The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) has urged the federal parliament’s Public Works Committee to recommend that plans to expand the Australian War Memorial (AWM) be reconsidered to address widespread concerns from the community and experts alike.
On 1 November 2018, the Australian Government approved the AWM Development Project with funding of $498.7 million over a nine-year period commencing 2019-20.
The proposed Development Project includes a new entry to the main building, the southern and eastern extension of the Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean Building, the modification of the Parade Ground and the removal and replacement of Anzac Hall.
In December 2019, the then Department of Environment and Energy, now Department of Agriculture, Energy and the Environment, invited public comment on the AWM Development Project referral under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Commissioned by the AIA, Ashley Built Heritage undertook an independent Heritage Review of the project Referral under the EPBC Act 1999. Ashley Built Heritage identified that the Development Project has ‘significant heritage impacts arising from the bulk, scale and location of the new work such that further detail and minor modification would not remove that significant impact’.
“A major impact includes the demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall that is a highly contributory component of the AWM Campbell Precinct, carefully set back from main Memorial to protect its setting while still having its own architectural qualities of the highest order,” it said.
As part of the standard approval process, the proposed Development Project was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works on 30 April 2020 and closed on 17 June 2020.
AIA CEO, Julia Cambage, has raised serious issues of due process and grave concerns about the demolition of Anzac Hall at the nationally significant site.
“Far from being a simple exercise in rubber-stamping, this Inquiry provides a critically important opportunity to reset these expansion plans and address the many legitimate concerns raised in the record number of submissions the Committee has received,” Ms Cambage shared.
“The overwhelming majority, some 80 per cent of submissions, oppose or express concern about demolishing Anzac Hall.”
“This lengthy, detailed and deeply considered feedback stems from veterans and their families, concerned citizens, distinguished and honoured Australians, leading academics, renowned historians, as well as former memorial directors and staff,” she said.
Ms Cambage said the AIA fully supports measures to better honour the sacrifice and service of Australia’s servicemen and servicewomen throughout history and modern times.
AIA also recognises that the AWM is one of the nation’s most highly valued and deeply cherished public institutions. She notes that its expansion must occur in a way that expends public funds judiciously and preserves the site’s sacrosanct nature.
“The demolition of Anzac Hall is grossly wasteful and unnecessary,” Ms Cambage commented. “It is a building meticulously designed and crafted to honour national service which now holds two decades’ worth of precious experiences where countless veterans, families and visitors have engaged in shared remembrance.”
“Anzac Hall still has many decades of useful life ahead of it and we know that at least three other preliminary expansion designs met the same requirements for increased floor space while also retaining Anzac Hall.”
“Throughout this process we have seen numerous attempts to circumvent due process in a manner that is unbefitting those who manage such a revered and respected public institution.”
“The demolition of Anzac Hall would breach the War Memorial’s own Heritage Management Plans which explicitly require its retention,” Ms Cambage stated.
“We’ve seen works onsite commence prior to the Public Works Committee’s inquiry concluding and the relevant motion being put to the House of Representatives for a vote,” she detailed.
“Variations have been made to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act referral after lodgement, effectively precluding public comment on these additional changes and consultation generally has lacked in transparency and comprehensiveness.”
“When other significant public institutions have embarked on journeys of expansion and redevelopment, such as the National Gallery, they have engaged openly and constructively with our organisation and many others to achieve the best outcomes for the Australian community.”
Ms Cambage states that had the AIA been consulted, it could have provided expert assistance in the conduct of best practice design competition to creatively explore further options identified in the Preliminary Design stage, which would have supported the retention of Anzac Hall.
“The Committee has a serious responsibility to ensure the appropriate expenditure of public funds. We urge them to act on the evidence presented to this Inquiry and require amendments to the proposal to address the very legitimate concerns raised and engender broad public support,” she said.
Anzac Hall opened in 2001 at a reported cost of $11.3 million.