above the façade of the underground complex will be seen to sit on a weak base.

16. These analyses are documented in section, but not a section set on the centreline of the Land Axis and the War Memorial. The analyses are not shown in plan. There is no supporting survey data, and no statement on the accuracy of the data that was used. There is no statement on the camera type and field of view of the lens employed in the study.

17. The documents filed with the New Southern Entrance works application are further misleading with respect to the geometry of the Griffin Plan by not providing comparative longitudinal sections of existing and proposed conditions from the Stone of Remembrance to the Hall of Memory along the centreline of the Land Axis. Without these drawings, the reduction in view caused by the location and height of the retaining wall of the underground complex and its associated steps is not shown in the material posted for public comment.

18. In summary, the proposed New Southern Entrance does not respect the geometry of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan for Canberra as reinterpreted by the architects of the Australian War Memorial in the 1920s and the professional staff of the NCDC in the 1960s, and therefore does not meet Objective 4 of the National Capital Plan.

Objectives of the National Capital Plan – 5. Maintain and enhance the landscape character of Canberra and the Territory as the setting for the National Capital

19. The setting of the War Memorial at the head of Anzac Parade is an essential part of the landscape character of Canberra, the National Capital.

20. The proposed New Southern Entrance to the War Memorial will not maintain and enhance this character, it will destroy and diminish it. The project involves large-scale reconstruction of the landform and architectonic elements in front of the War Memorial. If approved, these works will be highly visible in the larger landscape of Canberra, insistent in the immediate approach to the War Memorial, and experienced by over a million people a year.

21. Following large-scale bulk excavation and tree removal, approved in June 2021 (NCA WA102272), the AWM proposes a large underground complex topped by a treeless plaza and complete reshaping of the landform stretching down to Anzac Parade.

22. For decades, this landform has comprised a central flight of stairs flanked by grassed benches stepped up the slope and splayed to form an angled amphitheatre that looks down Anzac Parade, across the central basin of Lake Burley Griffin to the Parliamentary Zone beyond. The splayed elements have been reinforced by angled lines of trees that give spatial definition to the amphitheatre in a superb composition emanating from and focussing upon the entrance to the War Memorial. The angled elements capture and direct the energy of the shaft of space created by the avenue trees of Anzac Parade to the War Memorial entrance. In turn, the vista from the War Memorial entrance is modulated in scale and directed in an exhilarating way to Old Parliament House, New Parliament House, the bushland heights of Red Hill and the far distant ranges of the Australian Alps.

23. Created by the NCDC in the 1960s and sympathetically enhanced in recent years, the amphitheatre-like setting at the head of Anzac Parade is similar in spirit to the studies for formal, benched slopes and stairs for the War Memorial approach sketched by its original architects Emil Sodersteen and John Crust in the 1920s and 1930s but not realised due to the budget exigencies of that era.

24. The setting is perfectly calibrated to individual experience and massed assemblies. The latter – principally on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day each year – create a spectacle, infused with the casual spirit of Australian life, at the same time highly charged with emotion and seriousness of purpose.

25. The ABC-TV video recording of the 2019 Anzac Day National Ceremony shows how the space works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yduR6CGtPXA, accessed 10 September 2021. Members of the public and dignitaries are seated in the amphitheatre. The Stone of Remembrance in the immediate foreground is the ceremonial focus. The marchers cross the space from east to west, saluting eyes right to the Governor-General standing on the dais before the heroic form of the War Memorial, its pylons signalling the space of the Roll of Honour beyond. The marchers then wheel back to seats set out for them on the ‘stage’ of the amphitheatre, looking back to their fellow citizens ranged around them in an embrace, beneath the copper-domed Hall of Memory holding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the eucalypt-clad slopes of Mount Ainslie, the timeless landscape of our land. The citizens, from all walks of life, seated and standing on the steps of the amphitheatre look across to the assembly of veterans, centre stage, with eyes that cannot fail to lift to Parliament House, Red Hill and the Southern Ranges on the horizon, inspiring the realisation, subliminally or not, that the vista embodies the democratic freedoms and the land those men and women fought to defend.

26. The amphitheatre-like setting of the War Memorial at the head of Anzac Parade is indeed a superb landscape. It should not be destroyed.

