Update 2 July 2020: After a long delay, final preliminary documentation on heritage aspects under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act has been posted on the War Memorial site. Masses of material. Public comment accepted until 31 July.
Update 1 July 2020: Letter from David Stephens in today’s Australian Financial Review contesting the claim by the Director of the War Memorial that the facade of the Memorial will be unchanged by the building program. Pictorial evidence is further below.
Solemnity of War Memorial at risk
The new director of the Australian War Memorial, Matt Anderson, says the heritage-protected facade will be unchanged by the memorial’s $498million building program (‘‘Memorial boss rejects ‘theme park’ concerns’’, June 29).
Really? Has Mr Anderson not yet had time to look at the front of the building he is in charge of and compare that with the sketches of the proposed redevelopment?
The illustrations in your online and hardcopy editions show new entrances to both sides of the existing entrance – some critics have likened them to suburban shopping mall pedestrian precincts – as well as a reconfigured flight of stairs and parade ground.
The Heritage Guardians group, opposed to the memorial’s plans, said this last November in a comment on the heritage implications of the project: ‘‘The new southern entrance will change the sense of arrival to the memorial, alter the front view of the original building, remove forecourt stairs and plinths, produce risks to structural integrity, set up uncertain relationships between the new entrance and the rest of the building, and involve engineering challenges.’’
Mr Anderson needs to get out more.
The glaring contrast between the financial straits of the National Gallery and the ABC, on the one hand, and the soon-to-be-extended-at-a-cost-of-$498m War Memorial, on the other, saw an article in Nine Newspapers and a letter to the Canberra Times from former arts official, Ray Edmondson.
War Memorial Director, Matt Anderson, responded with a letter to the Times, stressing the tourism and building industry benefits of the War Memorial project, as well as the standard arguments about recognition of recent service. Over at the Financial Review, Anderson got a good run in an article by Tom McIlroy, in which the Director claimed, among other things, that the ‘heritage-protected’ front facade of the Memorial will not be altered by the work. Steady on! In both the online version of the piece and the hardcopy (page 8) the illustrations of the Memorial’s plans show that the facade will have added to it, on both sides, an extension which has been described by critics as reminiscent of a shopping mall pedestrian precinct.
Ray Edmondson responded, pointing out that economic spinoffs could occur from any building program at a national institution in Canberra. He pointed also to the submissions to the Public Works Committee, which increasingly make the Memorial work look like a ‘vanity project’.
Memorial’s proposed new facade (architecture.com.au) Compare it with the picture below
On the facade, Heritage Guardians’ submission on the Memorial’s original heritage documentation said this:
The New Southern Entrance will change the sense of arrival to the Memorial, alter the front view of the original building, remove forecourt stairs and plinths, produce risks to structural integrity, set up uncertain relationships between the new entrance and the rest of the building, and involve engineering challenges.
Then there is the question of process: this has been a slipshod and arrogant piece of public administration on the part of the Memorial. There has been conception in back rooms, corner-cutting of rules, shoddy reasoning to dispose of options, and emotive anecdotes rather than evidence. The process continues, however, with the Public Works Committee (PWC) drawing up a timetable for the public hearing on 14 July – disappointingly, just the one day, which will prevent appearances by some of the many people who have lodged submissions opposing the development.
At the time of our writing this post, the PWC had received 68 submissions apart from the one from the Memorial, and 56 of these were against the project. (Update 30 June 2020: total 69, with 57 against or 83 per cent.) Heritage Guardians collective submission No. 15 (82 names). Heritage Guardians detailed submission No. 40 (with notes of other important submissions). The PWC secretariat has been searching its records to see if any of its inquiries has attracted more submissions; so far, no luck.
Elsewhere in Canberra, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, has directed the Memorial to publish (Ref. No. 2019/8574) its ‘final preliminary documentation’ to enable heritage assessment of the project. Once the material is published on the Memorial’s website there will be a period of 20 business days for the public to comment. We’ll see how that goes. David Stephens in the Financial Review piece described the Memorial’s heritage consultation (now running for seven months, including limited opportunity for public comment) as ‘disorganised and delayed’ and said its overall consultation with the public has been ‘haphazard, deceptive and careless, and has lacked transparency’.
29 June 2020 updated
Update 30 June 2020: And there are some parallels in the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to Western Sydney, as John McDonald writes.
The Memorial’s facade today (highcountryonline)