Bega Flats, Ballumbir Street, Braddon (1954) bega-flats-feature

Bega & Allawah Flats

Bega & Allawah Flats, on Ainslie Avenue and Ballumbir Street Braddon, are a group of 16 three-storey blocks of 2 bedroom flats designed in 1954 by Richard Ure and Ian Slater in the Canberra office of the Commonwealth Department of Works. These post-war international style flats were Canberra’s first medium density public housing and have similarities to European postwar housing, particularly in English new towns. In 2010, they appear destined for demolition, making way for a large scale redevelopment on this valuable land near Civic.

Significance

The flats are listed on the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) Register of Significant Twentieth Architecture. They are a good example of the post-war international style, with cubiform shapes, large sheets of glass, plain smooth wall surfaces, cantilever and overhang for shade. As a group they exhibit fine proportions and clean detailing. Their low scale and alignment with the street layout combine to make them a coherent and successful design.

The complex is also of value to the AIA for the way it demonstrates the planning and design of Canberra’s first medium density public housing, built as the city was emerging from the austerity of the immediate post World War II period. It’s also a rare example of architects and planners being influenced by the designs of English new towns, in the decade prior to the National Capital Development Commission becoming responsible for Canberra’s planning and development.

A nomination for Allawah and Bega Courts was made to the ACT Heritage Council in 1999, based on the AIA’s citation for Allawah and Bega Flats. Heritage Assessment and Impact Statements were finally sought as part of a master plan for the area in 2009 (Peter Freeman Pty Ltd) and 2010 (Phillip Leeson Architects) to enlighten the Heritage Council of the historical context and heritage significance of the buildings.

At its meeting of 15 September 2010 the ACT Heritage Council endorsed a Statement of Reasons which found the Allawah and Bega Courts were not eligible for provisional listing to the ACT Heritage Register. The reasoning behind this decision can be found in the Heritage Council’s document regarding the inclusion of Allawah and Bega Courts in the ACT Heritage Register.

Background and description

The design concept of the Bega, Allawah and Currong Flats was the result of town planner Trevor Gibson recommending to the National Capital Planning and Development Committee in 1952 that new types of housing should be used in Canberra to increase density, comparing Canberra to the English new town of Harlow. Gibson, a Sydney graduate, had been appointed to head the town planning section of the Department of Works and Housing in 1949. In 1950 the section was transferred to the Department of the Interior in Canberra, which then became responsible for developing the city. The timing of the project was a result of the urgent need to reduce the postwar housing shortage prior to the completion of the new Administrative Building in Parkes.

The principal architect for the project was Richard Ure, who had won the competition for the design of the Australian-American Memorial in 1950. Ian Slater was responsible for documenting the working drawings. Slater was later the project architect for the Canberra Olympic Pool, which won the Sulman Award in 1956.

The flats comprise 6 blocks of 18 flats along Ballumbir Street raised on columns over car parks (pictured) with laundries under 2 blocks, and 10 blocks of 12 flats on the ground forming rectangular courts behind them. Their proportions and detailing along with their siting continuing the street pattern made them more successful than the 3 eight-storey blocks of flats along Currong Street, which completed the development.

Each flat has a passage opening into a living room with a balcony, a kitchen, two bedrooms with built-in wardrobes and a bathroom. Construction is of face brick end walls, incised-patterned rendered brick front and rear walls, concrete floors and balconies and flat metal-deck roofs without parapets. Each stairwell has a fully glazed wall and each flat has full-height glazing the width of the living room and balcony. The flats were considered to be well appointed accommodation for their time.

Sources and further reading

  • Royal Australian Institute of Architects draft RSTCA Citation
  • Canberra: An Architectural Guide to Australia’s Capital, RAIA, 1982
  • The post-war international style