27. Yet the New Southern Entrance proposes just this destruction. Instead of the embracing form of the amphitheatre, mass excavations and earthworks are planned to re-shape the landform into a rectangular slot of space. The plans show seating for mass events set up on two sides of the rectangle, east and west, like choir stalls, so that assembled citizens merely look at each other across a marching space that can stage nothing more than a self-referential tattoo. Gone will be any engagement with the larger landscape of Canberra and all that it symbolises and evokes.

28. In summary, the proposed New Southern Entrance does not maintain and enhance the landscape character of Canberra and the Territory as the setting for the National Capital, and therefore does not meet Objective 5 of the National Capital Plan.

Anzac Day Ceremony, Australian War Memorial, 1971 (William Dargie c. 1971/AWM; unchanged)

Planning Principle of the National Capital Plan – 2.4.2(c). Urban Design & Heritage – Substantial works of architecture, engineering and landscape within the Territory should be designed to contribute positively to the overall composition, symbolism and dignity of the National Capital

29. The existing entrance to the Australian War Memorial is one of the most substantial, most significant works of architecture in Canberra. It contributes most positively to the overall composition, symbolism and dignity of the National Capital.

30. The simple flight of steps leading to the human-scaled entry is perfectly in tune with the unpretentiousness, decency and egalitarianism that has been the fundamental to Australian life. The entry sequence is not bombastic, over-powering or intimidating, it has the grace of a place of sacred trust. The immediacy of engagement with the Garden Court as soon as one steps inside, with its Pool of Reflection, Upper Cloisters, Roll of Honour, Eternal Flame and progression to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Hall of Memory is deeply, deeply moving.

31. Whether one makes the commitment to experience this entire sequence, or whether one turns from the entry way to the Museum Galleries, everyone must experience part of this. Everyone must see and sense the immense significance of the ‘Court of Honour’ at the point of entering and the point of leaving this great institution, privileging its Memorial role above all else it offers.

32. The proposed underground entry of the New Southern Entrance weakens, vitiates the perfectly calibrated power of the existing entry by making it possible to miss the ‘Court of Honour’ altogether. The underground entry leads directly to the former lower-level Gun Galleries and room after room of Museum materials. The direct line into the building at this lower level sets an easy path to all-absorbing displays against the effort to find the way upstairs to the ‘Court of Honour’. It also sets an easy way out, for all who are overwhelmed with museum fatigue or have seen enough.

33. The Works Approval documents state that the existing entrance will be retained, but this is not acceptable because it should not have to compete with an easy path below. It will have to be approached across a new paved plaza, vastly expanded from the existing condition, treeless, extremely hot in Canberra’s long summers, exposed in winter – in other words, designed to be uninviting.

34. Moreover, we can be certain that if the underground complex is built, the existing entrance, though retained, will be closed to the public for security and budgetary reasons in due course, just as the grassed ramps of New Parliament House have been closed.

35. Stated simply, the New Southern Entrance is not necessary.

36. Visitor numbers were not included in the 2018-2019 AWM Annual Report (the last full year of access before the Covid crisis). Annual Reports from years prior to 2018-2019 do not separate visitor numbers for the Memorial from those for the Mitchell Facility in suburban Canberra but it is reasonable to assume that Memorial visitation averages around 1 million per year. [Honest History analysis of visitation over the last 30 years puts the annual average over that period at just over 880 000. HH] Visitation to the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) averages around 1.5 million per year. The AGNSW entrance comprises a flight of steps, a portico, a small lobby and a small, elegantly designed ramp for universal access. It can handle visitation 50 per cent greater than the AWM.

37. The AWM should work with its existing entrance, perhaps with a new means of universal access, small-scale, set within the front façade massing elements. It does not need a new underground complex.

38. In some of the supporting materials for the Works Approval documentation, the presence of school groups is presented as a problem in the existing entry lobby. This is a problem that does not need an underground staging area to solve. Indeed, it is not a problem at all. The occasional presence of school children en masse should be championed as part of today’s experience of the War Memorial. In a sane society, the energy and wonder of the coming generation should be seen as the apotheosis of the ‘better world’ our service men and women fought to create.

