The precinct is a key initiative identified in the ACT Planning and Land Authority’s City West Master Plan (UDF66 June 2004). Extensive stakeholder input was sought through an iterative process, with strong cooperation from the Australian National University (ANU), the community and within government – from master planning to practical completion. A triple-bottom-line approach is taken, with key objectives to establish the precinct as a model for sustainable development, with an identifiable community spirit, and that is ‘leading edge’ in design and development.
Childers Street ‘Arts Heart’ public realm upgrade is the outcome of this visionary planning study for City West. The Authority considered it paramount in developing the ‘Arts Heart’ brief that the solution epitomise the aspirations of the master plan. The Authority’s goal for the public realm, in partnership with EDAW, is to create an innovative urban design framework for a multifunctional, shared-use zone to support incremental mixed-use development and assist in generating a dynamic precinct. The design encapsulates the synergies between the ANU, community, arts, commercial and residential activities of the City, bringing ‘town and gown’ together.
A paradigm shift
The urban design-led response is based on a paradigm shift in planning, design and use of the public realm in Canberra. The aim is to raise design standards through innovation and testing standards and guidelines. The design challenges usual perceptions by taking an integrated approach to streetscape elements – furniture, lighting, artwork and water sensitive urban design – to establish a unique, ‘funked-up’ suite for the precinct, and demonstrates versatility for application in the rest of the City centre. With increasing awareness of climate change and drought affecting urban landscapes, the design demonstrates responsiveness to the environment by capturing runoff from the street in rain gardens to naturally irrigate plants.
The built outcome achieves these goals, and the water sensitive urban design measures in the public realm are a first for the City centre. Given a significant percentage of the modest $6.5m budget was spent on redirecting services, the ‘Arts Heart’ design is a remarkable outcome. The ‘Arts Heart’ officially opened with a street party in February 2007. Canberra Central Movement Study by Intelligent Space (UDF79 September 2007) reinforces the role of pedestrians in the precinct, and gives the impetus for the design of a park and remaining streets to complete the public realm upgrade in 2009.
The ANU Exchange is a major catalyst for development of sites in the precinct. This partnership between the ANU and ACT Government is delivering in part on the City West Master Plan, with accommodation completed for 500 students, and more on the way. New apartments nearby are seeing more people permanently residing in the City centre. These new choices in housing offered are contributing to making the City a more vibrant and interesting place.