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Civic Square Library and Link
by Bligh Voller Nield



Civic Square is significant in Canberra's planning history, being encompassed in Walter Burley Griffin's 1911 award winning design for the National Capital, centred on his axis from City Hill to Mt Ainslie. Adjacent on the podium at the head of the Square are the Canberra Theatre and Playhouse. These were originally linked with an open colonnade, which was later enclosed to form a ticket office, an enlarged theatre foyer and exhibition space. Popularly referred to as "The Link", this building had numerous design inadequacies - of particular concern was the inequitable access to the building with no ramp to the podium. A decision to relocate the Civic branch of the ACT Library to a new combined Library and Link building enlivened the project to proceed into detailed planning in 2001. The building was completed in 2006. Close collaboration was maintained throughout with the National Capital Authority, which was keen to ensure that the design met its key planning objectives for this nationally significant site. It was recognised early that the briefed accommodation requirements considerably exceeded the building envelope prescribed in the development conditions, particularly the height plane limit which had been prescribed to maintain the integrity of the vista along the Axis. The solution was found by an encroachment of the building into the Square. This was approved when it was demonstrated that the roof terrace connecting the Square and Vernon Circle contributed a genuine bonus to the public realm and that the integrity of the highly regarded vista was

preserved. The new two-storey building provides an expanded foyer for the adjacent theatres, enhanced box office and patron amenities including additional toilets, bar and catering facilities. Space for the relocated Library is provided at the level of Civic Square and under the Link. A long held criticism of the Square has been its perceived lack of life - the asymmetrical form of the building allows continuity of use of the Square for periodic large gatherings; and the glass frontages support the presence of activity in the Square itself. The conservation of the sculpture Thespis, its relocation into the Link, and the incorporation of the new public art Fractal Weave at the head of the Square are integral to the design and together with the adjacent buildings enhance the wider recognition of the Square as an arts precinct. The design engages ecologically sensitive sustainable design strategies including selection of materials with low embodied energy, provision for rainwater harvesting for toilet flushing, and roof-lights that provide filtered natural light to both levels. Cost control was managed with the involvement of a consultant cost planner, the Project Director and participation of all stakeholders in a thorough value management process throughout. The building, with its coloured glass sunshades, prominent axial staircase to Vernon Circle and City Hill beyond and its high level of lively public use by both day and by night, is an eye-catching and valuable addition to this prominent and historically significant sector of central Canberra.

Civic Square, ACT
Bligh Voller Nield
02 6249 8666
Project Team
Hydraulic consultant: THCS , ACT
Acoustic consultant: Eric Taylor Acoustics
Project Practice Director: David Flannery
Project Interior Designer: Stephanie Simko
Project Team: Melinda Stamenkovic and Ratko Vatavuk
Project Practice Director: David Flannery
Project Interior Designer: Stephanie Simko
Project Team: Melinda Stamenkovic and Ratko Vatavuk
Structural Civil Facade Engineer: Ove Arup
Electrical Data Comms Security: Rudds Consulting
Mechanical and Lift Engineer: GHD
BCA Consultant: Fire Safety Science
Hospitality Consultant: Sangster Design Group
Conservation Thespis: International Conservation Services
Artist Fractal Weave: David Jensz
Project Director: APP Corporation
Building Contractor: Bovis Lend Lease
Cost Consultant: WT Partnership
Photographer: Brett Boardman Photography
Photographer: Brett Boardman Photography
Photographer: Brett Boardman Photography

Photographs by Brett Boardman Photography, Brett Boardman Photography & Brett Boardman Photography, text by Bligh Voller Nield

Link directly to this award entry: is the website of The Royal Australian Institute of Architects