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Cameron Offices, Canberra

There are some great photos on RiotACT of a wing of the big and brutalist Cameron Offices - which is being partially demolished right now.

Wings 1 and 2 are being demolished (out of a total of 9). It's a bit of an environmental disgrace to be demolishing massive well-designed buildings like this, though I'm sure locals and the developers will have their reasons. Bob Nation spat tacks at the federal government for not listing it in their Federal Heritage List last year.
The Federal Government’s simultaneous rejection of the Hydro Electric Commission Building in Hobart and the Cameron Offices in the Canberra suburb of Belconnen for National Heritage Listing is frustrating in the extreme. The RAIA recently nominated these buildings for listing through the Department of the Environment and Heritage.
The rejection of the Cameron Offices is especially disappointing, given the development pressure on the building and its possible demolition. This strong, forthright office complex is one of the most significant of its time and is one of the truly important examples in Australia of late-twentieth-century structuralism. John Andrews began the design in 1968, with construction completed in 1976. The design played a pivotal role in altering the thinking of the planners of Canberra, leading them to favour this approach to office accommodation. Cameron Offices is exemplary for its integrity, its heroic presence and ideological foundations. It is much admired by the architectural community for these very reasons, but is misunderstood or little appreciated by the broader community.ARCHITECTURE AUSTRALIA 2005

Here's the National Heritage List:

John Andrews advised the owners in 2001 how parts of the complex could be retained - the whole lot was to be demolished originally. In the nomination documents on the Department of Envirnment and Heritage website, a case was made in January this year for retention of the whole complex:
The RAIA is aware of a fully developed scheme, designed in conjunction with the original architect, John Andrews, for adaptive re-use housing. Such a proposal preserves the integrity of the existing built form and proves the adaptability of the building and would result in an environmentally-efficient re-use of the existing structure.

The Cameron Offices, in their entirety, could be used and adapted without any destruction of the built form or any erosion of their significant place in Australian and International history

An impressive number of people have been listed as willing to attest for the national and international significance of the buildings. This list includes:

Margaret Crawford
Kim Dovey
Geoffrey London
Romaldo Giurgola
Professor James Weirick
Jaquelin Robertson
Graham Brawn
Kenneth Frampton
Jennifer Taylor
Cohn Madigan
Haig Beck
George Seddon
Paul Mees
Miles Lewis

But too late.



  • peter_j
    edited January 1970
    From an opinion piece by Ken Taylor (ANU Humanities) in The Canberra Times recently, concerning the demise of most of the Cameron office buildings:
    "Architects form a community, but so do the people who worked in the offices and were affected by the working environment; so do the general public. For the most part I suspect the majority care little about the modernist architectural qualities of the building and will not lament its passing." CANBERRA TIMES 08.11.07

    The gist of the piece is that even though architects might value a building highly as heritage, that should count for little if the general public don't share the view. This is apparently a clash between the architects' isolated aesthetic appreciation vs. the memories of office workers who found the building uncomfortable.

    Graeme Trickett (RAIA fellow) to the rescue a few days later in another opinion piece with the eyebrow-raising title "Architectural community sees merit in concrete".
    "In Australia, the Cameron Offices, in terms of the combination of innovations in design and structure, landscape design, scale and urban response, have no peer. They are unique." CANBERRA TIMES 12.11.07

    Measuring the building against the requirements of the National Heritage List, he finds it complies and should have stayed. Now we lose another important modernist building because it ain't old and lacey enough to be considered heritage.
  • simon seasons
    edited January 1970
    It is is not just a fascinating and indeed depressing conversation to have, but a pressing one, for Australias cultural arbitors to have, as to why it is that 'the general public' have such sway over just about, you name it. Heritage, architecture, art,,,
    My god, the other day I heard that Mansfield council have a ten year plan to become the regional arts centre of southeast Australia and the secretary (i think) of the local arts commitee paints pictures from photograph of English pubs because "I can go look at gum trees any time; Why would I want to paint that?" and the main draw card sponser they have so far is the local hot rod association. The local high country hut preservation bushwalking group hasn't even been invited to participate, but the hot rodders???!!

    I wrote in my post about art and architecture that there was a lack of understanding of structure. Well further to that is that such a lack leads directly to the lack of understanding what art is by the general public, when it comes to architecture and any other form of art for that matter. I reckon that getting people in power to stop the destruction of worthwhile structures, such as the Cameron Offices which i have only driven past but did notice as being particularly pure and spiritful for Canberra, is pushing a barrow uphill.
    If we as artists, and I don't care if architects cringe at that nomination because if your worth your salt, then that is exactly what you are, If architects care about structural heritage and reference in this country then they really need to bolt plaques to the front door and nominate them in your own 'academy awards'. If no one knows and recognies what you can see, don't be surprised if they don't care either. Make a list, hunt them out and nominate and campaign before they get anywhere near the danger that the Cameron offices now face.
    Oh god, it's so depressing. Perhaps there's a job at Columbia University?

    But really the thread where i go on and on about ego, is the crux of the matter. With out referance to that which is great and which came before, how the heck do architects these days expect to create anything that might surpass it. Does the modern world really believe that they only way forward is to destroy the past behind them. I think that is rather a sypmtom of egotism of the worst sort.
    Unfortunately it is not architects making the descision. Or should I say that it is ego's that are not making the descisions but are instead navel gazing and go "Oh what? oh yeah, yeah tear it down if you want, just don't disturb me. I have a gripping quest to explain this piece of lint that seems to have originated from a most fascinating dip in my gut."
    Such things as the Cameron offices and a long list of lost architectural treasure i can only pretend to know about is lost because too many schools of thought encourage the notion that 'originality' has no reference point. That ego is paramount and that scoring a point is more important than having a spear behind it.
    I've gotta go to bed. A new day, if ever there was one, is coming.
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