Sydney Open is a bi-annual celebration held by Historic Houses Trust and one of the best days to stroll through the city and take a behind-the-scenes look at some of our most revered and loved buildings. Held over a whole weekend in November, the event consists of one day of Focus Tours encompassing some very special buildings and places, such as The Tank Stream and the QVB dome, both of which I was lucky enough to visit this time round, as well as a general pass on Sunday allowing access to 50 famous Sydney sites. From the classic to the ultra-modern, Sydney Open gives the public a chance to get to know their city intimately, go behind normally closed doors and look at some of the workings inside private spaces such as 1 Bligh St and the Sydney Hilton, and public institutions such as Parliament House and The Sydney Hospital. This is a day for engaging with architecture, people and history, the things that make our city what it is. Of course everybody’s day will be their own individual experience, with most punters happy to cram in as much as they possibly can before falling in a heap at 5pm closing time. And of course there’s the views; Many of these secret places command magnificent and unusual vistas over the city, from Level 7 at David Jones looking over Hyde Park, to the sky-high playground of those lucky kids at St Andrews Cathedral School, to the harbour views from the top of Deutsche Bank Place, so much to take in over one weekend!
All photos by Inheritance 2012.
Occasionally you get wind of a heritage story so awful, so plainly ridiculous, that it almost defies belief except as part of some elaborate joke. The proposed demolition of Griffith House at St George Hospital as well as the Thompson Square debacle are two that have come to light recently. Well, sadly, pray tell, here is another, and this one may yet take the cake.
It regards a stately convict built bridge from the early days of Parramatta, a colonial settlement along the Parramatta River which has long since been enveloped to become part of the greater city of Sydney. Lennox Bridge, so named after David Lennox, the first superintendent of bridges, is a single arch sandstone structure built by convict labour between 1836 and 1839. It is the third oldest road bridge in NSW and takes pride of place on the state heritage register. Under these circumstances, one would think protection of the bridge in its current form would stand without question. Despite this, Parramatta Council has unveiled an absurd proposal to drill 3 metre holes in each side of the structure to allow access for pedestrians and cyclists for what it calls “an active and engaging Parramatta River foreshore, which can be enjoyed by everybody, while also celebrating the heritage values of the Bridge”. In reality, it will go a long way to service and market the sale of the planned 111 million dollar Meriton apartment and retail development, allowing them to generate pretty 3-D animations of little plastic people running along the lovely banks of the river to and from their very liveable Meriton apartments through the heritage listed sandstone bridge that Meriton has just helped to partially demolish by cutting 3m squares out of.
Barry O’Farrell’s RMS is behind the Development Application that will go before Parramatta Council once again in December 2012. The DA received 141 submissions against it despite the complete lack of public consultation and the fact that only local residents were allowed to comment, a ridiculous enclosure of a state significant matter. In a slap to the face at all levels of government, the plan is being undertaken with a federal grant, while the state government Heritage Council has just endorsed the proposal despite stating themselves that it was “visually intrusive” and the work would “seriously and irrevocably compromise” the original masonry workmanship of the bridge. Lawrence Nield, the Heritage Council chairman, was quoted in the SMH as saying that the bridge in its current form “is just a dead end where only old cans and cigarette butts go”. And that, from the chairman of the state’s highest heritage office, my-oh-my… (Not quite sure what his angle is here but perhaps he thinks pedestrians walking through the new tunnels will be picking up pieces of rubbish as they pass thereby lessening the impact of litter around the bridge).
Clearly this proposal, should it go ahead, treats important landmark heritage in NSW with disdain, makes a joke of the Heritage Council, the Heritage Branch and the entire state heritage list as an institution. Why have listings at all if a council is allowed to go ahead and literally punch holes in these irreplaceable heritage items for their own short term election goals to please developers who see these schemes as a good way to sell more units. Is that what we are coming to? This is convict history, this is our third oldest road bridge in NSW, this is not some random piece of infrastructure that can be added to or knocked down or cut through to make a cycleway fit. There are always alternatives, and clever governments, both local and state, would find a way around these things. Leave the damn bridge alone, and keep as much history of old Parramatta in tact as possible, as it was intended. Meriton apartments come and go, but convict built heritage is a treasure for us all and must remain untouched and protected.
Top picture Australian Photography Forum, Richard W.
Follow this link to the Greater Western Sydney Heritage Action Group
Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art building on the shores of Circular Quay has long been a shining monument to the Art Deco style in locally quarried Maroubra sandstone fashioned during a time of our great nation building. Its location alone is supremely accessible and iconic, drawing visitors from far and wide. When arriving by ship or ferry, it comes into view straddling the docks where vessels tie up; by train it can be seen from the top of the observation deck of Circular Quay station commanding a fine view; even by car, as seen from the Cahill freeway, it stakes its claim as the prominent landmark on the western side of Sydney Harbour, golden when bathed in afternoon sunlight. The building itself is worthy of such a position, being designed by Government architect W H Withers in 1939 but not taking shape for many years due to the intervening war shortages, finally opening in 1952 as the Maritime Services Board building, later becoming the MCA as we know it today.
