Monuments body, architects and professional historians make strong statements on War Memorial project

Friday brings a report of a letter to the Environment department from the Australian chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an advisory body to UNESCO. Tom McIlroy in the Australian Financial Review (pdf from our subscription) reports that ICOMOS ‘said the memorial’s inclusion on the national heritage list meant a high commitment to protection was required in any changes. While the listing does not mean the building should not undergo any change, president Helen Lardner told the Environment Department only moves sympathetic to heritage values should be considered.’

ICOMOS recommended the pursuit of options involving no or minimal impacts, rather than the significant impacts detailed in the Memorial’s heritage impact assessment. McIlroy also reports the views of heritage architect, Geoff Ashley (‘many adverse heritage impacts … failures of process and methodology in relation to heritage considerations’), and Rwanda veteran, Judith Spence (‘The proposed development challenges the integrity of the AWM as a revered monument.’)

Then there is a major contribution from the Australian Institute of Architects, a letter to all Members of the House of Representatives. The Institute asks members to

reject approval of the $498.7 million Australian War Memorial (AWM) Development Project as currently proposed in the face of widespread criticism that the project fails to protect the heritage of the AWM for all Australians and includes the wasteful and unnecessary demolition of Anzac Hall …

Allowing legislated heritage protections to be so blatantly disregarded in this instance, and for such a prominent public institution, would set a dangerous precedent for other iconic sites. There has been very limited transparency in the decision-making process regarding this project and the Institute has seen no evidence that the demolition of Anzac Hall is required. Nor has there been an appropriate level of community consultation on options that include the retention of Anzac Hall.

The Institute’s package includes a letter from AIA Gold Medal winners who say this:

Destroying such an investment – of effort and of culture– is a waste and mark of disrespect. It is incomprehensible that in planning what would otherwise be a welcome addition to the War Memorial, so little regard has been shown for the cultural significance of Anzac Hall, which is a national landmark and much-loved exhibition space …

We must put an end to the pattern emerging that treats major public works as somehow disposable.

Finally, the 500-member Professional Historians Australia has published a statement.

In the light of staff and funding cuts at key government institutions such as the National Gallery, National Museum and the National Library, PHA calls on the government to reconsider its commitment to the Australian War Memorial’s (AWM’s) $498 million redevelopment plan.

The PHA questions claims about the therapeutic benefits of the Memorial, opposes the destruction of Anzac Hall, and questions the consultation process undertaken.

David Stephens

21 August 2020

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