Culture in Architecture

Depending on who you ask, Northbourne's 60's housing precinct is either iconic or infamous. But these mid-century modernist buildings are a significant part of Canberra's history and representative samples of them are set to stay. But what is so special about the flats on Northbourne?

David and Dale from Conrad Gargett are Soho's historic architects who provided advice and guidance on how they will be restored. David and Dale attest that many aspects of the precinct are culturally significant for our city.

The flats are part of a large precinct with over 150 dwellings in five distinctive styles. Within Soho, Art Group will keep, restore and reappropriate three representative samples of the buildings into a buzzing hospitality hub.

Conrad Gargett, who have connections to the original architect Sydney Ancher, collaborated on the masterplan to ensure the buildings and landscape retain the original principles. New buildings on the site will meet the city's growing need for densification while honouring the original modernist ideas.

When Canberra was booming in the 60's, the Northbourne housing precinct was conceived ? high density modernist buildings along the gateway boulevard. In their context, they were impressive. They were tall, sleek and unique in Australia. Archer borrowed ideas from Europe and adapted them for Canberra. They offered generous gardens and extensively linked walking paths to use for play, relaxation and exercise.

The concept behind modernism is that everyone, no matter your wage, deserves great design. The movement came from a post-war production era. It was a time when manufacturing was better and more viable than ever before. Modernism combines Scandinavian ideas of simplicity and nature and marries them with modern materials. It is about quality of life, inclusivity and discovering the beauty in function.

50 years have passed from that time, and many of the homes have fallen into disrepair. The buildings that once seemed impressive are now dwarfed by others three times their size. They lack modern amenities. But the ideas behind them still influence Canberra. Keeping hold of the representative samples allows us to remember the best parts of a movement that inspired the way we live.

Art Group has collaborated with Conrad Gargett to make sure the examples will still have meaning for the capital while allowing a new context to revitalise the city. There are plans to create a new place where people can congregate, celebrating community and the joy in small things.

The new buildings will borrow ideas and design language from the old, such as vertical windows and clean lines. They will form a backdrop where the heritage buildings can stand tall in their fully restored glory.

Best yet, the 60's housing precinct has inspired the way Soho will be built. Careful landscaping, innovative designs and modernist ideals of simplicity, innovation and a quality for all will make Northbourne the ideal place to live once again.