Now the Musuem has added its 53 million dollar prize extension by architect Sam Marshall, ‘the Mordant Wing’, and unveiled it to ‘mixed’ reviews. Andrew Andersons, the architect who converted the former Maritime Services Board building as it was into the MCA, descibed it as ”insensitive… As you get closer and closer to a building there should be finer details that hold the eye and delight. With this building as you move closer there is nothing more to see. That’s why it is likened to scaffolding.” He also noted the lack of windows on the North eastern corner, essentially wasting any use of the potential harbour view that may have evolved from a smarter building. Another critic, prominent Sydney architect Philip Cox said “Circular Quay is sacred. There was a one in 500 year opportunity to do a great building at Circular Quay.”
I myself am not here to pass judgement on the merits of this new age building which would no doubt have some modern art aficionados head over heals lusting over its sharp lines, the dialogue between the old and new(?), crisp cubic forms within the black and white contrasts or clever use of time and space. To me it looks like a bunch of boxes stuck together at random and painted in the cheapest colours that happened to be on special at Bunnings that calender month.
What I do have to question is how this extension fits with the original building. Does it do the heritage of the building justice, or the site? How is it inspiring, how does it invigorate and how is it sympathetic to the form of the current building? Is the scale of the extension appropriate, seeing as it seems to dominate the existing facade from every angle. How do the flat black and white textures compliment the timeless glowing Sydney sandstone, the commanding art deco lines; how does the shape fit as a whole with the original template that was there, and how does it sit in relation to the gentle curves of the lapping foreshore so near? Is this building worthy of being part of, in fact commanding this iconic location? Does it pay homage to the history of the immediate area, to the First Fleet’s landing, to the cultural meeting of European and Aboriginal Australia, to the early days of colony, to the rich maritime heritage of Sydney Harbour? The answer, I believe, is that it fails significantly and detrimentally.
Not only has the architect boldly patched on a totally self-indulgent non-descriptive non-relating wall of monochromatic lego blocks that looks like some puzzling game of 3-D scrabble on an oversized scale, but he has also had the indignity to place glass fronted upper levels over the top of the classic MCA facade, something akin to fitting the Opera House with roller shutters. And this is, essentially, after the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, the third most prominent building on our most important harbour, in our most important heritage precinct, metres from where Phillip walked ashore and modern Australia was born. Clearly, this is a sign of the state of heritage building thought in modern Australia 2012, where a beautiful 20th century building such as this just can’t be left alone to shine forever more.
If a new wing had to be built here on this site, then couldn’t it at least have it’s origins and influence in either early maritime Australia like so many of the surrounding (indeed adjoining) buildings, or alternatively pay respect to the previous inhabitants of Sydney Cove, the Cadigal Aborigines… An extension based on the forms, colours and tones of local Aboriginal design, holding inside a modern Australian art gallery – that would have fit perfectly and done the site justice and our city justice, finally showcasing to the visiting tourists of the world as well as locals, that there was a rich and thriving Aboriginal history here before European settlement and it deserves to be looked at, and it can in fact blend with what we think of as modern day Australia.
Now all you modern art marvellists, before you shake your head and shrug off my theories as heritage ego rambling, let me say this. This is a heritage blog. The building, this 53 million dollar edifice, wouldn’t even rate a mention here, if it wasn’t tacked on to the side of the important, sublime art deco MCA building like some digitalised tumor, in this important, sublime location on the shores of Sydney Harbour.
In fact I believe it should have been built, but not here… In Parramatta, or Liverpool, or North Sydney, it would have made a significant contribution to the culture and arts scene of these areas, and be welcomed as a means to share and decentralise our state’s culture base from the old, historical, rustic heart of Sydney that is the Rocks and Circular Quay. It may have even encouraged tourists and Sydney-siders alike to venture further afield bringing their arts-seeking funds with them. Imagine a ferry ride from historic Circular Quay along the Parramatta River, charting the flow of an evolving Australia, to a modern gallery in a hub of the city worthy of international praise.
Instead we have this, a heritage building compromised, heritage values lost, open park space by the harbourside lost, irreplaceable views lost, and an opportunity gone begging.
Black-and-white boxes is what we have gained. 53 million dollars worth of black-and-white boxes.
Interestingly, architect Sam Marshall was quoted at a mediation meeting as saying “I would have demolished the building if I could,” referring to the original MCA. So we have a project architect working on a heritage building that he has absolutely zero sympathy for to begin with – is it any surprise the extension doesn’t work?