Urban Planning

Architecture | Urban Design

Barangaroo: Not so Fast?

The saga of Sydney’s Barangaroo has finally reached the point where its twists and turns are no longer predictable. The developer Lend Lease and its resolutely faux design, once paced to a seemingly unassailable lead by a compliant government and a shameless PR operation, has punctured a tire. Without a spare tube or pump, they wait by the side of the road for a team car which itself has been totaled. Meanwhile “sandal-wearing, muesli-chewing, bike-riding pedestrians” are gaining fast. No one knows how many kilometres there are to go. Consider recent events:
Architecture | Urban Design

Urban Planning: A Manifesto

The people of New South Wales have been anticipating the upcoming state election almost since the last election four years ago, never a good situation. As regular readers of our dispatches from Sydney know, the soon to be defeated Labor Government has for the past sixteen years, with its inimitably bland, shiny-suited glee, trashed poor old Sydney. A place which with the slightest effort could be the most beautiful city in the world has instead deteriorated into a kind of Los Angeles without a Raymond Chandler, a Melbourne without intricacy, a Singapore without ambition.

One of the most urgent tasks facing the next state government will be the reform of NSW’s broken planning system, a system I saw in action (if that is the right word) during the disillusioning two years I spent in a cubicle at the NSW Department of Planning.

Film

State of Siege, a New Documentary on Sydney’s Destruction

Having spent the afternoon before this one-off screening at the Nicholson Museum of ancient art, in their new re-presentation of their Egyptian collection through the eyes of Herodotus, I came across this quotation: "Cheops brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labour as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labour to build the track along which the blocks were hauled — a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself. "The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren [his successor], so great is their hatred of them; They call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who at that time fed his flocks in the neighbourhood." Will we still despise the New South Wales government in 2000 years? It doesn't seem so very far fetched. At least Cheops had a sort of vision, the pyramids have a certain stark beauty of their own and they draw many wealthy tourists. The eagerness to destroy and thugishness of the current NSW government is extreme and is it really so much worse to steal people's labor than their homes? For that's what we witness in this new documentary. As the environmentalist, bushwalker and businessman Dick Smith points out in his interview, rezoning a person's land is tantamount to stealing it because they will have no choice but to sell to the developer who puts up two ugly apartment blocks on either side of them. After food and water (and nowadays we are forced to add) clean air, shelter is the most basic human need. Interfering with people's homes thus pokes even deeper into the human psyche than the layer where Freud put his conception of the libido. The lower levels of government (state, province, local) affect our lives directly in a way the feds cannot. The wonder is that many in NSW aren't angrier.

Architecture | Urban Design

Tangled in Webs

For a long time I was afraid of spiders. My arachnophobia was only cured by moving to a Sydney, a place where some spiders can actually kill you. With the potential of an evil looking funnel web spider under the refrigerator, it seemed silly to recoil at a daddy longlegs. At this time of year — mid-late summer — nonlethal arachnids begin to dominate the bush. With a copious supply of rain earlier this summer, the spiders got an early start. Going down to pick up the paper in the morning means coming back with a web across your face; the same encounter on a bike ride or run is even more unpleasant, especially if you end up eye to eyes with the angry arachnid and its demi-deliquescent protein breakfast. It is one of those moments when you wish nature spoke English — “I’m sorry, but it’s not like wrecking your web gave me any pleasure...”. As the summer progresses we adjust to one another, or they to us; the smarter spiders learn to build their webs up high, with the greatest eight-legged engineers weaving the lowest edges of their webs just above the head of the tallest human.

Architecture | Urban Design

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.
Architecture | Urban Design

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.

Architecture | Urban Design

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

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