18b

Site Overview

site name:
Cameron Offices
other/former name:
Belconnen Offices
architects:

John Andrews, Peter Courtney (John Andrews International)
date of commission:

1968
date of completion:

1977
address:
Chandler Street 2617, Belconnen, Canberra, ACT
classification / typology:
Commerce (COM)
listing/protection:
 
Nominated by the RAIA to ACT Heritage Register
current use:
Office Building
current condition:
Adapted
editor fiche:
Scott Robertson (August 2006)

Description

Status of protection

Register of the National Estate Yes (Registered place)
National Heritage List Nominated
RAIA National Register (20th Century Buildings of Significance) Yes
National Trust of Australia Register Unconfirmed
State Heritage Register/Inventory Nominated by the RAIA to ACT Heritage Register
LEP No
Grade (ie level of protection) None
Archival Recording exists? No
Date: Not applicable
valid for: whole area/parts of area/building

Comments on typology:

Whilst meeting the original brief (program) for the design and construction of government offices arranged in small groups to allow for flexible reorganisation and re-grouping of work teams, the building was also conceived of as the initial phase and an integral part of a megastructure to encompass the entire town centre of Belconnen (an satellite urban area of the national capital, Canberra). The Cameron Offices was the only part of the town centre megastructure which was constructed and the town centre was located not immediately adjacent to the offices as originally intended.

History of building

Chronology

commission or competition date: 1968
design period(s): 1968 – 1977
start of site work: 1970
completion/inauguration: 1977 (progressive occupancy from 1973)

Summary of development

Commission / Design Brief

The Belconnen Town Centre was designed as one of the three principal independent town centres of Canberra.

The Town Centre was planned to achieve “Shopping and commercial facilities will be closely integrated with community facilities such as library, exhibition galleries, …” A permanent residential population of 10,000 was planned fro the town centre.

The Cameron offices were conceived as an element of an urban proposal. Pedestrian movement became the primary generator of the physical and social framework of the scheme.

The NCDC’s initial proposal for the site included 5 fifteen storey tower buildings, which were intended to create the urban environment.

The accepted solution provided by John Andrews was 9 wings of 4 storeys. Which stepped with the contours of the site. The complex was proposed to link across roadways via pedestrian walkways to adjacent residential and retail complexes.

Prior to completion of Cameron Offices the shopping mall which was to have been erected immediately to the north was relocated a site further to the west. This affected the fundamental design premise of pedestrian links on which the offices had been designed.

Cameron Offices was the first building constructed in the Belconnen Town Centre.

Building / Construction

The complex is constructed in situ in much of the mall area. The office areas are precast concrete (mostly post tensioned). The precasting was carried out on site.

The structural system is complex yet logical in an effort to provide efficient and economical use of materials, column-free office spaces with clear spans of 17 metres, sun-shading to the north facing offices and a pleasing regular architectural rhythm to the overall complex.

The 17 metre long precast T beams which form the floors and roofs overhang to the north and are picked up by edge beams which are, in turn, supported by individual columns staggered for each floor.

The southern ends of the T beams are supported by edge beams which are picked up by individual staggered hanging ‘columns’ from large ‘gallows’ beams which span across the landscaped courtyards. The gallows beams are, in turn, supported by large full-height columns to the south of the hangers and the main structure of the offices to the north. To provide column-free office spaces the structural columns are located in the landscaped courtyards between each wing. (AHC citation)

Cameron Offices are air-conditioned by a District Thermal Station (DTS) which also provides heating and cooling to the neighbouring Benjamin Offices. It was originally designed to service the proposed retail centre that was to be located to the north of Cameron Offices. (CM & P 1998)

Relevant persons / organisations

original owner(s)/patron(s): National Capital Development Commission (Federal Government of Australia)
architect(s): John Andrews International (Australia & Canada)
design architect: John Andrews & Peter Courtney
landscape architect: Richard Strong & Associates, Toronto (Steve Morehead)
consulting structural engineer(s): P.O. Miller, Milston & Ferris Pty Ltd, Sydney (Peter Miller)
consulting mechanical engineer(s): D.S. Thomas & Partners, Sydney (Don Thomas)
consulting electrical engineer(s): McCredie, Richmond & Johns (later DR Lawson Associates), Sydney (Don Lawson)
building contractor(s): T.C. Whittle Pty Ltd, Canberra

