Francis Vierboom's Blog

A blog about things. Mostly news, ideas, and Sydney

Barangaroo: politically correct over-developed sellout? I like it

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For some reason I don’t follow many blogs written in Sydney – a lot of Australia’s blogging output seems to come from Brisbane for some reason. So I haven’t seen a lot of commentary about the development proposal for Barangaroo, which, with the closure of the old docks, is currently 44 hectares of blank cement along the western edge of the city.

As Barangaroo is now

The current site

It’s ugly and blocks public access to Sydney’s great harbour foreshore. Plus, since the shipping trucks have gone, this entire area is dead. Some development at the north end of Hickson Rd – the wharf residential and the Sydney Theatre Company – make that part vaguely interesting and supports a few restaurants, but otherwise, the long stretch of Hickson Rd along the west edge of the city is a barren parking lot, and a pleasantly uncongested long straight on the cycling route over the bridge.

Lend Lease has won the tender to develop the site with a proposal that features a ginormous hotel on an artificial pier jutting out from the shore:

Proposed development

The hotel is the featured innovation in the design, but it also creates a headland park, a mixed use ‘middle’ section with shops and parkland, and a tall set of towers at the south end (residential and commercial), as well as a new major ferry terminal to alleviate congestion at Circular Quay.

Overhead view of the proposed development

The two ‘coves’ break up the shoreline nicely, and I rather like the design. I think most people who see it do as well. The concept artwork for the hotel has a stylish 80s futurist look, a bit like the interior of the Thompson Center in Chicago (which I quite liked). The towers also all align in slightly different directions, fanning outward towards the water, which means that the sunlight will criss-cross through them during the day as the sun passes over, and there will always be at least some sunlight coming through, rather than casting straight lines throughout and blocking the sunlight for long periods.

The proposed development, featuring the hotel on the pier

On Wednesday I visited the public display about the development (open on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings) which has a nice little styrofoam model of the development, and some more detailed diagrams of the height impacts and pedestrian routes.

The Barangaroo Delivery Authority had a few staff on hand to discuss the proposal. There were a few bolshie types around at the display who made their displeasure known about the fact that the building heights breached the current planning rules and that clearly the whole thing was a sellout to developers. The staff on hand spoke well in defence of a ‘visionary, radical’ approach and the reality that there needed to be a commercial return on the development to make it possible.

I had to pipe up to defend the proposal myself too. I think there are two great things about having enormous money-spinning buildings here:

  1. Every residential city apartment is one less urban sprawl McMansion out in Kellyville. Apart from what I view as the ugliness of the developments out there anyway, it means lower transport costs, lower costs of living, lower impact lifestyles (carbon emissions and all that, but also just generally less waste is required to support a home in the centre of the city), and less time sitting in the car listening to breakfast radio. Crashing through the height restrictions means that more people can live here, and even better, it will smooth the way for higher buildings behind it with more residential capacity.
  2. High density residential apartments means there will actually be people around, both night and day. Hopefully they won’t be bought up by non-residents as holiday houses and lie dormant all year, which is currently a big problem for a lot of premium harbour developments like East Circular Quay (aka the Toasters) and Darling Island. This is also helped by the ferry terminal, which will hopefully have a few thousand people passing through this area every day.  The east-west roads across the city (Bridge/Grosvenor, Hunter/Margaret, Erskine St) are all designated for pedestrian improvements to help people flow down towards it, and the state government has also announced plans to run light rail up Hickson Rd.

The buzzword in the interesting 3-hour presentation with Keating and the architects is ‘activation’ – the area will be ‘activated’ by the shoppers, the residents, the commuters, and the tourists. The Herald has aired the grievances of the original architects, who submitted a relatively boring plan with a lot of parkland and a stack of buildings at the end. They have pointed out that the original allotment of ‘public domain’ land has been reduced, since there will be more shops and cafes and commercial development than in their design. I would say who cares? A giant empty park is not really what Sydney needs; I would much rather see cafes and entertainment venues with a lot of people around, driving demand for better public transport and more residential development. The open space along the foreshore is very important, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be something to do.

The 'artist's impression' of Hickson Rd post development

Are the UFO things loos?

The artist’s impressions are certainly pretty. They are not always exactly right-on though. Still, ever since travelling to Europe and living in cities there for short periods, I am basically a supporter of high density urban environments. I’m sure it’s very elitist of me, but the cultural vibrancy and the quality of life in a city seems to be inversely proportional to how much a car is required to use it. I like this development because it basically presses all my buttons: high density living, high-quality public spaces, and all on my doorstep!

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Written by Francis

March 5, 2010 at 2:55 pm

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