Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Politeness and bean counters win in an upset
RUMOURS were rife. When Lord Richard Rogers suddenly cancelled his talk at the Mitchell Library this week, the nods and the winks were out. Rogers, who is chairman of the British Urban Task Force, was to talk on cities.
The East Darling Harbour judging was the same day and Rogers’s talk, we presumed, would mention his by-then-winning entry. The plan, designed with the Sydney architect Ed Lippmann, New York landscape artist Martha Schwartz and Lend Lease Developments, was odds-on to win.
The Philip Thalis team – Thalis, Paul Berkemeier and Jane Irwin – did not expect to win. No one else expected it either.
Rogers’s was the glam team, and the glam scheme, its requisite crop of towers and apartments interspersed with a rich ground cover of aquaculture and cricket ovals, food schools, organic markets, boat harbours and swimming pools. The road pattern was loose, the site infiltrated with parks and riddled – like some archipelago – with water. Then there was the splendid City Beach.
I know. The beach was never going to get up. One wash from the Manly ferry, said the jury chairman, Chris Johnson, back in August, and we’d have a beach with no sand. That beach, though, was the one thing everyone in town remembered. The plan with the beach, that was the packers’ choice.
Which made yesterday’s announcement a bit of an upset. Rogers’s scheme scored a commendation, but who needs it really, after $300,000-odd of work on stage II alone?
The Thalis team’s winning proposal is careful and intelligent, scholarly, locally informed and pluralist – already including buildings by Neil Durbach and Tony Caro. It connects naturally to the city and clearly distinguishes public from private space. And remember, it’s a concept, a framework, not an architectural design.
But there is a danger of dullness here. A risk that, just when you crave something wild and fabulous, you get politeness instead. Politeness on an unprecedented scale; the kilometre-long dead-straight Hickson Road boulevard, the 11-hectare slab of pancake-flat waterfront grass.
The future may yet breathe ebullient, reckless life into the carapace, but experience is that when the bean counters and bureaucrats get their end in, the slide goes in the other direction.
PHOTO: Philip Thalis, left, Jane Irwin and Paul Berkemeier. Photo: Peter Rae