Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News And Features
Homebush cock and bull story
E. M. FARRELLY
SO, is there life ex-Paddington? Will the new Easter Show at Homebush – well west of Glebe – still be our Easter show; tawdry, pungent and seductive in equal parts? Or will it peg out like Luna Park, unable to sustain the old pizazz under new conditions? In a few short months we’ll know. The test event is February’s Homeware show, then it’s Easter. Pretty scary.
From the designer’s point of view this very pressure is one of the joys of the enormous archi-binge now raging out at Homebush. Two years ago architects were queuing in the streets. Now there are barely enough to go around, and they can relax in the knowledge that each building/pavilion/stadium commissioned must go up – next week, or the one after.
Unlike real life, where the ratio of built-to-binned is measurable in parts per million, there’s no room at Homebush for fear or fibrillation on the part of the client body. Fat lady will sing, period.
The new RAS premises at Homebush comprise some 25 buildings and 150,000 square metres. Not counting the carousels-and-candy-floss department which, unlike the deal at Paddo, is over the back fence, sidelined in a manner calculated to offend the sensibilities of some of our younger readers.
The 25 serious buildings occupy a squarish 30-hectare block fronting the main Olympic Boulevard – that vast backgammon board intended to unify the whole deal – and flanked by Ken Maher’s elegant new railway station, now near-complete and looking terrific.
The buildings were divvied up and design-tendered in three lots: Zone 1 the Exhibition building; Zone 2 the main Show Ring, horticulture and wood-chopping buildings and dog and cat pavilions (separate), along with the overall public domain design; and Zone 3 the livestock pavilions.
Architect Bob Perry, of Scott Carver, reasoned that the star architects would go for, and get, the star commissions (Zones 1 and 2). So his team focused on the livestock instead. Good strategy, as it turned out. Ken Woolley got the vast Exhibition Building, which will replace all the old Industrial Halls at Paddo, while a Cox-Andersons-Conybeare consortium won – surprise – the Show Ring etc.
Scott Carver, a North Sydney firm not renowned for its pastoral tendencies, joined SJPH Design Partnership and Timothy Court to form Pavilion Architects, winning the right to design what, on a third of the dollars per square metre, could only become a collection of huge, dead-simple farm sheds.
Of the 16 Zone 3 buildings, two – the twin sheep and poultry pavilions – are really only moonlighting for the RAS. Their day-job is as a sports centre for indoor ball games, in which capacity they will host warm-ups for Olympic handball, as well as some Paralympic events.
Because of this, and the consequent need for column-free space, the State’s top chooks will enjoy a roof-full of elegant, Arup-designed bow trusses over their vainglory. Otherwise, though, Perry’s intention as design director for the pavilion project was to go for something consciously unfussy, un- architectural. The guiding design principle was to detail “as the farmer would”. She’ll be right.
To be fair, Perry may not have had much choice in this. His $1,000/square metre was never going to run to titanium cladding. The resulting buildings are mostly huge steel-framed sheds, with profiled-steel and brick weather-skins, huge spreading roofs, and floors which follow natural ground level – making all the columns different lengths – in order to offer easy animal access all round.
There is some differentiation according to species. The Clydesdale pavilion, for instance, is framed in heavy, warehouse-scale recycled hardwood. And there’s a degree of variety for its own sake, so that the pony pavilions are also timber-framed, only in great, laminated L-section portals.
The big investment, though – in time as much as in money – is in the roofs. The buildings had to be naturally ventilated and as far as possible naturally lit – but were up to five times the recommended maximum width for such an exercise.
Further, while to the urban eye your standard bovine may not look especially energetic, each animal generates two kilowatts of heat, just standing still. In a shed this size that’s like 700-odd two-bar radiators burning night and day. ‘Salotta cool-power to expect from an unassisted fresh-air system. And the secret is in the roof.
Luckily, a few columns here and there were perfectly acceptable in the pavilions, allowing roof forms to be freely manipulated in pursuit of light and air. Throughout the design process Perry consciously sought what he calls “a fresh iconography for ESD architecture”.
Call it jargon but the goal is real enough. The idea is that through the practice of what Perry calls “intelligence- intensive” design, as opposed to the formulaic, pattern-book stuff of recent times, architecture might rediscover a state of grace, wherein poetic form – beauty, if you will – arises naturally from the technical (but low-tech) solution of environmental problems. This would give architecture something to chew on, again. Not since the last time Form Followed Function has the discipline – for want of a better word – felt the comfort of such an irreducible core.
And does it work? Not as smoothly as it sounds, perhaps, but yes, it works. Barns they may be, but Pavilion’s design methodology was far from rustic, being wholly dependent on “digital prototyping or 3-D computer modelling, to shape, test and refine the final form.
The cyber-scene offered not only virtual pre-experience of the finished building, but on-screen scrutiny of the comfort level within the building at any time of day or year, including air temperature and movement, incident daylight and sunlight, and patterns of flame or smoke behaviour in case of fire. (Indeed, so adept was Scott Carver’s use of the medium that its client-presentation CD-ROM package took out two of this year’s Australian International Multimedia Awards. Not bad for a still largely pencil-based profession.)
The smaller buildings were capable of ventilation simply through perimeter louvres and a central ridge ventilator, traditional barn-style. Half a dozen of the big buildings, though, primarily the horse and cattle pavilions, were too low and wa-aay too wide to generate a decent stack effect on their own. Help was needed. The Pavilion solution was to find some physical but “passive” (ie no-energy) means of artificially enhancing air-flow. This meant treating the central, axial zone of each pavilion as a series of notional “chambers”, defined by louvred roof lanterns, painted black on top to encourage air to rise up and out and underslung by a column of billowing fabric flues suspended
overhead like so many truncated udders.
These flues are designed to siphon warm air from the body of the building, drawing cool replacement air from ground level and along the floor plane – as inhabited by representatives of both two- and four-legged species – rather than leaving it to slide up the roof line. Fire exigencies meant that the flues had to disintegrate between 220C and 260C, so they’re made of nylon, rather than canvas as originally envisaged. But their warm tea-rose colour and full, slightly puckered forms suggest some sort of ancient rural tradition rather than any space-age ESD prototype.
These and other creative addenda – such as the stainless steel rooftop reflectors in the horse pavilion which reflect a light level of 300 lux onto the floor without a single ray of direct sun to frighten the horses – ensure a remarkably pleasant ambience despite the odd crudity of detail.
The horse marshalling area, a great wall-less roof with vestigial hitching rails all around, has something of a Renaissance marketplace feel, despite being a trifle over-engineered. The pigs, goats and alpacas at least summon enough colonnaded civic panache to front the main Olympic Boulevard without letting the side down – not an easy task, under the circs.
In nearby zones, Woolley’s four-in-one exhibition hall offers a magnificent 312-metre long dome-headed space, while the Cox Show Ring (doubling as the Olympic baseball arena) enjoys a curious egg-shaped plan, undulating roof and intimate feel which even suggest, dare one murmur, improvement on the old. One or two of the smaller buildings, especially Cox’s witch-hatted cat pavilion, are quite wonderful and the whole will be plugged into a simple avenued landscape of planes and figs by Conybeare Morrison’s talented landscapist Oi Choong.
Chances are, then, that once the ordure starts to accumulate, the Show will do just fine out there in the centre. In fact the Show, like so many of Sydney’s favourite things, started in the west, in Parramatta in 1832. It moved into Prince Alfred Park in 1869, Moore Park in 1881, and back to Homebush in 1998. Full circle, almost.
Illus: No room for fear or fibrillation …
teh new Showgrounds at Homebush Bay.
Photographs by SAHLAN HAYES.