Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley has given the go-ahead to the controversial $500 million redevelopment and expansion of the Australian War Memorial, despite opposition from the Government’s own heritage council.
The redevelopment, in particular the demolition of Anzac Hall, has attracted the criticism of architects and heritage advocates, who have slammed it as wasteful and arrogant.
Former directors of the memorial have also raised concerns over the proposal, saying they fear the institution is straying from its original intent as a place of solemn reflection.
The War Memorial describes the changes, which will create room for a greater focus on modern veterans, as including “a new southern entrance, refurbishment of the main building, a new Anzac Hall connected to the main building via a glazed link, an extension to the Bean Building, a new research centre connected to the Poppy’s Cafe forecourt, and public realm works.”
Elements including the main commemorative area, the Hall of Memory, the Roll of Honour and the Pool of Reflection will be maintained.
Ms Ley said she had made the decision to greenlight the plans with 29 conditions, which she said would minimise and mitigate impacts on heritage.
“The decision, based on Departmental advice, follows a rigorous assessment of the proposal against the heritage values of the Australian War Memorial and Parliament House Vista, in keeping with both National and Commonwealth Heritage Management Principles,” she said.
“The Memorial will be required to prepare a Heritage Impact Assessment of the final design for my approval to ensure the site’s heritage values continue to be protected.”
In a submission published in October, the chair of the Government’s Australian Heritage Council, David Kemp, said the body could not support the redevelopment in its proposed form.
He singled out the proposed demolition of Anzac Hall as having a negative impact on the building’s heritage values.
“Physical expansion to support the display of large objects such as submarines and aircraft is not a sustainable intent over the long term and, in the current circumstances, cannot be achieved without significantly impacting listed heritage values,” he said.
“Regrettably, the council cannot support the conclusion that the proposed redevelopment will not have a serious impact on the listed heritage values of the site and recommends that the matters … be given serious attention.”
Ms Ley said the approval had been based on departmental advice.
Anzac Hall demolition ‘a real travesty’
ACT chapter president of the Australian Institute of Architects Shannon Battisson said the planned demolition of the award-winning Anzac Hall was “disappointing to the core”.
“The architecture itself, not only is it award-winning but it was designed to stand and stand with expansion for 30, 40, 50 years to come,” she said.
“The fact that we would throw out such a young building and condemn it to the scrap heap is a real travesty.”
Earlier this year, AWM director Matt Anderson defended the project, saying the memorial was overdue for an upgrade.
“We’ve created 100,000 veterans over the last 25 years, and yet we devote about 4 per cent of gallery space to them,” Mr Anderson told the ABC.
“This is a memorial for all Australians, it’s a place that is overdue refurbishment … the $498 million price tag is over seven years and my sense is that the Government is determined to honour that commitment.”