Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
A seamless journey to Sanitown
The architect’s creed collapses into hyper-talk at Green Square, writes Elizabeth Farrelly.
Is there no end to it? Could Sydney’s supply of ravening apartmentivores empty-nesters, lifestylers, same-sexers, omni-sexers, yuppies, dippies and dinks actually be infinite?
For years, the seers have been prophesying boom’s end. Yet they go on being built, these over-glazed white-on-white cuboids. Go on fetching glaze-over prices, too, until now there’s scarcely an inner-urban warehouse, factory, hospital or ex-industry site left uncleansed by the new flat-tery.
Green Square, biggest and boldest of them all, was around in the beginning and will be there at the end. Its Town Centre has recently been relaunched re-relaunched bigger and bolder, slicker and colder than ever.
Green Square Town Centre was the subject of Sydney’s first online international design competition. And it shows. After 18 months of design development, that vapid virtuality persists, even into the latest masterplan, now viewing.
The design team insists that our 21st-century e-visceration only reinforces architecture’s duty to “encourage and support physical and social interaction”. But when it comes to realising this warm and worthy end, conviction collapses into hyper-talk. Community will come “through the provision of new typologies of urban program, mixing facilities such as satellite university campus spaces, corporate touchdown lounges, with urban housing, entertainment and flexible, intelligent spaces for working”. Mmm, nice. Homey.
But it’s not just a case of language abuse. Jargon is bad form, sure, and the report’s archi-speak pleads for parody. But jargon isn’t bad design. Green Square, as gazetted, is not a square at all. It is a huge, ragged area intersecting Zetland, Alexandria, Waterloo and Botany: the “largest urban renewal project ever undertaken in the southern hemisphere”, if you buy the blurb. Centred roughly on the newish Green Square station, it includes most of the recent designer blow-ins of the inner south: Meriton’s ACI, Landcom’s Victoria Park, South Sydney Corporate Park and all those bushy-tailed newbies up and around Botany Road.
They’ve done the studies, produced the black-and-white oral histories, patronised sweet and not-so-sweet old ladies with their doilied memories. Now the South Sydney Development Corporation is itching to pursue the exalted task of turning old-style Sydney rust-belt into “an airport-linked multi-modal transport hub supporting a lively and diverse public domain”.
In an extraordinary piece of luck, density is the key to planning as well as profit. The Government’s laudable-in-principle push to coagulate the metropolis around rail lines has set Green Square’s expectations at 28,000 new residents and 42,000 new workers by completion. Pretty dense already, and the Town Centre will be by far the densest part, with the latest floor space ratios up to a massive, CBD-scale 11.4:1.
The 2001 contest selected a four-firm coalition: the Maastricht-based Wiel Arets, with Sydney’s Nick Turner and Associates Artchitects (sic) , McGregor+Partners and Holos Consulting. The proposal was smart and whizzy, with lots of those knife-edged semi-lucent planes that seem to symbolise lifestyle in the magical, germ-free future. Visual muzak.
At least, though, there was the excuse of global teamwork inside a ridiculous time frame, which might arguably instil an unintended computer graphic chill. That was then. Now, no such mitigation applies and the proposal is, if anything, chillier. More people, more cars, more floorspace; higher, denser, cooler.
Compared with its winning predecessor, the current town-centre area has shrunk by 30 per cent to 3.5 hectares. At the same time, floorspace shows a 16 per cent increase. In building terms this raises maximum building heights to 18 instead of 14 storeys near the station, and makes the “strong southern edge” 15 instead of 12 storeys.
For those who care, the narrative has also been embellished. As the report puts it, “through the volumetric erosion of the building mass east and west of Botany Road, three clear building typologies emerged in the open space network created”. That is, there are three building types. They’re known as Green Yard, Pebble (sub-types Pebble Plaza and Pebble Tower) and Perforated, respectively.
More information than you needed? Try this. The site, a spiky amorph defined by the inner south’s wacky street pattern, divides conceptually into three strips. Along the northern zone a half-dozen Green Yards drunkenly angle-park, while three vast Perforateds park parallel to the south. This leaves a long central plaza zone across the centre, partitioned by four “floating” eight-storey Pebbles (stay with me) and landmarked by the 18-storey Pebble Tower (commemorating the long-detested Woollahra-Waverley smokestack) at the western or station end.
The Green Yards, so-called because they dog-leg at curious angles to form “soft” planting-capable courtyards, are essentially apartment buildings with ground-floor retail. Although mostly they stay around six storeys, the Green Yards spoon closely together scarcely more than five metres apart at some points and peak at 60 metres (say 20 storeys, being kind) above ground. That’s the north of the plaza. Sunny side.
But it’s the Perforateds, to the south, that defer to sun and light. A requirement for at least 15 per cent of their facade area be open as in, storey-high holes punched right through the building is intended to “assist in the permeability of the plaza”. And to reduce the shadow density over the corporation’s own development opportunities behind.
The plaza Green Square Town Centre Plaza (catchy!) will need all the permeability it can get, since there are three of these slabs, end-on, 15 storeys high and up to 80 metres long. Each. Quite how the holes will help is harder to understand, since sun would have to be near-horizontal to penetrate a three-metre-high slot in a 10-metre-deep building. The Pebbles, one suspects, are designed as the loveables, the babies of the family. There are four Pebbles, not counting the tower, and they are clearly named for their plan-form, which has changed, after the contest, from wedge-shaped to a much more retro-friendly ’70s pebble. Nothing literal about that.
In the round, of course, they bear not the least mark of pebbledom. Their essence consists of sitting mid-plaza and being raised four to seven metres off the ground, “floating” or “hovering” on piloti as a tree, say, hovers on its trunk.
Transport should be a breeze, with the Eastern Distributor and new airport railway right on the doorstep, although the winning scheme’s light rail line has been greyed-out to “potential”. But then the anticipated demographic tertiary-qualified, child-free people with white-collar jobs and “greater disposable incomes than existing residents” (Government breathes audibly at the prospect) may not be that concerned about public transport.
Still, it will sell. Magic futures do. Not because we believe in an entropy-free future, but because the very fact that we don’t scares us witless. Nothing sells a product like fear. Already it’s virtually impossible to get three beds down there for under a million bucks.
But the ad-man’s truth-gap applies. The rhetoric may be all about “joining seamlessly” with existing fabric and maintaining diversity of humans South Sydney being one of the nation’s oldest and most diverse cultures.
Truth is, though, this childless Sanitown will fit into daggy old South Sydney about as seamlessly as its sharp-edged 20-storey towers will meld into a rundown neighbourhood of three-storey warehouses and tarted-up workers’ cottages. Gwan, pull the uvver one. This is a takeover.
The Green Square Town Centre masterplan is on show until August 1 on www.greensquare.com.au or at:
South Sydney City Council One Stop Shop: ground floor, Tower B, 280 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
South Sydney Development Corporation: Suite 1, ground floor, Schenker Building, 72-80 Bourke Street, Alexandria
The Planning Centre: Henry Dean Place, 20 Lee Street, Sydney
Waterloo Town Hall: 770 Elizabeth Street, Waterloo
Newtown Library: 8-10 Brown Street, Newtown
Surry Hills Library: 405 Crown Street, Surry Hills
THREE ILLUS: Neighbourhood watch .
an artist’s impression of the Green Square Town Centre Neighbourhood Plaza.
Award winner .
The Hudson, above and left, the vanguard of Green Square’s development.