Geocon's Nick Georgalis - Taking Canberra to new heights (Part II)
To read Part I of our conversation with Nick Georgalis, click here.
Has that process changed?
It has, but that’s largely down to scale. Rather than simply being driven by me, we now have the in-house resources to manage the processes within the business. The philosophy remains the same.
Republic has apparently been likened to New Acton. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I think if someone wants to compare us to a world-class project such as New Acton, that’s okay – but it’s not the only project or precinct of that scale that has happened around Canberra in the last decade. However, we’d really like to add to that with what we are trying to achieve in Belconnen.
Belconnen is now 50 years old. Only in the last couple of years has it really been considered a vibrant precinct where people want to visit after the sun goes down. The University and the AIS are important educational facilities in the area, but they’ve not been strongly linked to the waterfront area.
Wayfarer and Republic will provide that link and bring the vibrancy that will push Belconnen further along to becoming an entertainment destination. The town centre won’t empty at 5.00pm when the large government departments close. Instead, you’ll get an inflow of people heading home and releasing people onto the streets during the evening.
We’ve really tried to protect the ground floor by driving most of the services into the basement. Waste services, removalist vans and the parking will all be underground.
To enhance this, a series of stairways and paths link the project to the existing amenities of Belconnen and people to move through the space and explore.
Wayfarer Skylounge (Geocon)
What buildings around the world would you happily jump on a plane to see in person?
MONA in Tasmania would be amazing. That’s a building that has changed a city.
While not a building, I still haven’t visited Uluru. My daughter went there and she’s got me excited to finally head over to see it myself.
New York and Chicago are two cities I’d like to see for their urban planning and the way they have evolved and managed their changing socio-economics. Very few new buildings go up in Manhattan, but many are repurposed and that’s something we’re getting into more and more.
The Empire State Building is incredible. It was built in one year and 20 days and is made from brick. Two floors were completed every week - that’s amazing for a building that was constructed in the 1920s.
You grew up in Canberra. What does living here mean to you?
I think I’ve grown up with the city. This is a very different place to what it was 40 years ago. Canberra’s now awesome. It’s a place you can learn with the best in the world. You can be creative; you can be an entrepreneur and it’s a great place to raise a family.
We’ve got arts precincts and international galleries, there are options for all demographics to thrive. We can now fly out of Canberra into the heart of Asia. I can’t wait to see what all of this means in another 10 years… 20 years, 30 years. It’s now starting to move so fast.
Some people are uncomfortable with that rate of change, but that’s not a sustainable position. This city is growing and changing in a way that we’re all proud of, and it’s not going to slow down.
Where can government move to further improve the city?
We need to look at Canberra as a modern city. The Griffin Plan – which has given us the foundations of this beautiful city – is very much of its time. We need to look at what Canberra should be for the next couple of decades.
There’s no designer or creative person in the word that would look at a 100-year-old plan and consider it appropriate for the current time. Everything has to evolve and change for the next generation.
Wayfarer, your project in Belconnen, pays homage to the unfinished concrete that the town centre is known for…
True, and that’s an inspiration taken from the existing environment. We’ve reinvented what was done before – not replicated it. That’s important. If we just replicate what was there before, there would be no progress, but we’re looking at new uses for materials in a building with a different purpose. That’s evolution.
I’d say there have been a lot of surprised drivers that raised an eyebrow at Abode Murrumbateman. What’s the strategy of building a hotel in a town of 3,000 that’s only 30 minutes from Canberra?
It’s pretty simple. We just think of Murrumbateman as another precinct that is looking for energy and vibrancy.
We’ve got some great wineries around Murrumbateman. The problem is that after you enjoy some of those great wines, you have to drive 40 minutes back to Canberra.
That Abode Hotel will have more of a local feel, but will allow people to access the wineries via bicycle or bus without having to worry about finding their way home.
Another bonus is that even though Murrumbateman is reasonably close to Canberra, it’s got an entirely different feeling. Our hotel is going to be great for retreats or corporate days that gives people an entirely different feeling to using a meeting room in the city.
The idea has had a great response. More than almost anything else we’ve done, it’s been amazing to have people walk up and tell me what a great idea it is. I’m certainly going to spend time out there. When Graeme Shaw has completed his precinct at Fairleigh Estate it’s going to be a great place to enjoy a weekend.
A 'Green Star' rating for Abode Woden is a big win. Is repurposing buildings the preferred direction for the chain?
It presents a great opportunity to us, because we’re one of the few businesses trying to do things a little differently. That site was empty for three or four years before we took it on, but it meant we had to bring in a whole lot of new skills that we didn’t have before.
To upgrade Juliana House to such an energy-efficient level required a huge cost to the business, but the experience and the knowledge that we know have will prove invaluable over time. We had to look at a huge range of aspects: sustainable construction practices, energy use, waste control, everything…
That’s now part of our business – not just for the way we build, but the way that we operate. It marked an important cultural shift.
Geocon is 10 years’ old. In another 10 years’ time, what does the Geocon elevator pitch sound like?
We’ll be a strong Canberra company that might be working across the country.
I think we’ll remain utterly committed to this city, but we’ll be looking for any great opportunities that fit within our philosophy. But it’s our human capital that will get us to wherever we need to be.