Summary of important changes after completion

type of change: alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/ other: Original roof gardens roofed over with metal roofing
date(s): 1987-88
circumstances/ reasons for change An early attempt to resolve water leaks
type of change: alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/ other: All courtyards replanted
date(s): 1988
circumstances/ reasons for change Carried out at the same time as the loss of roof-top gardens
type of change: alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/ other: 25% of entry doors replaced with automatic entry doors
date(s): 1992
circumstances/ reasons for change To improve access for people with disabilities
type of change: alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/ other: Mall 1 and Mall 5 staircases and ceilings replaced
date(s): 1993
circumstances/ reasons for change unknown
type of change: alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/ other: Exposed brickwork painted with Emerclad
date(s): 1993-98
circumstances/ reasons for change To improve waterproofing
type of change: alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/ other: Boilers and chillers replaced in District Thermal Station
date(s): 1994-96
circumstances/ reasons for change Improvement in technology and efficiency
type of change: alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/ Level 2 walkway paving replaced
date(s): 1994-98
circumstances/ reasons for change unknown
type of change: alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/ other: Modifications made to improve access for people with disabilities
date(s): 1997-98
circumstances/ reasons for change To improve access for people with disabilities

General Description: 

Site/building character

The following description is drawn from the advice provided by the RAIA to the UIA:

The Cameron Offices, located along Chandler Street, Belconnen Town Centre, is an example of significant architecture and an educational resource. The office complex is a very good example of the Late twentieth-Century international Style (1960-) and the Late Twentieth Century Brutalist Style (1960-). The design incorporates most of the features which are specific to the styles including:

Late Twentieth Century International Style (1960-): cubiform overall shape, structural frame expressed, large sheets of glass, plan, smooth wall surface.

Late Twentieth Century Brutalist Style (1960-): strong shapes, boldly composed, expressed reinforced concre3te, large areas of blank wall, off-form concrete.

The following features are of additional significance:
The precast, post-tensioned concrete T floor beams with the integration of the lighting and air- conditioning; the landscaped courtyards with Australian native plants and water features; the structural system for the office wing’s floors where the gallows beams support the floors by hanging ‘columns’; the stepped floors at half levels; overhang of the upper floors for sun-shading to the north; Corbusian (ribbon) window motif; assertive cantilever; long expressed reinforced concrete balustrades along the ‘Mall’.

The office complex is Canberra’s (and Australia’s) first and only true example of architectural example of “Structuralism” where buildings are integral to and contributing elements of an overall urban order rather than separate and individual elements. Although the town plan for Belconnen was later altered during construction of the complex, it still exhibits this theory making it significant.

The structural system incorporated in the office wings where the floors are supported by columns to the north and are hung from “gallows” beams to the south is a technically innovative solution. The use of post- tensioned precast concrete for much of the structure was a relatively new building type.

The architecture of this office complex may contribute to the education of designers in their understanding of Late Twentieth-Century architectural styles.

John Andrews is recognised as one of Australia’s leading architects of the modern movement. He was awarded the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1980.

This office complex was his first and largest project in Australia. It is one of the two most important buildings designed by him in Australia, the other being the King George Tower (now NRMA House) in Sydney .

Present (physical) condition

The building is in good condition. A number of areas of building fabric deterioration have been identified externally and internally.

Note(s) on context, indicating potential developments

Cameron Offices have been sold to a private developer and portions of the complex are likely to be demolished in the redevelopment of the site.

Evaluation

Technical evaluation:

The complex is constructed in situ in much of the mall area. The office areas are precast concrete (mostly post tensioned). The precasting was carried out on site.

The structural system is complex yet logical in an effort to provide efficient and economical use of materials, column-free office spaces with clear spans of 17 metres, sun-shading to the north facing offices and a pleasing regular architectural rhythm to the overall complex.

The 17 metre long precast T beams which form the floors and roofs overhang to the north and are picked up by edge beams which are, in turn, supported by individual columns staggered for each floor.

