Canberra’s Future Skyline. What can we expect?

Fri 18 Dec

Over the past 10 years Canberra has been a hub of development with new community spaces, high rise apartments and a focus on urban sprawl out to suburbs like Gungahlin.

To discuss the future of Canberra and what it may look like, The Shaker sat down with Ian Smith, Director at international firm Cox Architects.




Good Morning Ian, thank you for chatting with us to day. Tell us a bit about your architecture career and Cox architecture?

I’ve been practicing for maybe 25 years – working through uni graduating from UC the end of 1992. That might sound clichéd but it really seems like only yesterday! My first job was with local firm Collins Caddaye who are still going strong and doing great work. After that, I travelled for a while before working in Broome, and then to Sydney for six years.

Finally, I moved back in 2004 to Canberra to join Cox. They struck me as the most design-focussed firm, and offered a great opportunity to progress


What projects have you (or Cox Architecture) been involved in?

There’s a long list of diverse work. Key projects people would be familiar with include East Hotel, Canberra Stadium, Canberra Centre’s redevelopment, Manuka Oval’s sport lighting, Radford College, and Mode3 in Braddon. Others that are perhaps less known include the Irish Embassy, UC Inspire Centre, and the AIS Aquatic Testing and Training Centre…among many others.


How has the Canberra ‘skyline’ changed over that time? 

I think in recent years, perhaps since around the 2003 bushfires and the 2013 Centenary, Canberra has hit a turning point. We have thrown off a sense of uncertainty about our place and our value, and replaced it with sense of confidence in our city and the quality of life we enjoy.

Anyone who spends any length of time here knows how fortunate we are. I guess that’s what I have noticed since returning here after time away, and I see our level of confidence building all the time.


What are you currently working on?

At any one time I work across a number of projects in the office – currently my main focus is on the Casino Canberra Redevelopment with Aquis Entertainment, and also the Australian Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, for DFAT. They’re fascinating and very diverse projects.


What is the current design concept for Canberra at the moment? 

It’s clear to us that there is a strong, vibrant design culture here. Traditionally conservative attitudes are definitely being challenged and new, innovative approaches being embraced by our more savvy clients. They see the value add that good design offers, and that’s great.


Should we be re-developing the heart of Canberra(ie Civic) instead of creating the large urban sprawl of Gungahlin and Molongolo?

While there is a need for diverse and affordable housing options, there is a sense in which the real cost of urban sprawl is not apparent. Few people realise that development on the outer edges of the city is highly subsidised.

Also, not everyone wants to live in the same detached housing model. Many people are eager to enjoy a more urban lifestyle and the added amenity that comes with that. We’d certainly advocate for responsible infill development of significant density around major retail centres and transport corridors to foster a more vibrant and sustainable city.

The beauty of this approach is that it will actually assure the future of the ‘Bush Capital’ in that the generous open spaces integral to Canberra’s character can actually be preserved for future generations to enjoy rather than built out.


What elements would you like to see adapted in the future? 

I think there is a real opportunity to adapt aging office building stock in Civic into residential. These C and D grade buildings are no longer able to deliver modern office accommodation and are largely vacant. Owners bemoan vacancy, but I suspect with investment could be viably adaptively reused.

Their floor to floor heights are too low, the structural grids are too small for good open plan workplaces, but they are well suited to good apartment stock which would get more people into the city, and enliven the city and the town centres in the evenings. You just have to look to Melbourne to see how has occurred over the last decade or so.



What will Canberra look like in 5-10 years?

That’s a fairly short timeframe in terms of city development – Kingston Foreshore has taken over 15 years to come to fruition, and is only now just hitting its stride in earnest. So Canberra will not look dramatically different, but we’d hope that continued investment in elements like Constitution Avenue will continue to enhance the urban fabric.