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mca 2

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 08-May-2001

Edition: Late

Section: Metropolitan


Page: 14

Wordcount: 476

What went wrong down at the Quay

Elizabeth Farrelly. Elizabeth Farrelly is the Herald’s architecture writer and a former manager of the City of Sydney’s MCA project.

Elizabeth Farrelly assesses the designs that didn’t make the grade.

Rafael Moneo, who won the 1996 Pritzker Prize (architecture’s Pulitzer), worked in Utzon’s office on the Opera House as a young graduate. He was therefore conscious of the distinguished context and eager to pay homage.

His proposal’s most conspicuous feature is an enormous crystalline bubble on the northern end, a coffee and viewing spot like the Opera House without wings. It’s an interesting idea, although somewhat undercooked and almost certainly disastrous in Sydney’s climate, which isn’t exactly made for glasshouses. The jury rejected the scheme for under-supplying office space, although it’s hard to believe this would have dismayed Moneo greatly, or that his heart was really in it.

Francesco Venezia was inspired by the image of the “buried port” the old colonial docks buried beneath the building. This is a romantic and pertinent metaphor, unlike some, but much of its charm was lost in translation, converting as it did into a number of rectangular finger galleries, two-storeys high and three above the ground, cantilevering out to the water’s edge. Venezia’s use of material and detail is immensely sophisticated, especially in relation to ancient buildings. Unfortun-ately, in this case, it was the form that let him down, using kid gloves on the archaeology but rather a ham fist on the face of the MSB building.

Sydney architect Richard Francis Jones worked from the layered curves of water and sedimentary rock. His scheme one inserts a central north-south spine, or stalk, into the MSB building. At its northern end the stalk “flowers” in a profusion of curved vertical planes, into which are set the cinemas and auditoriums that comprise the Moving Images Centre.

The jury rejected this proposal on the basis that its expressionist nature competed too strongly with the Opera House.

When it was developed further into the demolition option of scheme two, however, allowing the stalk to flower along its entire length, it was reviled for looking too “commercial”. Not like any office building I’ve ever seen.

Melbourne’s Nonda Katsalidis also fell foul of the jury’s “too commercial” label, although in making effective and stylish use of supergraphics and Katsalidis trademark neo-de-Stijl compositional principles, the proposals look far from commercial to my eye. Modified in response to the jury’s comments, Katsalidis’s second proposal became heavier and less interesting, abandoning its whimsical play with form and colour for a more overtly ’50s-moderne look, all pilotis and splayed legs.

That left Sauerbruch and Hutton, whose winning designs will be on show at Customs House for the next six weeks. Then it will be up to politics and money at both council and State Government level to decide what happens next.


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