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Breathing new life into old buildings

Catherine Carter

An old black-and-white photograph from the National Library’s Collection captures the Old Canberra Brickworks in 1927. The buildings pump with productivity, but they are surrounded by wide fields of long, windswept grass and unadorned, undulating hills. The city of Canberra was nothing but a few buildings in a landscape.

Bricks stacked at the Canberra Brick Works, Yarralumla by Harry Connell, courtesy of National Library of Australia. Part of the collection: Photographs of the construction of Canberra, 1913-1917.

Bricks stacked at the Canberra Brick Works, Yarralumla by Harry Connell, courtesy of National Library of Australia. Part of the collection: Photographs of the construction of Canberra, 1913-1917.

Established in 1913 as one of the first buildings in Canberra, the Brickworks produced the four million ‘Canberra red’ bricks needed for Old Parliament House. In fact, many of our enduring and our forgotten buildings were fashioned from these bricks.

Closed in 1976, the Brickworks have largely lain derelict for decades — until now.

A revised masterplan for a 49-hectare site in Yarralumla was released this week — and it ticks all the boxes. The plan will increase residential density along a major transport corridor, provide more housing choice and commercial opportunities, and will create a vibrant new heritage destination.

View from Denman Park.

View from Denman Park.

 

The ACT Government has earmarked more than $5 million for conservation and adaptation of the Brickworks itself. This will breathe new life into an undervalued piece of our city’s history, while also creating new spaces for offices, studios, galleries and community facilities. The precinct will also feature five new parks — more than seven hectares in total — that incorporate unique heritage characteristics and connection with the local landscape.

It is reasonable for residents to be concerned about traffic management, as the additional people will place pressure around the Yarralumla shops, but the ACT Government has prioritised a six-lane interchange bridging Yarra Glen Road and the Mint Interchange. Intersections will be upgraded with traffic lights, and additional parking, and a Park ‘n’ Ride facility, will be provided.

No heritage adaptation is without its challenges, but the Brickworks redevelopment provides perfect example of how investment in the right heritage development can deliver economic and social dividends. Spending money to incorporate poorly-constructed public housing stock into a new development in Dickson is madness. Spending money to preserve a valuable piece of our industrial history is visionary.

Quarry Park

Quarry Park

 

Other cities have upgraded similar facilities to spectacular effect. The Distillery District in Toronto, once a down-at-heel industrial site, is now home to many of Toronto’s hottest designer boutiques, groovy cafes, gorgeous art galleries and artisan shops, as well as performance venues. It attracts people day and night, and is one of Canada’s most loved tourist destinations.

In London, the dilapidated Battersea Power Station on the bend of the Thames, has lain abandoned for decades. The famous chimneys, captured on Pink Floyd’s 1977 album cover, Animals, are being restored, and the site will soon be home to nearly 4,000 apartments, three hotels, more than 250 shops and restaurants, leisure facilities, a large riverside park and its own tube station.

There’s no better way to commemorate and celebrate our own history than to incorporate the old into the new — and this new development will, at last, ensure the Brickworks stands the test of time.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia.

Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and creative thinker, Catherine is passionate about Canberra. Catherine is intensely interested in how Canberrans can work together to create an amazing city, and how our built environment can provide the places our community needs to flourish. The mother of twins, Catherine is committed to diversity, and supporting and promoting the careers of women. She was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women's ACT Community and Government Award in 2010. More about the Author

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