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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Architects want public to tell War Memorial ‘Hands Off Anzac Hall’

The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) has launched a social media campaign in a bid to save the Australian War Memorial’s award-winning exhibition space, Anzac Hall, from demolition.

The Hall could be knocked down as part of a $500 million proposal to expand the exhibition space by 80% and create new Afghanistan and Iraq galleries.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley is expected to make a decision by this Friday (11 December). The demolition is under assessment as a ‘controlled action’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The decision has already been delayed once.

The Hall was opened in 2001, and received the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for best major public building of its year. But the Memorial’s director, Matt Anderson, told ABC Radio National in October that Anzac Hall was no longer fit for purpose.

“It was built and opened in 2001, but it didn’t have the ability to be expanded – and 2001, of course, was a seminal year for us in terms of our involvement and engagement in the Middle East,” he said. “Since the Hall opened, we’ve had men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and we need more space to tell their stories.”

Mr Anderson said 41,000 men and women were deployed on peacekeeping operations every day since 1947, and “we pretty much tell their stories with a beret and a picture”; 72,000 have served in the Middle East – and their story is told in a gallery that Mr Anderson said he could walk across in 15 paces.

“We need more space in order to give the right emphasis and consideration of the causes, the conduct, and the consequences of military service, and the recognition that they’re owed,” he said.

The Institute, however, believe that the “wasteful and unnecessary” demolition would undermine the integrity of Australia’s heritage protections. Their Hands Off Anzac Hall campaign invites all Australians to share stories of their experiences visiting Anzac Hall as a way of showing their support for saving it.

“We hope this campaign will provide decisionmakers with yet more evidence that the community does not support destroying Anzac Hall, which is unquestionably one of Australia’s most iconic exhibition spaces,” Clare Cousins, past AIA National President and #handsoffAnzacHall campaign spokesperson, said.

“This debate is … about Anzac Hall’s heritage and social value as home to two decades’ worth of shared moments and treasured memories,” Ms Cousins said.

“A visit to Anzac Hall is part of the annual pilgrimage to Canberra for countless students around the country and has been for decades. Generations of school students have had their hearts and imaginations fired in Anzac Hall, captivated by stories of courage and service to our country.”

Former AWM directors, war veterans, the Hall’s architect, John Denton, and the Australian Heritage Council have opposed the demolition since former director Dr Brendan Nelson announced it in 2018. In the Sydney Morning Herald last year, former director Major-General Steve Gower called the decision “a prize example of philistine vandalism masquerading as progress. It is an egregious waste of money.” He suggested extending the adjacent Bean building; constructing a 4,000 square metre exhibition building using architect Richard Johnson’s plans; or using the Treloar complex.

Ms Cousins accused the Australian War Memorial management of undertaking “what must be one of the most misleading and inadequate community consultations for any major public project on record”.

“Nowhere in any of their limited public consultation materials do they mention demolishing Anzac Hall. Yet overwhelmingly the demolition is raised as a concern every time public submissions are invited,” she said.

Mr Anderson told the ABC that as consequence of more than 160 submissions received during the initial phase, the Memorial made more than 50 changes, updates, and clarifications in the document.

“We have modified Anzac Hall; we’ve modified the glazed link; we’ve modified the oculus; we’ve modified the parade ground out the front. We’ve reduced the heritage impacts of those designs based on the very feedback that Mr [David] Kemp [chair of the Heritage Council] has made… The War Memorial is owned by the public, and so we take public consultation very, very seriously.”

Mr Anderson also told the ABC he was confident that the demolition would not violate any heritage protections. An independent assessment by Hector Abrahams Architects said that replacing the building would have a heritage impact, but that the proposal – narrowing the footprint of Anzac Hall, bringing in the wings, and preserving the silhouette of the Memorial down Anzac Parade – would give the Memorial more space to tell stories.

“Ultimately, we are improving the heritage of the Australian War Memorial by doing what we’re doing,” Mr Anderson said.

A report from the Australian Parliament’s Public Works Committee has yet to be tabled, the AIA said, following an inquiry that received a record number of public submissions, 80% of which they said opposed or were concerned by the proposal.

As at Tuesday 8 December, over 1,670 people had signed the AIA’s #handsoffAnzacHall petition.

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