Architect Tony Trobe speaks to ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, about the characteristics of great places.
TT: Lonely Planet described Canberra as ‘a hidden gem that has been hiding in plain sight’, singling out its revitalised precincts as one of the reasons for being a hot destination. As well as our national institutions, precincts such as NewActon and Braddon spring to mind. Why do you think they are such great places to visit?
AB: One of the fundamental elements of a great public place is the actual presence of people. We are social creatures at heart and are attracted to places with people and activity – to congregate with friends and socialise. Places with high levels of foot traffic are crucial for driving economic and cultural dependencies, bringing prosperity and activity to a place.
Equally the presence of other people in public spaces affords a stronger sense of security…but people alone don’t create a great place. In addition to being sociable, great places are also well connected, they are comfortable and welcoming, and they have a diverse range of things to see and do.
Leading international non-profit research and educational organisation Project for Public Spaces says most successful public spaces have all four of the characteristics noted above. NewActon is a great place to see these characteristics working successfully.
Is Lonsdale Street in Braddon also a ‘great place’?
I think it is fast developing into a ‘great place’. There is a great deal of affection for Lonsdale Street amongst locals and visitors alike. Whilst undergoing significant renewal, its history as Canberra’s first light-industrial suburb has shaped its DNA as a haven for creatives and foodies, as well as an emerging residential population. Its distinctive character of re-purposed older buildings sitting comfortably beside newer architecturally designed ones, combined with interesting shop fronts, and an extraordinary mix of independent creative businesses offering an eclectic retail and hospitality experience, provides many reasons for people to come to Lonsdale Street again and again.
Do you have any other favourite great places in the city?
Many. Alinga Street West (the No Name Lane precinct) is starting to emerge, as is parts of Bunda Street.
The other place to highlight is Henry Rolland Park. The park opened in April 2018 and transformed a former barren car park and the underutilised edge of Lake Burley Griffin to a special place for relaxed social gatherings as well as a place to take in the extraordinary beauty of the landscape setting of our city. Sheltered table settings and barbeques surrounded by attractive landscaping allow people to easily catch up with friends and family to share food and connect. The benches located near the water edge provide a perfect vantage point to take in the view in solitude, and the provision of high-quality exercise equipment provides yet another reason to come to the park and if the mood takes you to, strike up a conversation with a stranger. The park is a place that welcomes everyone, at all times to enjoy what it has to offer.
So we have some great places, but are there any that could be better?
Yes. The Sydney and Melbourne buildings, Civic Square, Garema Place and City Walk are not performing as well as they could. This hasn’t always been the case, but as activity has spread to other parts of Civic, these important public spaces haven’t adapted.
How do we bring it all together?
Importantly, creating a great place, or making a place great again, requires a collective effort from all who have a stake in a place. We want to work with building owners, traders and the community to again make these places great places to spend time. To do this we need to look at both the public and private realm to bring back all four characteristics of great places – access, comfort, activity and sociability.
Tony Trobe is director of TT Architecture specialising in the design of sustainable residential architecture. If there a design issue you would like to discuss, email firstname.lastname@example.org