The southern ends of the T beams are supported by edge beams which are picked up by individual staggered hanging ‘columns’ from large ‘gallows’ beams which span across the landscaped courtyards. The gallows beams are, in turn, supported by large full-height columns to the south of the hangers and the main structure of the offices to the north. To provide column-free office spaces the structural columns are located in the landscaped courtyards between each wing. (AHC citation)

Cameron Offices are air-conditioned by a District Thermal Station (DTS) which also provides heating and cooling to the neighbouring Benjamin Offices. It was originally designed to service the proposed retail centre that was to be located to the north of Cameron Offices. (CM & P 1998)

Social evaluation:

The urban aspirations of the project to connect via an internal pedestrian street the residential, commercial and retail sectors of a town centre and the attempt to improve the workers’ environment by allowing each person a landscaped view, changed the NCDC’s approach to the planning of new buildings. (CM & P 1998) Cameron Offices has become an architectural icon of the Belconnen Town Centre.

Cultural and aesthetic evaluation

The Cameron offices exhibit particular architectural elements specific to the Late 20th Century International Style: cubiform overall shape, structural frame expressed, large sheets of glass, plan, smooth wall surface and the Late 20th Century Brutalist Style with strong shapes, boldly composed, expressed reinforced concre3te, large areas of blank wall, off-form concrete.

The Cameron offices have a landmark quality within Belconnen and have been a major identifying feature since their construction.

The courtyard landscaping themes represent an attempt to create a uniquely Australian concept in office landscapes. These included recreating the landscape themes of the Australian Continent in each of the six courtyards ranging from the high plains to dry desert themes.

Documentation

“Canadian architecture abroad” (1967) Architecture Canada, 44: 29-40.
Frampton, K. (1967) “Scarborough College, Toronto, Ontario” Architectural Design 37: 178-187.

Osborn, F.J. and Whittick, A. (1969) The New Towns – the answer to megalopolis, Leonard Hill, London. Introduction by Lewis Mumford.

“Special Edition; a view of contemporary world architecture” (1970) Japan Architect, 45.
Jensen, R. (1970) “Design and Process; Four projects by the John Andrews Office” Architectural Record 147 (2): 131-146.

“Designing for growth; the metamorphosis of a rural campus into a university town” (1972) Architectural Record 151 (5); 89-98.

“John Andrews” (1974) A + U: architecture and urbanism, 4 (5) 41; 1-38.

Robinson, A.J. (1975) Economics and New Towns — A comparative study of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, Praeger Publishers, New York.

Saunders, D (1976) “Homes for Bureaucrats” in Architecture Australia June/July1976. Taylor, J. (1978) “Civil Service City” Architectural Review, 163 (973); 136-146.

“John Andrews, RAIA Gold Medallist 1980” (1981) Architecture Australia 70 (2).

Robertson, J. (1980) “Architecture as urban precinct; an office block by John Andrews which eloquently reaches the high planning standards of Walter Burley Griffin’s Canberra”, Architectural Record, 168 (5); 78-85.

Lewis, Miles (1988) Two hundred years of concrete in Australia, Concrete Institute of Australia, Sydney.

Taylor, Jennifer, & Andrews, John (1982) John Andrews: Architecture a Performing Art, Melbourne/Toronto: Oxford University Press

Apperly, R, Irving, R and Reynolds, P. (1989) Identifying Australian Architecture. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, Publishers

Taylor, Jennifer (1990) Australian Architecture Since 1960, 2nd Edition, Canberra: RAIA

Royal Australian Institute of Architects (1997) “Cameron Offices”, nomination report to the Australian Heritage Commission.

Connybeare Morrison & Partners (1998) Conservation Analysis, Cameron Offices, Belconnen, Canberra, prepared for the Department of Finance and Administration.

Drew, P. (2000) “John Andrews; Australian architecture’s American hero” Architecture Australia 89 (3): 82- 87.

Royal Australian Institute of Architects (2000) RAIA RSTCA UIA Nomination Report. Cameron Offices, Canberra.

Campbell Dion Pty Ltd Town Planners and Architects (2003) Cameron Offices Belconnen Draft Conservation Management Plan Part Two. Prepared on Behalf of Cameron Nominees (ACT) Pty Ltd.

Cameron Offices. Australian Heritage Database. Register of the National Estate, Place Report.

Smith Kostyrko Cohen Middleton Pty Ltd (undated) Cameron Offices Conservation Management Plan, prepared on Behalf of Cameron Nominees (ACT) Pty Ltd.

Cameron Offices. Australian Heritage Database. Place Report. Place ID. 101084

Fiche: Cameron Offices Fiche by Docomomo Australia – 2006 (Pdf)

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