39. In summary, the underground complex proposed as the New Southern Entrance to the Australian War Memorial is over-designed, destructive of the all-important entry sequence for visitors and in relation to actual visitor numbers, unnecessary. As a substantial work of architecture within the ACT, it would not contribute positively to the overall composition, symbolism and dignity of the National Capital. Therefore, the proposal does not comply with Planning Principle 2.4.2(c) of the National Capital Plan.

40. Recommendation: In failing to meet Objectives 4 & 5 and comply with Planning Principle 2.4.2(c) of the National Capital Plan, the proposed New Southern Entrance to the Australian War Memorial should not be approved. To the extent that bulk excavation to the front of the War Memorial has commenced under the Early Works approval issued on 7 June 2021 (WA102272), it should be halted and the amphitheatre form of the landscape setting at the head of Anzac Parade restored to its original condition, along with reinstatement of any architectural elements and monuments that have been removed for these works, such as the front steps of the War Memorial and the Stone of Remembrance. New mature trees should be planted on the alignment of the ones removed to re-make the superb landscape space that has been the setting of memorable, moving ceremonies for decades.

Demonstration against tree removal, AWM, June 2021 (supplied)

Main Works Package 2 – Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant

41. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Main Works Packages of the development currently proposed for the Australian War Memorial (Block 3 Section 39, ACT)

42. In the opening address of the public information session for Main Works Package 2 – Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant held at the National Library of Australia on 11 August 2021, Ms Sally Barnes, Chief Executive of the National Capital Authority made the following statements, inter alia:

The Australian War Memorial is notably, perhaps, the most significant building – one of the most significant buildings – in Canberra. The work that is proposed here will take it to the next level but it’s most important for us and for the country that it’s done in a sensitive way, it’s done in a way that recognises the significance of the site, where it sits in the landscape and how it relates to the people …

We started this consultation session on the 31st of July. We put packages of information about three of the redevelopment sites on our website to give people time to really delve into the architectural drawings and schematics . . .

The War Memorial is really one of the most significant places in Canberra and Australia, so we need to get this right. Input from all of you around Australia and internationally, your thoughts about what can be approved, is most important (Video recording, 11 August 2021, 02:05-02:31; 03:05-03:23; 04:04-04:20 segments – posted at https://www.nca.gov.au/consultations/awm, accessed 10 September 2021).

43. I trust these statements were made in good faith, and the NCA is genuinely committed to modifying the proposal under the statutory provisions of the National Capital Plan, drawing upon input from the public.

44. The following comments on the proposed Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant are submitted on that basis, with reference to the Consolidated National Capital Plan, April 2021.

Planning Principle of the National Capital Plan – 2.4.2(j). Urban Design & Heritage – New development, including public spaces, should demonstrate … excellence in urban design, landscape and architecture

45. Given the significance of the Australian War Memorial Main Building designed by Emil Sodersteen and John Crust, 1928-1941 with transepts seamlessly expanded by Percy Meldrum after World War II, how is it possible that we have three architectural practices designing three different schemes around it?

46. This is a salient issue in the case of the Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant as these works, with their spread across the site and strange shapes, strike a jarring note in relation to the New Southern Entrance and the New Glazed Link/Anzac Hall, both of which they visually and functionally impinge upon.

47. Nowhere in the documentation of the War Memorial redevelopment has the AWM provided a clear, comprehensive account of the design procurement process that has been adopted, with explanations as to why:

  • no statutory approval of the overall master plan prepared by design consultants in 2016-2017 was sought before going down the path of detailed design;
  • the redevelopment project was divided into three separate Design Packages, not one overall commission as was the case for New Parliament House in the 1980s – indeed, it appears there is a fourth architectural practice working on a fourth Design Package for reconfiguration of the AWM Main Building interior, which has not been released for public comment;
  • a design competition was not held in accordance with Australian Institute of Architect and International Union of Architects principles and protocols;
  • an irregular form of design competition was held as part of the Expression of Interest/Request for Tender process that was adopted for the New Southern Entrance and Glazed Link/Anzac Hall Design Packages (and maybe the Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant Design Package, although this has not been publicly stated);
  • the design briefs for these irregular competitions have not been included in the material put before the Public Works Committee of the Australian Parliament, the Department of Agriculture, Water & the Environment for assessment under the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Act, or the National Capital Authority for assessment under the National Capital Plan of the Early Works and the Main Works Packages;
  • the jurors for the design competitions were not announced before the launch of the competitions, and indeed the names of all design jurors have not been publicly released to this day;
  • the full report of the design jury has not been publicly released;
  • the number of entries in the competitions has not been stated consistently;
  • the successful designs at competition stage, along with the unsuccessful designs, have not been published to demonstrate that all steps to achieve design excellence for large-scale, highly prominent additions to one of the most significant public buildings in the nation have been done, and have been seen to have been done.

