Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pier Pressure: Architects divided on Barangaroo

Taken from

When the Barangaroo Delivery Authority called for a broad debate on its preferred development proposal, The Sydney Morning Herald approached the NSW branch of the Royal Institute of Architects for help. The institute's council agreed to circulate two questions. The Herald asked: do you believe construction of a pier into the harbour will set a precedent for other developments? More than 40 responded: two-thirds opposed the plan, while a third supported it, as these edited letters show.
Have your say
The primary issue is to soften the hard mile-long industrial container wharf linear water edge. So I support returning 3.5 hectares of water to the community through new coves, and to balance this I support having 0.5 hectares of new wharf (with hotel over) in the water. The gain to Sydney is about 300 metres of north-facing waterfront public domain on a site that faces west.
The Opera House in its day broke every planning rule, yet it symbolises Sydney. Let's again be bold by doing what the Opera House does - challenge the interaction of land and water.
Chris Johnson Former NSW government architect
Like it or not, Sydney's merchant shipping has now been largely transferred to Botany Bay. The wharf at Woolloomooloo was the first redundant pier to be adapted for residential and commercial purposes rather than demolished. Subsequently, piers at Walsh Bay and West Darling Harbour have been utilised as residences and offices, all contributing to the vibrancy of the foreshore. A new public pier at Barangaroo with a commercial component would hardly set a precedent.
I personally like the notion of the proposed pier extending from the major pedestrian connection of Barangaroo back to the city. A tall building on the pier would need to be very skilfully designed to minimise shadow on Darling Harbour and, particularly, on its east-side pedestrian areas. I am not convinced that the present schematics address [that].
Douglas McKay Douglas McKay and Associates
I am happy to see a pier [at] Barangaroo, since it reflects the historic context of the site and it brings drama to the foreshore edge. Sydney needs to move away from the bland commercial architecture we have within the city and look to the opportunity confronting ''the edge'' offers. Sites such as this are not common and each site should be treated on its merits. Let us confront and be brave about this opportunity.
Stephen Blaxland BN Group
I support the overall scheme which breaks the site into three parts of roughly equal area. I firmly believe reinstating the point to resemble its original topographical levels [and] foreshore line, acknowledging the indigenous people, is beyond argument when … compared to the existing concrete slab. There is a sincerity to it, as opposed to a selfishness. I'm convinced by the proposition that it is an ''exclamation mark, the pier closes off the broad water to allow ferries to tie up and presents an entry into Darling Harbour''.
In principle and in the majority of built environments I would agree with the tried and tested solution that all buildings should fall and follow the topography at some agreed parallel height. However, in this instance I think the ''exclamation mark'' transcends the mediocrity of monotony.
John P. Mangraviti, C3D Design
The Opera House sits on a pier which intrudes deep into the harbour. There are two large and long piers in Pyrmont that would face the proposed pier at Barangaroo. Both piers are private properties used as commercial suites and residential apartments, and both - just like the piers in Walsh Bay - have absolutely no heritage value at all. Same applies to Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf. If all those piers were allowed to stay (for good), what is wrong if another one is added? The present scheme by Lord Rogers should be encouraged to proceed for its creativity, courage and design merit.
Kiril Manolev Manolev Associates
The building as represented is very light (visually) and transparent – in the views one can look right through every floor to the landscape beyond. Similarly, there appear to be no services, lift cores or heavy structure at ground level – all of which are essential in a hotel. So while these images portray a visually transparent structure floating above a very open ground plane, the actual building if constructed would inevitably look quite different to this. Almost none of the structure could possibly be transparent – after all these are hotel rooms each with bathrooms, corridors and the like – they would read as a very solid element – as does every hotel. Let's see an accurate representation, including all the necessary trappings that go hand in hand with a hotel – back of house facilities, waste storage, services, vehicular access etc – then we'd have a basis for proper consideration.
I believe that there is some weight to the argument that the net quantum of harbour that is being reclaimed is substantially less than the total being generated by the creation of 'coves' in the existing wharf. This would be the only circumstance under which such a scheme could possibly be contemplated, and as such should not be the basis of a precedent. However, I have some concerns as to the impact of the extent of protrusion into the harbour proposed and the possible impacts on marine craft movements, tidal flushing and the visual perception of a wide body of water directly accessing the main part of the harbour from Darling harbour.
Dr Philip Pollard
Director, AMENITY urban & natural environments
Yes, but not the hotel, which is far too high. It should be a three or four storey building linking up with the other buildings on the waterfront. The pier should be allowed to proceed because it further breaks up the straight edge of the original wharf and provides additional mooring space. Such developments provide interest along the foreshore. Building heights need to be controlled. There are countless examples of good 'wharf developments' along the harbour. You can do this again and again without being intrusive.
