Fears Anzac Hall to be demolished in war memorial redevelopment

The architects behind the Australian War Memorial's Anzac Hall have pleaded with the memorial to abandon what they believe are plans for its demolition.

Denton Corker Marshall director John Denton has written to the memorial and the federal government asking them to consider alternatives to demolition, after he was tipped off that it was being considered as part of a proposed $500 million redevelopment.

There are fears Anzac Hall , at the rear of the main building, will be demolished as part of a redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Jay Cronan, Defence Media

There are fears Anzac Hall , at the rear of the main building, will be demolished as part of a redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Jay Cronan, Defence Media

Mr Denton raised his concerns more than a week ago but he had not received a response from Minister for Veterans' Affairs Darren Chester and had received only an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter from the war memorial.

Anzac Hall was completed in 2001 at a cost of about $17 million and houses some of the memorial's prized artefacts such as the Lancaster bomber G for George, a Japanese midget submarine and multimedia displays.

If demolished, the 17-year-old building would have cost taxpayers $1 million for each year it was open.

The war memorial refused to answer a number of questions from Fairfax Media, and instead issued a statement.

"The plans for the memorial’s proposed redevelopment are well advanced and we continue to work with government and the opposition," the spokesman said.

"The proposed plans will see an increase in exhibition space in the memorial, not a reduction.”

An artist impression of Anzac Hall, the grey building on the far left. It was completed in 2001. Photo: Supplied

An artist impression of Anzac Hall, the grey building on the far left. It was completed in 2001. Photo: Supplied

Similarly, Mr Chester would not answer whether the hall was due to be knocked down nor provide any reasoning for why the piece of infrastructure would be demolished.

"Plans for the proposed redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial are at an advanced stage and the government is carefully considering options to enhance the capacity of this critical national institution," a spokeswoman for Mr Chester said.

Architect John Denton (pictured in 1999) with designs for the Anzac Hall. Photo: Paul Harris

Architect John Denton (pictured in 1999) with designs for the Anzac Hall. Photo: Paul Harris

"Our government understands the community’s overwhelming support for ensuring the service and sacrifice of all Australian Defence Force personnel is appropriately recognised."

War memorial director Brendan Nelson did not return Fairfax Media's calls.

Anzac Hall was awarded the 2005 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture, which Mr Denton pointed to in his letter saying a building which had been so highly commended should be retained as part of Australia's heritage.

Denton Corker Marshall also designed the administration building and C.E.W Bean building at the war memorial.

Former war memorial director Major General Steve Gower described Anzac Hall as very special and said demolition would be wrong.

"Anzac Hall was a building of which the then council and all staff were immensely proud, and since built it’s housed some excellent displays," Major General Gower said.

Major General Steve Gower (right) with former Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon (pictured in 2007) in the Anzac Hall. Photo: Graham Tidy

Major General Steve Gower (right) with former Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon (pictured in 2007) in the Anzac Hall. Photo: Graham Tidy

"I am delighted by any plans to further develop the war memorial but would be shocked if you got rid of Anzac Hall.

"It was built to complement the main building and there would be many alternatives to pulling it down."

Mr Denton wrote that Denton Corker Marshall sought to assert its moral rights as architects of the building.

However he told Fairfax Media moral rights legislation offered very few options for architects to stop a government or business from carrying out works on a building.

Mr Denton called on the war memorial to honour Anzac Hall's place as significant Australian building and said he had concerns the memorial was expanding outside its bounds.

"I think what worries me is that it seems like Brendan Nelson is trying to aggregate a set of uses that aren’t strictly to do with the memorial or the memorial as a museum," Mr Denton said.

"Why do you need to bulk the memorial up anymore than it is now?"

Mr Denton was responding to Dr Nelson's comments in April that he would like to have a section of the memorial dedicated to veterans' affairs.

While he said this was undoubtedly important, he thought there were other locations more suitable and the war memorial should stick to its core functions.

A picture from 2001 showing an helicopter from the Royal Australian Air Force that flew in Vietnam in 1966 being transported by truck to the then-new Anzac Hall at the rear of the Memorial. Photo: Paul Harris

A picture from 2001 showing an helicopter from the Royal Australian Air Force that flew in Vietnam in 1966 being transported by truck to the then-new Anzac Hall at the rear of the Memorial. Photo: Paul Harris

He said buildings of such magnitude were designed to last anywhere from 50 to 100 years, certainly more than the 17 years Anzac Hall has been open. He added that he would prefer to see the administration or Bean buildings, also designed by the company, demolished.

"Anzac Hall was the most important building we did there of the the three, it was also the toughest achievement" Mr Denton said.

"Architects get a limited number of opportunities to do significant cultural buildings in important places.

"It does mean an awful lot to us to try and see it not demolished."

Former principal historian at the war memorial Professor Peter Stanley described any suggestion Anzac Hall would be demolished as a scandalous waste of public money.

"It is only 17 years old and is perfectly fit-for-purpose," Professor Stanley said.

"I do think that the proposed redevelopment is unjustified, especially given the money spent on the memorial during the Great War centenary and the poverty inflicted on comparable national cultural institutions."