48. This poorly constituted competitive process leading to a ‘bits and pieces’ outcome repeats the mistakes of the Australian Federal Competition of 1911, the notorious Departmental Board Plan of 1912-1913, and the failed two-stage competition for the National War Memorial of 1925-1928.

49. These were all totally unnecessary errors in the making of Canberra that have caused deep, abiding problems in the planning, design and development of our National Capital to the present day. They should not have been repeated.

50. In the case of the design of the Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant, there is no assurance this is the best we can do, given the flawed process of design procurement followed by the AWM.

51. In summary, the design of the Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant cannot be said to demonstrate design excellence. Therefore, the proposal does not meet Planning Principle 2.4.2(j) of the National Capital Plan.

60th anniversary of opening of the Australian War Memorial, Remembrance Day, 2001 (Bob Marchant 2002/AWM, unchanged)

Objectives of the National Capital Plan – 4. Respect the geometry and intent of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan for Canberra

52. As explained with reference to the New Southern Entrance Design Package (above), the War Memorial and its setting bear no relation to the intent of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan of Canberra, but in the alignment of these major elements on the Land Axis they do relate to the geometry of the Griffin Plan. The physical expression of this geometry within the grounds of the War Memorial is not the work of the Griffins, it is a construct of the inter-war years (with respect to the War Memorial itself) and recent decades (with respect to the flanking east and west buildings, and the detached pavilion of Poppy’s Restaurant). The issue under Objective 4 of the National Capital Plan thus becomes:

53. Does the proposed New Southern Entrance respect the geometry of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan for Canberra as reinterpreted by the architects of the Australian War Memorial in the 1920s/1930s and design consultants of recent decades?

54. Critically, it does not.

55. There is a case for expanding the Bean Building so all administrative, support and research functions of the War Memorial can be moved out of the Main Building, freeing space within it for new and expanded museum displays.

56. However, the way in which the Bean Building is expanded should respect the geometry of the Griffin Plan and the site design principles for building groups that underpin it. Design consultants in the past have acknowledged this by siting and scaling the Administration Building to the west, and the Bean Building to the east, as free-standing symmetrical elements set on the same cross-axis to the rear of the Main Building, and subservient in mass to the Main Building. Poppy’s Restaurant has been designed as a detached pavilion in a landscape setting (formalised from the earlier café that stood well apart from the Main Building).

57. The design of the Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant occludes the clarity of this composition by filling the space between Poppy’s Restaurant and the Bean Building with a clutter of elements.

58. If approved, this would transform the Bean Building from a subservient, free-standing structure set well back from the noble presence of the Main Building to an insistent collection of elements impinging upon the eastern approach to the Memorial entrance. This would ‘suburbanise’ the setting of the War Memorial in the manner of a Business Park.

59. Expansion of the Bean Building to the south, filling the space between it and Poppy’s Restaurant, should not have been countenanced. It should have been expanded to the north, behind the existing building, to occupy the site of the car park and proposed Central Energy Plant along Treloar Crescent.

60. The Central Energy Plant, far too large, should be miniaturised from its current, misplaced monumentality, camouflaged and embedded in a landscape setting so it cannot be seen.

61. In summary, the proposed Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant does not respect the geometry of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan for Canberra as reinterpreted by the architects of the Australian War Memorial in the 1920s and the professional staff of the NCDC in the 1960s, and therefore does not meet Objective 4 of the National Capital Plan.

