Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
It’s tough when you fancy rough
JOIN THE DEBATE
It’s spring and, like Prince William, I’m looking for a bit of rough. In my case though this presents less as a lust for sturdy peasant seed, with which I’m already well-supplied, than a want of texture.
It started, as it does every year, with the summer holiday search. It didn’t seem a lot to ask. I have childhood memories of fibro shacks and fishermen’s cottages – bare floors, bare feet, bare dunes – and that’s what I crave. Something really simple and plain and, well, rough. A built equivalent of hospital cotton sheets, or that staunch brown paper people used to post presents to England in. The stuff, more pretentiously, on which Toulouse Lautrec did those marvellous, cheeky sketched horses.
But can I find it? Can I find any beach-type abode, in fact, that isn’t fully curtained and microwaved? Anything within cooee of the coast that isn’t vinyl-floored, rose-gardened, double-garaged, sound-systemed and knick-knacked to death?
Or – worse – designed?
I once knew a family, respectable academic types during the year, who over Christmas took their three months and went completely bush. You’d find them unshaven and barely clad, living not even in tents but under tarps strung between ti trees, eating only the fish they caught and eggs laid by the bantams that strutted freely between their feet.
There was no shopping, no coffee, no news. (Beer, however, was a necessity, and hung in wet socks like strange fruit.) The dunny was a long-drop, natch, with a vent hole that opened disconcertingly through the cliff to the sparkling, sail-studded sea below – talk about getting the wind up – with toilet paper a special concession to guests.
I don’t need to go quite that far for my rough. Something maybe like the house I recall on a remote beach near Dargaville; peeling white weatherboards with wide tin roof, front wall that opened completely in ancient French doors and tilt-up shutters, full-width wooden steps onto the sand and a single room in which everything happened, benches round the walls for sleeping. It’s a quality that I want to call ordinary, but turns out not to be ordinary at all.
Colour me hopelessly romantic. Colour me, further, impossibly out of touch with the rest of the human race, who must demand DVDs, dimmer switches and dual-flush dunnies for their hols, or the world wouldn’t
be this way. The market can’t be wrong, right?
That’s John Stuart Mill’s tyranny of the majority for you, which he figured (and I believe him) was worse than the tyranny of government. If you guys all like it new and shiny, the rest of us have to suck it up.
But we don’t have to like it. Any more than we have to like the vile new Westfield that has wrapped itself like broken-glass do-do around the bottom of Centrepoint Tower.
Admittedly, I’m not a mall person. Even at the Bondi Junction Westfield I have to take a compass and water bottle, plus extra rations of snuff. But WBJ (rumoured to have been designed for Frank Lowy’s mum) is positively white linen handkerchiefs compared with the low-rent nightclub feel of the new Pitt Street Mall.
Strange really. It’s not like they’re short of a few quid. Yet the effort to squeeze in every possible retail floor means you hop off the escalator, already woozy from the glum labyrinth of curved mirrors, and into a space with all the dignity of a club, its floor a ghastly veined marble and mirrored ceiling so low you could touch it with your credit card, held flat.
Also mirrored are the thousand-and-one columns that forest the space, supporting the tower above. What – we’re meant to believe things disappear when reflective? But the psychology behind this gorgonzola and mirror-glass sandwich is this: if you feel small and somehow edible, that’s apt, because you’re the meat.
This anti-texture push, the urge to give the world a permanent Brazilian, was absolutely modernism’s thing. Now, though, the conceit of human smoothness seems terribly last century.
Which brings me to Lend Lease’s first building proposal for Barangaroo. Known chummily as C4, the 43-storey building is by no means the tallest in the family-to-be, and by no means the worst in the city, though this is working from rather a low base.
But it does look cheap.
And given all the effort and angst spent on getting a Pritzker on the job (the application spends a full page detailing Rogers’s prizes and credentials) it should be superb.
Sydney now has some decent towers – Renzo Piano’s Aurora, Harry Seidler’s Australia Square (both Lend Lease), DCM’s Governor Phillip, Norman Foster’s Deutsche Bank and, maybe best of all, Christoph Ingenhoven’s 1 Bligh Street. The Barangaroo towers, all eight of them, should be right up there.
I’ve argued before that height is not the issue, and it’s not. But our design expectations should heighten with each extra storey. To be any good, a tower (like Aurora, like 1 Bligh Street) needs to be about something – not just impatience for return. Instead, if C4 is anything to go by, we’ve got Rogers’s C-team (hence the name?) and the abacus-men calling the shots. So of course, what results is a repetitive glass box with some stuck-on yellow bracing in tacky King Street Wharf fashion, and anonymous Westfield-modern at street level. You’d almost think Lend Lease has Rogers on board not as inspiration but to camouflage business as usual.
That wraparound cartoon Lend Lease put out a couple of weeks back was charming because the hand-drawing lent the development what it so desperately lacks; texture. It’s time the government rose above its conflicted interests to demand that same quality in the real.
DRAWING: BY EDD ARAGON