We’ve discussed heritage listings before and the flats along Northbourne Avenue in particular, but with the recent news that the Dickson Flats have somehow been granted provisional heritage status, we thought we should revisit the topic.
The degraded and empty buildings were all set for demolition and redevelopment before the ACT Heritage Council stepped in and threw a spanner in the works. They’ve also called for the flats to be fully registered as a heritage site. Why anyone would seriously think preserving these buildings is a good idea is beyond us.
The Heritage Council argues that the buildings are an example of the “Post-War International Style” which is characterised by simple geometric forms, straight lines and edges and smooth textures, which may sound nice on paper, but in this instance translates into boring box-like structures with zero aesthetic appeal.
They also claim the Dickson Flats should be safeguarded because of their association with architect Sydney Archer. Realistically though, shouldn’t we judge the merits of buildings on the buildings themselves rather than the person who designed them? That’s how it works in the rest of the world.
Take George Lucas for example. He has been responsible for some amazing films – just look at Indiana Jones and the original Star Wars trilogy. However, even with these successes, no one is going to argue that Howard the Duck is in any way a worthwhile film just because George is associated with it. It is a terrible film in the same way that the Dickson Flats are ugly and dilapidated structures that need to be knocked down.
Not only do they look terrible, but they are currently unfit for habitation. They’re basically slums. They’re also full of asbestos. If we look at things objectively, the cost to restore these buildings and bring them up to current standards could cost over $28 million, while the total value of the apartments would only be valued at around $15 million, which is a net loss for the ACT Government (and by extension the people of Canberra).
On the other hand, if the buildings were demolished, it would allow the ACT Government’s plan to build new apartments on the site to move forward. That might not seem like a big deal, but remember that light rail system they’re planning on building? The money for that has to come from somewhere and any profit they make from property sales is less money that has to come from your own pockets.
Even if you put economic factors aside, think of the impression the Dickson Flats give of Canberra. Any visitor from coming from Sydney is going to drive right past these eyesores. Wouldn’t you rather they be replaced with some attractive buildings that are more reflective of Canberra’s position as the best city in the world?