Allan Takes Aim Blog

Australia Forum: in the lake not by the lake

Posted on: 26 May 2011


 This is the original of the column published in The Chronicle , Tuesday,

May 24, 2011  

I hope the proposed Australia Forum does not become a case of fools seldom differing. You will see what I mean as you read the extracts of a Canberra Times article of mine, published February 2006.

 “Let’s not compound the mistake originally made with the National Convention Centre. Let’s do it right this time. Let the International Convention Centre offer facilities and technology that national and international clients would expect to find in a sophisticated international city so that when they leave it is not with a sense of relief but a sense of pleasure at having experienced the best the world has to offer.

“The ICC should be a multi – purpose centre able to house major international exhibitions and seat a minimum of 5,000 (the 2,500 seating capacity of the current NCC is not enough) making it a venue attractive to entrepreneurs wishing to stage major shows or sporting events.

“And why not let it house shopping facilities, restaurants and a thirty, or even fifty, story luxury hotel? This is a project in which Canberra business and the ACT Government, if they really think the convention industry essential to Canberra, should be willing investors.

” But let me be more radical. Why not use a feature that, since its creation, has remained virtually unused? Why not build the new ICC in Lake Burley-Griffin? Why not also get away from the conventional lego style block and invest in a radical building that will be an attraction in its own right? And why not service the ICC by a mono-rail that will loop around and link the city to the lake in spectacular fashion.”

That said, and glad as I am of the proposal to build the Australia Forum proposal, a couple of things niggle me. First: when I phoned the National Capital Authority seeking more details about the proposal, I spoke to the planner who said he knew nothing about it. Second: will the forum also host a casino? Third: isn’t the idea of a ballroom and dialogue centre passé? Wouldn’t a disco and IT centre be more appropriate today? Fourth: the illustration in the Canberra Times showed a collection of stand-alone buildings that seemed unspectacular and lacking innovation.

Let me now make the plea that if the Forum goes ahead let it not be like the NCC which, after completion and despite the hype of Canberra having been improved by its presence, soon started to be seen for what it really was, a second rate building that needed pulling down so that the space it occupied could be put to better use.

From the published perspectives in The Times the proposed buildings will have more attraction for builders than clients. And with the Forum Committee comprising mainly academics, bureaucrats and politicians, little wonder that the international dialogue centre takes pride of place. Unfortunately with an Old and New Parliament House, an Assembly and multiple centres of academe, Canberra is already well served with dialogue centres.

And as for being ‘unique,’ Chris Faulks, Chief Executive of the Canberra Business Council who likened the development to Melbourne’s South Bank destroyed that idea when she said ”It’s not just about a Convention Centre, it’s about place-making.’ 

But more surprising to me is that if the powers behind the venture want Canberra to be seen as an important world capital why hasn’t an international design competition been mentioned? I feel sure architects such Ms Zia Hadid, Lord Rogers or Frank Ghery would be delighted to enter such a competition and also feel sure that such a competition would elicit a range of proposals that not only would make a unique Forum but also would meet the demands of convention organisations for many years to come.

The ‘Forum’ should epitomise excellence and also be a Centre that will still have purpose when new technology, new video, and new TV systems knock holes in the convention and exhibition market and other activities that, currently, we think will go on forever.

Finally, if the project goes ahead, let us make sure that Canberra gets the facility it needs, not just another legacy to satisfy the ego of a few influential bureaucrats, business people and politicians in Canberra.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday

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