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Sydney Revisited

11 Apr 2017

Visiting Sydney in preparation for Sydney Contemporary in September is as fascinating and enjoyable as ever. It must be one of the most ‘livable’ cities in the world. It is a city that seems to change every time I visit.  The new ICC has opened at Darling Harbour, and the Lendlease RSHP designed Barangaroo development has completed.

Barangaroo is a dockland re-development in three phases. The Reserve was completed first, a coastal walk and landscaped headland running to the foot of the harbour bridge. Barangaroo South consists of three RSHP towers with a base of restaurants and bars facing the waterfront.  

Sydney Revisited
Bangeroo South
Sydney Revisited
Bangeroo South - Spiced
Sydney Revisited
Bangeroo South - love fish

It is a stroll from the Central Business District and the mix of office and residential uses reflects this. The three buildings are similar, identifiable by the colour of the sun screening. Whilst the public realm and retail design is of a very high quality, the towers do not have the generosity of space that we have come to associate with RSHP’s best recent buildings. A good example is their 8 Chifley building which was completed two or three years ago in the heart of the CBD. This is a much more adventurous design that incorporates open spaces at Ground, mid and roof levels. It is an elegant 34 storey tower that sets the quality standard for commercial development in Sydney Central. 

Sydney Revisited
8 Chifley

In any expanding or changing city the quality of the new buildings ranges from poor to excellent, Sydney is no exception. The best developments in this city integrate a multitude of uses, create a thriving public realm and animate not just the ground floor of the buildings, but the bottom 4 or 5 floors.

Central Park, a development by Fraser Properties, must be one of the best buildings Jean Nouvel has delivered. With the help of Patrick Blanc and Arup it is a living tower with vertical gardens thriving in the rather accommodating Sydney climate. Green walls often camouflage a poverty of architectural thought, but this development is better than that, and better for its lush elevations. It is a part of a bigger development which includes buildings by Foster and Smart Design, and a landscaped park. It is adjacent to a refurbished 30’s pub, The Old Clare that is now home to another Jason Atherton restaurant and a 60 room hotel. 

Sydney Revisited
Central Park
Sydney Revisited

Across the street is Spice Alley, a clever open air oriental food court that buzzes at night and feels as if it has been there for decades. This is something that I have noticed and admired in Australia, there is an almost instinctive ability to create new venues that feel immediately established, comfortable and worn in without resorting to the tacky shabby chic we seem to suffer from in London. 

Sydney Revisited
Spice Alley

At the forefront of this are the Merivale group, led by Justin Hemmes.  Merivale were a fashion based family company, and Hemmes has transformed them into the principal leisure and F&B company in the city. As well as the Ivy, The Establishment, Coogee Pavilion, Hemmes has created numerous restaurants and bars across the city. His latest is in Paddington, a fair way from the centre, and it is an ambitious and brilliantly executed example of what he does so well. It uses a terrace of shops to create a pub, a Rotisserie take away and an excellent restaurant, Fred’s.  

Sydney Revisited
Fred's Paddington

As ever it feels effortless and individual, stylish but not flashy, the food is of course of the highest quality. This scheme will undoubtedly kick start the regeneration of the neighbouring properties on the street.

For a city that is a 23 hour flight from London it feels years ahead in the design quality of public space and food retail offerings, it maintains a fiercely independent feel, shunning chains and allowing entrepreneurial ambition to blossom. Sadly, looking at central London you get the feeling that it is too late; it is unlikely that anything will stop the chains and the corporates from suffocating individuality.

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