Acton Waterfront Place Plan & Master Plan, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory - A Urban Development project for City Renewal Authority by Hames Sharley
City Renewal Authority
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

The West Basin precinct, now known as Acton Waterfront, had previously been the subject of several design firms studies, so when the City Renewal Authority engaged Hames Sharley in 2019 our first task was to thoroughly review this prior work. We analysed the previous solutions proposed then undertook fresh research, engagement, and design testing to craft a realisable direction for the waterfront public realm and landholdings, to connect the city with Lake Burley Griffin.

Extensive community and stakeholder engagement was conducted prior to the development of the master plan, informing the place character. This involved many in person interviews conducted on site as well as a nearby waterfront precinct called Kingston Waterfront. These interviews were used to help understand not only the current users, but importantly the anticipated future users of the site. Data analysis was also used to help back up the accuracy of the in-person interviews to ensure we are master planning for the people who will be using the site.

Hames Sharley led the urban design and architectural team, working closely with specialist consultants Place Laboratory, Place Intelligence and Democracy Co to reimagine this unique lakeside opportunity through a place-based, people-focused lens. Acton Waterfront has the challenge of simultaneously being both a destination for everyday life and a major foreshore recreational destination with the various scales of activity and audiences this infers.

Recognising the Griffin Legacy and connecting key waterfront activity nodes together significant site constraints meant master planning required a balance of both respect and innovation. Several elements including the boardwalk level being set by the Stage 1 works and the Parkes Way severance and Commonwealth Avenue access were key infrastructure issues and hurdles to overcome. Hames Sharley sought to interface and respond to parallel projects by integrating the urban grid with future light rail stops, the raising of London Circuit and removal of the clover leaf in the master planning process.

Extensive community and stakeholder engagement undertaken by the team informed the place character and principles. This involved community workshops and in-person interviews at the existing precinct of Kingston Waterfront. These activities served to help understand current users and importantly the anticipated future audiences of Acton Waterfront. Data analysis complemented these face-to-face engagements to validate findings and create a set of baseline lakeside activity measures. This allows the future performance of the place to be measured using the CRA’s performance metrics.

Hames Sharley created a Place Plan for Acton Waterfront released by CRA in 2020 which generated the foundation for the spatial master plan moves. Researching waterfront benchmark exemplars as informing references from national and international precedents contributed to devising a design solution for this distinctive place that was also cognisant of Canberra market trends, height, and setback controls. Using the Place Plan as guidance to the spatial master planning phase we tested multiple design options with the client and consultant team. With consideration of CRA, National Capital Authority and Light Rail requirements, we respectfully challenged and provided rationale for urban design moves. The optimum master plan produced balances public realm quality whilst maximising yield within land use and built form controls.

Currently, in 2022-23 the City Renewal Authority has progressed with the design and construction of a new waterfront park using reclaimed land behind the boardwalk at Acton Waterfront. Once complete, it will provide an accessible and attractive place for Canberrans and visitors to experience the lake with event spaces, landscaping, and amenities such as BBQ and play spaces overlooking the Lake. Over the longer term, the residential and mixed-use development of the land behind the waterfront park will be developed to support community life, realising the place-led approach and principles outlined in Hames Sharley and CRA’s Acton Waterfront Place Plan.