Sydney and Melbourne buildings

The Sydney and Melbourne buildings were once the commercial heart of Canberra. They were a gateway to our CBD which told visitors “you’ve arrived”.

Today, much of the area around these historic buildings is in a depressingly dilapidated state – and urgent, targeted investment is required to restore and reactivate this ailing part of our city centre.

In the last few weeks, the Property Council of Australia and Canberra CBD Limited released a new discussion paper, Transforming Canberra’s City Centre, to explore how we can work together to create new landmark addresses, attract more city dwellers and rejuvenate the city’s tired existing buildings. 

While action to address the Sydney and Melbourne buildings must be a priority, we’ve had a long, ongoing discussion about what to do. In 2007 the Property Council convened a public forum, with a report submitted to government which recommended the development of a strategic design framework and sensitive redevelopment of the area. Nearly a decade on, we are yet to see any meaningful action taken to restore these landmarks.

So, what can we do?

Firstly, we need a champion for the city centre – someone who is passionate about our city’s potential. We need a new partnership between the ACT Government, business and the community to drive the transformation and renewal of these, and other important buildings around the CBD.

And let’s look seriously at better using the internal courtyard areas behind the buildings. They must surely be the most picturesque rubbish dumps in Canberra.

Such redevelopment would support new cafes, restaurants and spaces for art exhibitions and other cultural activities, similar to the Melbourne laneways concept. The success of Loading Zone in Odgers Lane tells us that Canberrans are willing to embrace laneway culture.

Inspired by the best architecture of the Italian Renaissance, the Sydney and Melbourne buildings enjoyed an auspicious start to life. They need to support of all Canberrans to avoid a shameful end. We can let the Sydney and Melbourne buildings continue to deteriorate, or we can make them delightful places for people once more. The choice is up to us.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia.