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Founding Architect Calls for Halt to Demolition Plans for Dickson Towers

Founding Architect Calls for Halt to Demolition Plans for Dickson Towers

A founding architect of the historic Northbourne public housing buildings, Stuart Murray, has urged the government not to demolish the Dickson Towers blocks.

Mr Murray, a founding partner of Sydney firm Ancher Mortlock and Murray which designed the buildings, has written to the government saying the Northbourne precinct had been nominated for heritage protection and should not be demolished before the Heritage Council had been able to complete its work. The buildings should be adapted rather than torn down.

Dickson Towers is a test case for the government as it seeks to demolish a swathe of historic public housing buildings on each side of Northbourne Avenue to make way for high-density development and generate funding for the tramline to Gungahlin. In place of Dickson Towers will stand two eight-storey buildings, one either side of Northbourne, which the government says will act as "gateway" buildings in the same way the Dickson Towers were designed to do.

The Northbourne Precinct blocks, built for public servants between 1959 and 1962, are on the Australian Institute of Architects register of significant 20th century architecture, and on the Register of the National Estate, as well as nominated for the ACT Heritage Register. Inspired by avant-garde 1930s architecture in Germany, Sydney Ancher designed the original masterplan for the Northbourne precinct. In all, the firm designed 169 flats including the Dickson Towers, four blocks of "bachelor flats" – bedsits that have until recently been home to single men. The demolition application covers the three on the corner of Morphett Street, each four storeys high.

The area takes in nearly 500 public housing flats. The government envisages the new development will include 1134 apartments and ground-floor commercial space. An architects' report for the new masterplan said it would have "a massing rhythm and comprehensive architectural language that reflects the layouts and cubic nature of the original precinct".

It includes "a modern reinterpretation" of the bachelor flats, which the replacement buildings including a pair of four-storey buildings of similar size and scale to the existing flats. It also envisages retaining 17 De Burgh Pair Houses (with new interiors) and demolition of 30 others, the demolition of the four Owen Flats buildings and the demolition of the 16 Karuah garden flats.

In a statement on the heritage impact prepared for the government, consultant Graham Brooks said the demolition must be seen in the context of the new masterplan. He warned the entire masterplan must be implemented or the strategy would fail. New private-sector developments must be carefully managed to ensure they were in line with the masterplan.