Canberra Centre

Inspired by the past, designed for the future

An collaboration with Australian retail developer QIC to create a masterplan and designs for retail, public space and landscaping

"Canberra Centre now offers sophisticated retail spaces, a welcoming public realm and an elegant level of refined urbanity appropriate for a national capital." —

In a continuing collaboration with Australian retail developer QIC Global Real Estate (QICGRE), we created the masterplan and detailed designs to restore and revitalize 14,680 sq. m of retail, public space and landscaping in Canberra, Australia, with a new masterplan and newly designed façades, interior architecture and exterior spaces.

The Canberra Centre stands as a civic centre of great significance to the locals since its first inception as Monaro Mall, opened by the prime minister Robert Menzies in 1963. A sensitive approach was necessary out of respect to the site of heritage on which it stands, as well as reviving the external facades and its expansive interior.

Urban development on this scale begins with a period of listening. For us, that meant reengaging with the aspirations of the architect of the original civic masterplan, Walter Burley, whose desire it was to create an optimistic city ‘unlike any other in the world’. Our new design maintained the Ainslie and Monaro Malls’ significance within the public realm but recognised the changing needs of today’s consumers, for whom a retail space is no longer simply about a commoditised shopping experience but better-integrated centres that offer broader civic, cultural and commercial opportunities.

The design and restoration took four years starting with extensive research and ideation through to detail design and collaboration with local manufacturers and suppliers. Details such as the arabescato marble tiles on the external facades were restored seamlessly, visiting quarries to match the tone and veining structure of the original.

Key design updates included the scalloped awnings that surround the external facades, originally derived from those at David Jones were reinstated but engineered to meet the needs of solar shading today. A modern twist on the original mosaic to the underside was reinterpreted using a brass toned pressed metal. Once uplit these awnings acted as a lantern to frame the city blocks of the Canberra Centre.

Inside, the shell and core were stripped back to provide focus to the new undulating gradient floor pattern conceived to emphasise this public realm. Sculptural bronze balustrades were crafted to frame the views between the three floors and layered in the depth of the plan to become more dynamic in movement as you pass.

Bespoke chamfered triangular units made locally in jesmonite created depth and relief to the beauty arcade. Lighting was integrated into each panel to create a natural distribution rather than the usual standard even distribution akin to a typical mall environment. Smaller marble and terrazzo triangles adorn the floor below. Natural sunlight was directed through these textured chamfered cones to create both a sense of place within the mall and in its context, whilst also creating contrasting and unexpected natural light patterns.

The variety of spaces throughout encourages visitors to explore and connect with a physical retail environment that is of cultural significance in the current digital retail age. Ainslie Mall encloses the original external avenue but it still maintains its public right of way. This communal element was the backbone of our design development as public access had to be maintained throughout the project programme.

By emphasising the civic significance of this landmark project, the remodelled Canberra Centre gives the city and its residents somewhere to meet up and spend time as much as to shop. Most importantly, it restores civic pride in a key public asset, providing a boost for the city of Canberra at both a local and national level.