Canberra, ACT. 1945. Exterior of the Australian War Memorial with the slopes of Mount Ainslie in the background (AWM)

Objectives of the National Capital Plan – 5. Maintain and enhance the landscape character of Canberra and the Territory as the setting for the National Capital

62. The grounds of the Australian War Memorial on the foot slopes of Mount Ainslie are an essential part of the landscape character of Canberra, the National Capital.

63. The buildings that have been constructed within these grounds, beginning with the Main Building designed by Emil Sodersteen and John Crust, followed by all subsequent buildings, have been conceived and realised as ‘buildings in the round,’ set within woodland so beautiful and so ‘Australian’ it assuages the trauma and sacrifice we have experienced as a nation in war after war.

64. The Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant is proposed to spread across the eastern flank of the Main Building in a way which would take out the flow of space around the trees of this open woodland. As stated above, it would ‘suburbanise’ the setting of the War Memorial, filling it with a clutter of elements, destroying its landscape character for ever. This is wrong.

65. In summary, the proposed Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant does not maintain and enhance the landscape character of Canberra and the Territory as the setting for the National Capital, and therefore does not meet Objective 5 of the National Capital Plan.

66. Recommendation: In failing to meet Objectives 4 & 5 and comply with Planning Principle 2.4.2(j) of the National Capital Plan, the proposed Bean Building Extension/Central Energy Plant should not be approved. Expansion of the Bean Building can be supported for the space it will free up in the Main Building for new and expanded museum displays. However, extending the Bean Building to the south, filling the space between it and Poppy’s Restaurant, is wrong. A whole new approach is needed. The building should be expanded to the north towards Treloar Crescent. The large Central Energy Plant currently proposed for this part of the site, should be miniaturised, camouflaged and moved into a landscape setting so it cannot be seen.

Main Works Package 3 – Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall

67. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Main Works Packages of the development currently proposed for the Australian War Memorial (Block 3 Section 39, ACT)

68. I note the video recording of the public information session for Main Works Package 3 – Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall held at the National Library of Australia on 13 August 2021 posted on the NCA website does not have the same format as the videos of the two previous sessions. No opening statement by Ms Sally Barnes, Chief Executive of the National Capital Authority, is shown and there is no concluding Q & A segment. The video comprises a stand-alone presentation by one of the principals of the architectural practice.

69. Nevertheless, in accordance with statements by Ms Barnes in the previous sessions, I trust the NCA is committed to modifying the proposal under the statutory provisions of the National Capital Plan, drawing upon input from the public.

70. The following comments on the proposed Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall are submitted on that basis, with reference to the Consolidated National Capital Plan, April 2021.

Planning Principle of the National Capital Plan – 2.4.2(j). Urban Design & Heritage – New development, including public spaces, should demonstrate … excellence in urban design, landscape and architecture

71. As stated above with respect to the Bean Building Expansion/Central Energy Plant, the AWM has not provided a clear, comprehensive account of the design procurement process undertaken for the redevelopment project. As a consequence, there is no assurance that the design of the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall is the best we can do.

72. In fact, there is a strong indication that it is not.

73. Some extracts from the Design Jurors’ report can be found on pp. 32-34 of the ‘Final Preliminary Documentation Submission’ dated September 2020 lodged by AWM with the Department of Agriculture, Water & the Environment for assessment of the redevelopment project under the EPBC Act. These extracts include the following statement on p. 33 about the losing scheme in the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall competition that proposed to retain and expand, not demolish and replace, the original Anzac Hall:

The jury commended this entry for its intent to retain as much of the original Anzac Hall as possible and noted that it was perhaps the most visually appealing design.

74. The ‘perhaps’ is unfortunate. Is this losing scheme the ‘most visually appealing’ or not? It was the job of the jurors to decide one way or the other. It appears they did not have the courage to do so. We can conclude, however, that they are trying to say this scheme was indeed the ‘most visually appealing’ – and the winning scheme was not.

75. The visual relationship between a large-scale addition to a national memorial in the National Capital and the Memorial itself is a matter of critical importance. The jurors’ statement, cited above, casts sufficient doubt on the design expression of the winning scheme to conclude that it does not demonstrate design excellence. The proposal, therefore, does not meet Planning Principle 2.4.2(j) of the National Capital Plan.

