Catherine Townsend, the new ACT Government Architect, says there needs to be greater exploration of "capturing the citizen voice" in planning.
Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman announced her appointment on Wednesday.
"Catherine brings a wealth of local expertise in roles such as the director of the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia, chair of ACT Board of Architects, and as a member of the Building Regulatory Advisory Committee, as well as being recognised as a highly competent architect," he said.
The role of the Government Architect is to "provide independent design advice to the ACT Government on architecture, urban design, planning and procurement. Advice from the Government Architect may be sought on major government projects or private proposals".
Ms Townsend grew up in Canberra, arriving as a fourth grade student at Forrest Primary School from Sydney.
Her father was a scientist at the CSIRO and her mother was a physiotherapist and they moved to the national capital for work.
Ms Townsend went on to attend Canberra High School and Canberra Girls Grammar.
She studied for Bachelor of Applied Science in Environmental Design at the then Canberra College of Advanced Education (now University of Canberra) and received her second degree, in architecture, from the University of Sydney.
As a young architect, Ms Townsend worked for Mitchell Giurgola & Thorp Architects and Peter Freeman & Partners Architects and Planners during the 1980s.
She and her partner Bruce Townsend established the Canberra-based firm Townsend + Associates Architects in 1993.
"Through her work at T+AA Catherine attained an impressive list of industry awards and has contributed to a number of important advisory groups and tribunals such as 2003 Bushfire Recovery Taskforce, juror on the National Portrait Gallery Design Competition and adviser for the Canberra International Arboretum Design Competition," Mr Gentleman said.
Ms Townsend said the role of government architect brought together her experience in the public and private realms.
"I see [the job] as not maintaining a standard, but of generating a standard," she said.
"Our cities are growing and certainly an element of the community would like us to remain static and not grow any more.
"But no one has actually invented a way to do that. So until that ground-breaking development, let's assume the city is growing and let's do it well."
She declined to yet reveal a public or private opinion on the proposed light rail project, which will have a profound impact on planning along its corridor, or the controversy around the unsolicited bid to redevelopment the Manuka Oval precinct.
"I haven't got my feet under the desk yet," she said.
But Ms Townsend did suggest the controversy around the Manuka Oval proposal pointed to the wider issue of including the ordinary resident in the planning of the national capital.
"How do we capture the citizen voice?" she said.
There was also the ongoing issue of higher density living in the ACT.
"Canberra will change and we will have to balance the greenfield with the infill. There will be infill. That's a fact of life. And we have to make sure we do it well," she said.
That meant ensuring there were "social dividends" to the community, whether that meant adequate sunlight to enough green space.
"Australia is one of the world's most urbanised countries, and Canberra is not alone in seeking better ways to nurture our physical environment: both natural and built. I am excited to work with the ACT Government to focus on improving quality of life through good design, " she said.
The Townsends had two dogs which were a fixture of their O'Connor offices – Birdie the kelpie, still alive and well, and Connie the 17-year-old blue heeler, who died on Monday.
Ms Townsend replaces the ACT's first Government Architect, Professor Alastair Swayn , who submitted his resignation earlier this year due to ill health and died earlier in August.
We asked Ms Townsend to nominate her all-time favourite Canberra buildings. She said the staircase at Hotel Hotel was her favourite architectural object in the national capital. Among her favourite buildings worked on by her own firm was a pool enclosure at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra and a private residence, 9 Finniss Crescent, Narrabundah, which sold in February for an undisclosed amount, still smashing the suburb's residential house record. Here are her top five picks:
1. The Shine Dome
"It was futuristic when it was built and 50 years later it's still futuristic. It was a great concept and superbly crafted."
2. The High Court
"Again a great concept. The quality of design and the craftsmanship was unbelievable. You won't get concrete like that again.
"Also, Bruce and I married there, on the steps. It makes a fantastic cathedral."
3. University House at ANU
"For its scale, its form, its craft. And the way it brings the inside out with a wonderful outdoor area and pond."
4. Aldo Giurgola's Charnwood church, St Thomas Aquinas Parish Church.
"It's an extremely modest building, but it has an interior warmth. It's a building that provokes an emotional response and that's rare.
5. National Arboretum Canberra
"As a whole. The concept is mind-blowing and the exploration of land and form is extraordinary. The fact it will continue to change is one of its great things."
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