A view of the Currong Flats taken in the mid 1960s. Photographer unknown. abc-flats-feat

‘A-B-C’ flats to be demolished?

Mid-century modern houses and buildings are always vulnerable when they’re located on valuable land—whether heritage listed or not. And so it is with the Allawah, Bega and Currong flats in Braddon (1954), which sit on land close to Civic estimated to be worth $63 million.

The Canberra Times of 11 April, 2010 reports that the “ABC Flats”, as they’re colloquially known, will be almost entirely demolished to make way for a large scale high density redevelopment. A concept master plan has been commissioned by the ACT Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services and prepared by architects and planners Cox, Humphries, Moss.

Currong and Allawah flats will go, while 5 buildings from the Bega Flats will be kept. In their place will be 1200 high density dwellings including townhouses on the northern side and high-rise apartments on the southern side facing the Canberra Centre.

Currong Flats were decommissioned as public housing in 2004-2005 and are now occupied by students from the ANU, University of Canberra and CIT. It’s being hyped as a ‘new dawn’ for public housing in the ACT, although only 10% of the new development will be set aside for public housing. Those public housing residents occupying the 228 units on Bega and Allawah Flats will mostly be relocated.

The flats are valued by the Australian Institute of Architects as good examples of the post-war international style. Although nominated for listing on the ACT Heritage Register, a study carried out last year found that the they were only of ‘slight to moderate heritage significance’ because of their social and historical values. The study also noted that while the buildings were difficult to maintain and made for inhospitable dwellings, the courtyard layout and landscape of the Allawah flats was worth preserving.

There are 63 million reasons why the heritage value of these flats won’t be talked about too much, so before we say goodbye to another chapter in Canberra’s postwar planning and architectural history, it’s worth briefly noting why they are important and of interest.

The flats were designed in 1954 by Richard Ure and Ian Slater in the Canberra office of the Commonwealth Department of Works. They were Canberra’s first medium density public housing. These post-war international style flats are significant examples of that style of architecture and are also of value for the way they demonstrate the planning and design of Canberra’s first medium density public housing, which was built to cope with the housing shortage as the city emerged from the austerity of the period after World War II.

It’s 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. Somewhat ironic, then, that they were built to increase the density of housing near Civic and will be demolished partly for the same reason—to allow for increased housing density near the city.

You can read more on the origins and significance of the Bega and Allawah Flats in this house profile.