Anzac Hall ‘deconstruction’ – AWM’s word – July 2021 (Alex Ellinghausen)

Planning Principle of the National Capital Plan – 2.4.2(c). Urban Design & Heritage – Substantial works of architecture, engineering and landscape within the Territory should be designed to contribute positively to the overall composition, symbolism and dignity of the National Capital

76. The proposed Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall is a very large-scale addition to the AWM Main Building. The scale of this component, and indeed the overall redevelopment, has been justified by the AWM by the need to provide adequate museum space ‘to tell the stories’ of recent conflicts and peace-keeping missions, and thereby honour those who have served and those who have died in these operations.

77. This is an entirely worthy objective.

78. The amount of space needed ‘to tell the stories’, however, is not specified in materials publicly available.

79. The valour and sacrifice of recent years is important, but it must be seen in relation to the valour and sacrifice of past years. To put the matter in perspective, we must understand the scale of sacrifice of past years in relation to the scale of sacrifice in recent operations. The AWM Roll of Honour provides the numbers: Deaths as a result of service with Australian units, World War I – 61,620; World War II – 39,654; Korean War – 340; Vietnam War – 521; all operations since the end of the Vietnam War – 71 (Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/war_casualties – accessed 10 September 2021).

80. The experience of recent operations is ‘alive’ in our community today and must be honoured – but in doing so we must never forget the vast scale of sacrifice in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. Representation of recent operations can be intense and informative, but it must be modest in relation to the horrific price we paid in lives for victory in World War I and defence of our shores in World War II.

81. The AWM has further justified the scale of the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall by the need to display a large number of large objects. Once again, this objective must be placed in proportion. In the days when all museum displays were contained in the Main Building, the progression from a focus on the miniature, real-seeming dioramas to the Aircraft Hall and the awesome reality of ‘G for George’ was astonishing, overpowering, a truly visceral experience.

82. The effect was created by contrast. Fill a large space with a large number of large objects and the effect is lost.

83. Avro Lancaster ‘G for George’ survived 89 bombing missions over Germany in World War II. Thirty of its crew members did not survive. 3486 Australians died serving in RAF Bomber Command. 750 Australians shot down over Germany endured years in German Prisoner of War Camps. ‘G for George’ is authentic. The AWM wants to display a F-111 in its expanded facility. No F-111 was ever used in combat. It has no place in the Australian War Memorial. There is every reason to display it in the RAAF Museum, Point Cook but not the War Memorial, Canberra. Placing it in any relationship to the great black Lancaster that we are privileged to have in our National Capital will diminish and demean that heroic generation who served in Bomber Command, indeed all those who served in World War II.

84. The program for the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall set by the AWM is too big. Too big for what needs to be displayed and too big in relation to the Main Building as a work of architecture. The scale of the Main Building is set by the Roll of Honour, the wall space needed for the names of all who have died for Australia. The scale of the proposed AWM development is set by a desire to display large-scale weapons of war. This is wrong.

85. There is a simple way to right this wrong. Reduce the scale of the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall. There is a simple way to do this, eliminate the Glazed Link.

86. As an architectural element, the Glazed Link is unacceptable. Its high, vaulted roof is sprung from the parapet of the sandstone walls of the Main Building rear façade. In doing so, it smothers, engulfs the great work of Emil Sodersteen and John Crust. It smothers, engulfs the semi-circular apse that resolves the spiritual, cruciform plan of the Sodersteen/Crust building. It smothers, engulfs the sculptural composition of masses that rise from the apse and its flanking transepts.

87. The Glazed Link is also roofed in a highly problematic material – not glass but ETFE membrane, a lightweight fabric made from Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a fluorine-based plastic. This is not the material for a national institution built for the ages. Furthermore, it burns. This does not seem to have been considered in the assessment of bush fire risk for the AWM redevelopment, given its location in designated Bushfire Prone Land at the foot of Mount Ainslie. The prospect of a burning roof over crowds of people – and perhaps an F-111 – is alarming, to say the least. Even more so, when it is realised that Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene when it burns or melts releases highly toxic hydrofluoric acid.

