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    Heritage expert shares concerns for Canberra’s architecture

    Nicholas Rider

    An award-winning heritage expert has joined Canberra locals in voicing his concerns for the survival of the city’s historic buildings.

    Keith Baker, who was awarded the 2016 John Monash Medal for contribution to heritage awareness by the Institution of Engineers Australia, says more needs to be done to conserve the city's heritage.

    His sentiment is also shared by resident groups in the ACT who are busy lobbying council and government to overhaul the territory’s heritage assessment process for buildings and local landmarks, which they say is ‘slow’ and creating ‘uncertainty’.

    Baker is particularly focussed on preserving Canberra’s buildings and infrastructure that demonstrate engineering excellence and has cited the closure of the Canberra Railway and uncertainty over the former naval transmitter site in Lawson as issues of concern.

    He believes the crux of the problem lies in the composition of the Heritage Council, which he says lacked balance and is too heavily weighted to preserving architectural rather than engineering feats.

    "It would be nice if the people appointed to the Heritage Council were as representative of the conservation community as they are of people who are more aligned to developers," he told Fairfax Media.

    Kingston_Powerhouse.jpgKingston Powerhouse. Image: Wikimedia Commons

    1280px-Old_Parliament_House-_Canberra_front_entrance.jpgOld Parliament House. Image: Wikipedia 

    "To my mind, engineering has so much to do with everything that goes on in daily life, that to not record the engineering that goes into things is to only get part of the story.”

    "I'm not denigrating the conservation of architecture, but a lot of architects tend to only see the architecture and dismiss the engineering as something that can be cleared out so the shell of the building is a bit cleaner."

    He also uses the examples of the Kingston Powerhouse and Old Parliament House as important sites for engineering heritage in Canberra. For instance, Old Parliament House is home to Canberra’s first lifts, air conditioner and ducted vacuum.  

    Next on the agenda for Baker is to help record the engineering history of Mount Stromlo Observatory, which was established in 1924. He's also coordinating a paper for a book that will commemorate the centenary of Engineers Australia in 2019.

    AIConf003-MtStromlo-74-inch-Dome.jpgMount Stromlo Observatory. Image: Dave Reneke's World of Space and Astronomy

    Baker is a chartered professional electrical engineer with post-graduate qualifications in cultural heritage management. He authored A Century of Canberra Engineering in 2013 which commemorated 100 years since the laying of Canberra's foundation stone.

    He was awarded the John Monash Medal for his "outstanding contribution in raising awareness and conservation of the ACT's heritage, and providing national leadership in the promotion of engineering heritage".

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