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A vision unrealised: what Woden could have looked like

The man who designed offices to put 5000 public servants beyond the reach of treacherous floodwaters at Woden, doesn't hide his contempt for the Commonwealth for drastically scaling back his vision.

Working in Woden's octagon pods: take a tour of the buildings

John Andrews designed the Callam Offices in the wake of the 1971 Woden flood that killed seven.

Now living in Orange, he still bitterly regrets that his vision for 26 pods became what is now a home to just 430 staff.

"I mean, they only built three of the bloody things and turned it into a TAFE. It was going to be a major office complex.

"I did a thing called the Cameron Offices, which the stupid bastards have half pulled down.


"Now that is one of the travesties of all time."

Seven people were swept to their deaths during flash-flooding in a concrete-lined creek skirting the town centre in January 1971.

He said after that disaster, the National Capital Development Commission wanted a safe solution for new offices, which led to his unique Callam Offices design.

"The total logic was how to use valuable land, right next to a shopping centre," Mr Andrews said.

"Each one of the units is on four points, it is hung on four points, or four columns, to have an absolute minimum structure in the path of the water flow. There was to be no accommodation at all at ground level."

About the same time he designed what he rates an even better building, Belconnen's Cameron Offices.

One of Australia's most significant architects, an international star of late modernism according to his peers, the 78-year-old recently joined international critics and scholars at a two-day 'John Andrews symposium' in Melbourne.

An organiser of the symposium, Deputy Dean of Architecture, Building and Planning at Melbourne University, Professor Paul Walker, said a three year research project was looking at Mr Andrews work in Australia, Canada and North America.

"For a long time I thought he was somewhat disregarded and the achievement of his work in Australia and North America is really very significant. It's time to look back at it," Professor Walker said.

"Work of that (Callam and Cameron offices) period generally is under-estimated and so I think generally academics are starting to show more interest."

The International Union of Architects' lists Cameron Offices on its register of significant 20th Century Australian architecture.

In 1980 he won the Australian Institute of Architect's gold medal, the profession's highest accolade. In the same year his design of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) in Washington won the International Union of Architects international competition.

The partial demolition of the Cameron Offices saddens Professor Walker, although he's pleased remnants are still in use, and Callam Offices remain intact.

He said buildings today did not have the robust quality of Mr Andrews work, which made places feel quite humane.

"You feel (his) buildings are going to house people for a long time, you feel part of a community in them."

Living in Orange and confined to a wheelchair after diabetes caused him to lose a leg, Mr Andrews thinks governments' desire for new buildings in Canberra at the expense of old ones is short-sighted.

"I can't say that there's a great degree of knowledge or respect for any artform in Australia, particularly architecture."


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