88. Apart from the possibility of apocalyptic destruction of the Glazed Link in a mid-summer firestorm similar to the ones Canberra has experienced in recent years, the prospect of its everyday environmental performance is cause for concern. The glass components of the Glazed Link comprise high glass walls facing south-east and north-west. Double glazing is indicated but heat build up will be formidable, requiring a great deal of air conditioning to make its internal spaces, which include a café, bearable in Canberra’s long summers, and no doubt difficult to heat in winter.

89. The need for performance glass also suggests that the level of transparency indicated in the architectural renders will not be achieved. The Glazed Link will not be an ethereal element in the landscape, with the sandstone walls of the Sodersteen/Crust building still visible, it will be a hulking mass, battleship grey if not black.

90. All these problems will be avoided if the Glazed Link is not built, and connection from the Main Building to the New Anzac Hall is reduced to a narrow bridge or corridor, as in the original Anzac Hall. This will create the opportunity for a beautiful external environment of landscaped courtyards and re-establish the architectural presence of the Sodersteen/Crust building in the vista from the top of Mount Ainslie.

91. Eliminating the glass link, with its high air conditioning demand, will also significantly reduce the capacity needed in the Central Energy Plant, facilitating reduction in the size of this utilitarian structure in the grounds of the War Memorial.

92. As for the New Anzac Hall itself, it is almost bound to leak given a roof with 17 box gutters converging above its entries but detached from the Main Building in the same manner as the original Anzac Hall, its visual dominance will be somewhat reduced on the War Memorial and its setting overall.

93. In summary, the Glazed Link/New Anzac Hall as currently proposed is out of scale with the AWM Main Building, connected to the Main Building in a totally unacceptable way with a Glazed Link that smothers and engulfs it. By covering the apse, the Glazed Link destroys the integrity of the spiritual, cruciform plan of the Sodersteen/Crust composition seen from the summit of Mount Ainslie. Furthermore, the Glazed Link is highly problematic in its materiality, environmental performance and immediate visual presence. The roof of the Anzac Hall itself is almost bound to leak, a thoroughly problematic condition for a museum. As a substantial work of architecture within the ACT, the proposal in its current form would not contribute positively to the overall composition, symbolism and dignity of the National Capital. Therefore, it does not comply with Planning Principle 2.4.2(c) of the National Capital Plan.

94. Recommendation: In failing to comply with Planning Principles 2.4.2(c) & 2.4.2(j) of the National Capital Plan, the proposed Glazed Link/Anzac Hall should not be approved. It may be possible to proceed with the New Anzac Hall if the Glazed Link is deleted from the project, thereby reducing the excessive scale of the extension and greatly improving its relationship with the rear of the AWM Main Building. To proceed along these lines, the project needs to be stopped at this stage, reconsidered, redesigned and resubmitted.

Excavator outside Southern entrance, September 2021 (supplied)

Conclusion

95. To stop the Australian War Memorial redevelopment project will take courage. Nothing like the courage of the men and women who have defended Australia, but courage, nevertheless. Courage to direct the AWM to modify the project in a substantial way, reducing its scale and scope, supported by a new, principled design process.

96. This is the duty before the National Capital Authority. The Authority should step up to do this duty, as generations of Australians have stepped up to do their duty for the nation, prepared to make the supreme sacrifice for the freedom of all of us. This we must never forget – the Australian War Memorial enshrines this responsibility. It must not be ruined for ever by over-development.

 

Emeritus Professor James Weirick

School of Built Environment

Faculty of Arts, Design & Architecture

University of New South Wales

Sydney, NSW 2000

 

10 September 2021

 

* Professor Weirck writes:  I have over thirty years’ experience of design review on architecture, landscape architecture and urban design projects in Australia and overseas. This includes serving as a member of the Parliamentary Zone Advisory Panel to the National Capital Authority, 1999-2000 which oversaw production of the Parliamentary Zone Review Outcomes Report, 2000 and as a member of the Design Jury for the Anzac Parade Lighting Competition, 2000.

The Australian War Memorial is deeply significant to me as members of my extended family have served with Australian forces over generations in conflicts from the Sudan in 1885 to Afghanistan in recent years, including always-remembered relatives who paid the supreme sacrifice in World War I and World War II, and others who returned with wounds, physical and mental, that afflicted them and their loved ones the rest of their lives.

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