Deliberately not ordinary: A long-term investment in space, place, culture and community.

                                                              

Deliberately not ordinary: A long-term investment in space, place, culture and community.

Commonwealth Association of Planners
Solution proposed by: 
Molonglo Group (in partnership with Fender Katsalidis Architects and Oculus Landscape Architects)
In a Nutshell: 
The driving principle behind New Acton is to be deliberately not ordinary through a commitment to not only create the space, but curate it. The developers have maintained a management, maintenance and curatorial presence in the precinct, instead of simply making profits and moving on to the next project.
Where and When: 
New Acton is an urban renewal precinct on the edge of Canberra, Australia’s CBD. The site – a decommissioned heritage-listed hotel and surrounds – was acquired by the developers in 1999 and has evolved into a mixed-use hub for social and cultural life, which exemplifies outstanding design and world-leading environmental sustainability credentials.
Challenges: 
The regulatory environment does not immediately foster innovation nor facilitate truly diverse mixed uses. The development industry also tends to be primarily focused on the management of short term risks through prompt construction and completion of projects, rather than “future-proofing” through the creation of enduring neighbourhoods and communities. There is a prevailing expectation/ assumption , across Governments and the development industry, that the key building blocks of communities – people, cultural, activity – will happen organically (i.e. build it and they will come), rather than being a conscious and curated outcome that plays out in the space between buildings.
Innovation: 
The key to the success of the New Acton Precinct has been the developer’s commitment to place-making; not only in creating the place, but also committing to its long-term management, maintenance and the curation of its arts and cultural life. The Molonglo Group fundamentally believes that the public spaces between buildings are equally important to the buildings themselves, and that art and cultural are paramount to the strength, power, draw and longevity of a place. This means committing to a place for the long-term, not just its inception or transformation.
Concept: 
The developer’s vision for New Acton was for it to set new limits for what is possible not only in the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings, but also architecture, public spaces, vibrant mixed uses, residential amenity and environmental sustainability. The concept is predicated on the belief that the creator becomes the curator; that the maker becomes the manager. It follows the ethos that the development of our cities is never finished, that our involvement in creating place does not end once a building is completed. It is a model of sustainable urban governance that values collaboration, engagement and economic innovation.
Description: 
What makes New Acton different is the way the development basics have been used to create a precinct of outstanding quality and design. Its masterplanning was predicated on principles of permeability, accessibility, connectivity and public access. It is not a gated community, but rather an area that encourages interaction between residents, employees and visitors. The cornerstone of private development – financing – has been harnessed so that the quality of placemaking can be enhanced through overt interventions. Molonglo Group partnered the residential component of the development to free up capital to seed start-up activities in the precinct which would otherwise be financially marginal until the precinct established. This activated and enervated the precinct whilst it was being developed. Molonglo Group retained ownership of the non-residential components of the precinct to ensure that the businesses occupying those buildings and spaces enhanced rather than detracted from the richness of the precinct. The development respects the history of the place and the design and siting of the new buildings responds very carefully to the heritage buildings; however, rather than separating the old and the new, both have been carefully and sympathetically interwoven to ensure sufficient urban densities to support the precinct. The new buildings do not mimic the old and heights vary considerably, but the spaces between buildings have been intentionally designed to form the fabric of the place. Overlaying the investment in the precinct has been a commitment to its arts and cultural life through the appointment of a full time events coordinator that oversees a continuous program of festivals, exhibitions and events for residents and visitors alike. It is testament to how Molonglo Group has harnessed the development necessities and committed to being not only the creator, but the curator of the precinct, that has made New Acton an exemplar of urban innovation.
Impacts: 
New Acton is a place where buildings and public spaces bustle with people who are interacting, buying, selling, and exchanging ideas; a place where people of all ages live, work and relax in a place of cultural resonance and presence. It includes dwellings for close to one thousand people and work places for almost five thousand people. It generates daily visitation in the thousands of people accessing the precinct’s hotels, cinemas, community theatre, galleries, gyms, spas, provedores, bars, restaurants, cafes and public spaces. It has transformed a forgotten part of Canberra into an extraordinary example of what is possible.

Photo Gallery

Molonglo Group - These two images show two sides of one of New Acton’s courtyards: above in its architectural glory, with the juxtaposition between old and new, and below when it is in full swing with people and activity.
Molonglo Group - These two images show two sides of one of New Acton’s courtyards: above in its architectural glory, with the juxtaposition between old and new, and below when it is in full swing with people and activity.
Molonglo Group - This image shows the communal vegetable patch which is accessible to residents and visitors.
Molonglo Group - This is an aerial view of the 2.5 hectare precinct.
Molonglo Group - Another example of people and activity in the precinct.