“It’s not trying to wipe it out and start again, but it’s just looking at how that now needs to be developed,” he said.
“[What we have now is] very much a kind of outline master plan, and all the key principles that underpin it are really important, and robust.”
Authority chief executive Malcolm Snow said previous modelling for the area showed a much larger proportion of the precinct would be residential, with maximum apartment numbers based on a high level of residential redevelopment.
But the authority is now looking a much broader mix of development that includes substantial public space, commercial, retail and community facilities.
But there was likely to be at least 2000 apartments in the area, many of them of 100 square metres or more.
“We’re hoping that we will set the parameters for them such that they will be particular to this place, and hopefully there’ll be a big range of types of apartments, as opposed to just a cookie-cutter approach,” Professor Maher said.
“There will be family apartments, there will be affordable apartments, it will be about the diversity of the city that should be in place.”
He said the tallest apartment buildings would be set further away from the lakefront, behind Parkes Way, and the heights would then be staggered, from two storeys on the waterfront for smaller buildings in the park area, four storeys along the facing edge, to six storeys in the area backing up to Parkes Way.
And because of the broad public park and promenade directly on the waterfront, which will be built initially, there would be no apartments directly on the waterfront.
“It will be scaled to the lake, and there’ll be very generous public realms, streets and landscapes that will make it, importantly, feel part of what Canberra can have, as opposed to what other cities might have,” he said.
“So this notion that it embraces and connects to the landscape will be important.”
The authority is now waiting for a land-swap to take place between the National Capital Authority and the ACT government, which will free up the lakefront land for development.
Professor Maher, who was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects gold medal in 2010, is part of the team guiding the design of West Basin.
He has a long-term connection to Canberra; he designed the Canberra Playhouse, and once had an office in the city.
He said the West Basin project was an opportunity that “other cities would cry out for”, and that leaving the area untouched would be a poor outcome.
“For those who value the ‘naturalesque’ parts of the lake — and it is an artificial lake — there’s 40km of natural foreshore around it,” he said.
“This is the one part where you can make it more vital and interesting and connected to the city. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
He said it was important the waterfront park and boulevard be established first, to set the tone for the rest of the precinct, and that the final designs for the precinct would take time.
“We have to be patient and we have to get it right, and I think the benefits will flow, but it’s over a five-to-10 year timeframe as opposed to a one-to-two year timeframe.
“The best neighbourhoods happen when you establish a really good public realm framework and then you in-fill it progressively.”
He this was also a way of “future-proofing” the area, in which 5000 or more people could one day be living and working.
“It’s not just a residential enclave; most great cities have these really interesting mixed-use precincts and neighbourhoods around their centre, and that’s really our challenge,” he said.
And while Parkes Way presented a very real barrier to the lakefront meeting its full potential, Professor Maher said there were ways to “heal the incision,” including more overpasses, or lowering it below ground.
Authority director Malcolm Snow said while the freeway was beyond the authority’s remit as a piece of infrastructure, it would provide input to how it was approached.
Professor Maher said that regardless of the eventual outcome for the road itself is, the authority would settle on a design outcome to bridge Parkes Way that removes it as a physical and mental barrier between Civic and West Basin.
“We know that there are people who highly value that (lakefront), and we would hope that we can convince people over time that what we’re doing here is very much part of Canberra, very much respecting the experience of the lake, very much respecting Canberra as a landscape city, very much building on the kind of intent of Griffin, which makes it very particular,” he said.
Sally Pryor is a reporter at The Canberra Times.