Like cats chasing tails, all that is urgent in contemporary discussions of the city circles around the topic of density. While this makes it easy to define the shape of the boxing ring, it doesn’t set the rules of the fight, and boy oh boy is density ever a fight. Here in Sydney urban planning discourse feels like a nightmare dreamed in a fever, a chase scene in which it is impossible not to run in circles, slowly. As someone who cares deeply about Sydney’s future, it was a sweet relief to leave Smug City for a few weeks to see how they make cities in Europe.
Architecture | Urban Design
To travel in the desirable parts of the world involves waiting in line. Given this, the line to get into the 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture appeared to be mercifully short, short enough to identify those waiting in it as, if not individuals, at least stereotypes. Before the first five minutes of complete stasis had passed it was clear that the blockage at the ticket window was caused by a dapper Italian, almost certainly an architect, wearing a striped shirt and a dark tan, newspaper folded under his arm, with flowing grey hair and a beard he’d probably cultivated his entire adult life. He leaned on the counter as though it were his favorite neighborhood espresso bar. His purchase of a ticket seemed to be inhibited by endless complications. At intervals he turned to the rest of us with a shrug, as though the harried young ticket seller were evidence of how impossible it is to find good help these days. Then his mobile rang and of course he answered it, leaving the ticket seller and the rest of us waiting…
“What’s that thing?” -A boy points out the Sydney Opera House to his grandmother, overheard on a train crossing the Harbour Bridge, 21 July 2010. During a recent screening of Rear Window at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I became preoccupied by the audience’s reaction. For me, Rear Window was a “gateway” film, an open door into the beautifully fraudulent world of cinema. I had not seen it for a long time, and watching a good 35mm print with an intelligent audience was a good chance to assess its true impact. In the cinematic canon, if such a thing exists, Rear Window seems to have come to rest partway along the spectrum between familiar, comforting films, say, It’s a Wonderful Life or Gone With the Wind, and perpetually unnerving experiences like, to name two of the blackest noirs I’ve ever seen, Scarlet Street or Detour. Films in the former category tend to generate formulaic responses which paper over any disturbing themes, and allow the work to be arranged as part of the cultural furniture. Films from the bad part of town, by contrast, refuse enclosure in a tidy package. Beyond whatever unsavory aspects of human nature they might reveal, these disturbing films demand to be viewed at 1:1 scale, as though for the first time, every time (this is not a simple distinction between blanc et noir, when Swing Time screened at the Gallery the week after Rear Window, any stirrings of featherbed nostalgia among the audience were quickly overcome in the presence of 103 minutes of sublime cinematic bliss). Rear Window retains characteristics of each extreme. Jimmy Stewart’s voyeurism now seems relatively innocent, at least compared to what people are into these days. The audience reacted to his obsessive nosiness with the same sighing, nostalgic little titters emitted by a gaggle of thirty five year olds watching The Breakfast Club. At the same time, certain moments of Rear Window remained shocking, particularly Stewart’s almost brutal coldness to Grace Kelly. Perhaps every classic film might be found somewhere along this imaginary line between Scarlett’s Tara and Ann Savage’s consumptive cough in Detour.
Barangaroo developer Lend Lease has released a revised plan for the site. The fact that it is an improvement on their previous proposal is like saying Burger King is better than McDonalds, perhaps true, but surely there are better hamburgers in the world. Sydney city councilor John McInerney is probably right to suggest that Lend Lease has pulled an inverted bait-and-switch of the ‘propose something outrageous and the less outrageous thing you planned all along will seem reasonable’ variety. Ironically, by improving some of the original design’s worst excesses — for example, the “exclamation mark” hotel has been reduced in height and does not project as far into the harbour — its fundamental flaws are more glaring than ever.
Robin Boyd wrote The Australian Ugliness fifty years ago. Our question is obvious: is that ugliness still with us? EXHIBIT A: An Ugly Scene in a Beautiful Place… A leaf blower whines as I write this. Mozart cannot be played loud enough to drown it out. No matter, it reminds me of a limpid Friday evening a few months ago. A ruddy sun sparkled on the leaves of the blue gums, the breeze was a gentle early summer whisper, an evening one could fall into like a calm sea. I could take it no longer. I traced the errant whine to the dead end of my street. After waving for a few seconds to catch my neighbor’s attfention, he turned off his blower and removed his sensible hearing protection so we could have a conversation which went something like this:
“The Master Plan suggests an architecture that, despite its scale, will not overshadow any of the spaces that are, in and of themselves, naturally beautiful. The exception to this is the library and hotel pier. A reference to tall ships that once docked at the harbour’s edge and the hotel and library are expressions of the magnificent ability for a building to almost walk on water. This architecture will provide necessary markers in their own right.” -from the Barangaroo Public Display, March 2010
Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward Guggenheim Museum, New York May 15–August 23, 2009 Breaking the box? The outside of the Guggenheim Museum is newly spiffed up, and the interior is agleam, down to tiny details like the fresh planters of…
First known as the New Victoria, the cinema was built by William Trent in 1930. It houses a magnificent auditorium with Scotland’s largest and grandest proscenium arch. The sidewalls have niches with sculptures of the muses of art, music and drama (designed by the artist Beattie), and the ceiling is studded with stars that represent the Milky Way.