Tag Archive: Sydney

A Grand Tour, Part 1: The Digital Flâneur

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.

Barangaroo Revisited: ‘And Here’s a City I Prepared Earlier…’

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.

City of Art: The 17th Biennale of Sydney

The 17th Biennale of Sydney succeeds spectacularly as an act of urbanism. At a time when the practice of creative urbanism in this city finds itself uncomfortably confined between the immobile sandstone cliffs of stodgy bureaucracy and the wiles of crony developers, the real deal is most welcome, even if it is only temporary. Aside from the quality of the art, which is surprisingly high, it is clear that the Biennale organizers and curator David Elliott have succeeded in a genuine act of Urban Doing, that jolly competitor to the familiar discipline of urban planning.

Tree to be Removed: Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness Turns 50

Five trees to be removed, Wahroonga Railway Station, April 2010. Photo © 2010 Alan Miller.

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:

Maximum Stupid: Sydney’s Big Barangaroo Blowup

“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

Two Little Battlers: Alasdair McGregor, Grand Obsessions: The Life and Work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin

To disparage Canberra is every non-Canberran Australian’s birthright. To many Sydneysiders and Melburnians, the bush capital, seemingly custom built for cars and the public servants they contain, is not a proper city. As with Washington, what goes on there has not helped the city’s image and “Canberra” has become shorthand both for government, and for the kind of self-referential political sausage-making which thwarts true progress. During my visits to ‘our nation’s capital’ I’ve often wondered if the city was the result of a scaling error; there is a weird discrepancy between what your brain envisages when looking at a map of the city and reality. All those circles which one might imagine to be urban boulevards turn out to be dusty suburban streets, their radii too large to be perceived, yet just curved enough to get the visitor well lost.

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