Ulick Gage
I do not believe the construction of the proposed pier at Barangaroo should proceed. It is intrusive and a hazard to water craft. The projecting pier will greatly diminish the connection of Darling Harbour with the main harbour water, increasing the crush of boats much as now occurs in Woolloomooloo Bay from the marina attached to the wharf. One searches vainly for something that is exciting or innovative, that would in some way be unique and instead, what we find is a poor cousin to the Arabien Tower Hotel, Dubai. This is a far more interesting and adventurous design but since Dubai is mostly sand and even lacks oil, architecture has to do everything. The same is not true of Sydney, the harbour and surrounding landscape is extremely beautiful, spoilt by the architecture. The trick in Sydney is to recognize that architecture takes a back seat to nature. Pushing the hotel out into the harbour says a lot about the lack of sensitivity of the architects and their lack of subtlety and imagination.
The NSW government would be well advised to hold off until a suitable exciting design worthy of the site can be found that properly does justice to the harbour and city.
Philip Drew, architectural historian and critic
An essential aspect of Sydney should be an interaction with its harbour. There are many existing 'interactions', such as ferry wharves, boating marinas and some aquariums. While most Sydney residents do not utilise, frequently, these facilities, I'm sure most would like to. On this basis, another, different facility, largely available to the public, at least at ground level, would be a plus.
As well, I believe this pier displays flair. The politeness of Sydney planning is deadening. The 'hoo-hah' about this proposal, demonstrates this precisely - 'this thing should be back on the land, with everything else, and where are the setbacks?
I also believe the scale/height is appropriate, particularly in urban design terms, as it provides a dramatic edge to the CBD park/water interface. For this unique location, we need this pier and tower.
Do you believe construction of a pier into the harbour will set a precedent for other developments? As long as quality is paramount, precedent, or lack of, should not be a criteria for any development. This is how the system is presently practiced , with proposals judged on their merits.
Importantly, we should acknowledge the existing extent of land creep (fill) into the harbour. On the other hand, functional piers, with their overt engagement with the water, would be, environmentally at least, more agreeable.
The Opera House set a precedent of prominent intrusion into the harbour. We could do with another major precedent in such a central location, to acknowledge our imaginative, communal engagement with our greatest natural treasure.
Michael Granger
ModernGarde Architects
I support Paul Keating's vision of Barangaroo. Symbolic reconstruction of the headland by building a park over a carpark is a sound decision. I also support an 'X-factor' solution which symbolises the development with an iconic built form, not unlike the Opera House symbolises the gateway to Sydney. Lord Richard Roger's solution is exciting. The city needs on unique sites bold decisions that raise the bar on how we view Sydney and project it to the world. I think this is one.
Robert Blackmore
Chairman, Blackmore Design Group
I oppose the current rush to sign and bind the people of NSW to an agreement that will alienate one of the most significant sites in Australia. It seems we have another example of the NSW government handing over a massive chunk of the cities future into the hands of a single developer on the basis of a scheme that does not comply with planning guidelines and urban common sense design principles.
The hotel and pier, if ever built will effectively create a precedent for the harbour foreshore to be encroached at any time or place to suit a financial outcome.
There does not appear to be any justification for its placement or scale other than as folly of the highest order - pardon the pun, and its financial benefit to the developer of the scheme.
I am happy that my name be quoted.
David Springett
Paragrid Architecture
We believe that the proposed pier at Barangaroo and the hotel above it should not be allowed to proceed. Sydney has a valuable legacy of piers from an earlier era that have been retained through reuse. Buildings on these piers are horizontal reach three or four storeys at most and are often recycled from an earlier purpose related to the function of a working harbour. A 215 metre high building occupying a footprint similar to a pier would be totally out of character with other pier buildings on Sydney Harbour and does not fit the typology. The token heritage gesture of likening any development over the harbour to a pier is a mischievous ruse and would undoubtedly constitute a precedent for other such developments.
We have already allowed a hotel and apartments to occupy the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf. Although now the preserve of Sydney's rich and famous, at least there is public access along the full length of the west side of the pier and the private development does not overwhelm it, as appears to be the case at Barangaroo. We simply don't believe that the spaces at the base of the hotel will be, or even appear to be, public. Sydney has already done itself the disservice of converting most if its heritage piers to private use, but at least the buildings on them are generally within the envelope of their heritage shell and the reuse gives new life to the old structures. This doesn't mean, however, that we should continue making piers with buildings on them. Piers block views across the Harbour. They deny us views across the bays and inlets. The piers we already have are enough. We shouldn't exploit the concept of the Sydney Harbour Pier merely because it is expedient to do so. We keep the piers we have because of their heritage and accrued real estate value. The Barangaroo hotel is a completely different animal, an imported beast which can never be at home in Darling Harbour.
One of Sydney's finest attributes is the outstanding quality of its public realm, the envy of many other major international cities. The Harbour is an integral part of this invaluable asset. To appropriate any part pf it for large-scale private development would be a grave error. We would never begin to contemplate allowing major private development of any kind in the Domain or Centennial Park and yet we find ourselves debating this issue in another, more famous, part of Sydney's public realm, our beloved Harbour. We see this debate as an opportunity to confirm the sanctity of Sydney Harbour once and for all.
Ghislain Coulon
Managing Director, DesignInc Sydney
Putting 60 storeys in the water is a staggering violation of the principal asset of Sydney, and this tower actually steps up away from the land to increase the violation.
State planning has been dumbed-down as all planning is driven by the narrow politics of Sussex Street, and Treasury seems to be dictating absurdities like not only this tower, but the whole monoculture likely to be the outcome from the changes to the Barangaroo Master Plan.
Bruce Lay
Heritage Solutions
No, the proposed pier should not be allowed to proceed. It is not a pier at all; it is a podium for a hotel and will be relegated to hotel use.
The construction of the pier will set a precedent. So far we have generally avoided building in the harbour. Indeed the harbour is probably the only thing we haven't mucked up. You have only to look at Hong Kong and other eastern cities, in particular, to see how their harbours have shrunk for development.
Clive Lucas
The opportunity existed for many small players to leave a mark on this landmark site. As if Darling Harbour wasn't already the lesson of what not to do - one large fun-park is intended and the public is closed from the process. In the end, the enduring public legacy (or lack of) will define this project. There is no edge street. There are no lanes. The minor streets remaining have no sight lines to the greater city. The park is disconnected. It has a monumental car park.
Sydney is not Dubai. Most of us would rather leave than see that destruction inflicted upon our fair city. And whilst we love our home, there still exists the nasty and pervasive "rum-trade" mentality of forgoing process to get-ahead. I would like to ask (British architect) Lord Richard Rogers if he would consider placing this tower in the Thames? Perhaps in front of Westminster would give the best view for the hotel's guests.
Benjamin Driver
Barangaroo is not – as Paul Keating proudly proclaimed – Singapore, but neither is it Dubai, and we should not be looking there for precedents of how to develop waterside land, or harbour waters for that matter. Unfortunately we do not need to look far back into Sydney's history to find precedents of our own harbour being filled in or built over. Indeed the site in question is a prime example. Fortunately though we now (should) know better than to do such a thing. A hotel (or perhaps a hotel later converted into strata apartments) is not a suitable structure to be built over the harbour. A public wharf – yes – that would be an acceptable, even a positive proposal. A “public” wharf with a hotel over (and presumably under) it is in no way acceptable.
Sam Crawford
Sam Crawford Architects
I strongly believe that is should be allowed to proceed . Why? Because Sydney Opera House sits on a pier which intrudes deep into the Harbour. It is man-made pier as well. There are two large and long piers in Pyrmont, Jones Bay Wharf and another one that would face the proposed pier at Barangaroo. Both Pyrmont piers are private properties used as commercial suites are residential apartments and both, just like the five piers in Walsh Bay, have absolutely no heritage value at all. Same applies to Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf which is simply an eyesore but that one is housing a hotel and apartments. If all those piers were allowed to stay (for good) what is wrong if another one is added.
The present scheme by Lord Rogers should be encouraged to proceed for its creativity, courage and design merit.
Kiril Manolev
Director, Manolev Associates Pty Ltd
It does not suit the environment around it and the shadow cast would be terrible. It's just too big and out of proportion for its location. We have a "naturally" beautiful harbour and we have made enough big, one off mistakes around it already. When are we going learn and to think long term?
Adam Waugh
Thomson Adsett
The pier and hotel should not proceed to be built out into the Harbour. Supporters justify its siting on the need (desire) to provide hotel guests with views of the Opera House and its design is justified on a trust me its being done by a renowned overseas architect.
However for every view gained there are those that will be lost from Darling Harbour and most likely from Lend Lease's own recent waterfront unit developments at Pyrmont Point. Also who is to say the hotel will not be sold off, at a later date, as apartments just as the Gazebo and Sebel in Kings Cross have been.
The decision to site it on a pier also is primarily a commercial profit making one i.e it would not be done if it wasn't to make a bigger profit.
It makes a mockery of the competition's brief and its winner's design. It will also be a navigation hazard.
It would set a precedent and although the first case may be of merit, the merit of future developments may quickly go out the window once the precedent is set.
Graham Short
I think the idea will appeal to many people and there are a bunch of historical precedents harking back to the days of the amusement piers built at Coogee, most of which no longer exist.
I think that it is a case of how can we introduce a wow factor and that the reason people do not build on water is profoundly obvious, it is much simpler and less expensive to build on land. Unfortunately we are now in an age when people are willing to pay a lot for the wow factor. But the reason "we want to do it because we can do it " is not sufficient argument for the proposal.
It's location will probably limit the Blues Point Tower criticism in the future as it will be relatively close to associated high rise buildings .
Neil Smalley
Definately no pier such as proposed on the site. An outrageous misuse of the space as conceived.It will set a precedent and as is evident in many areas of the harbour where the actual navigable water area is constantly being eroded.
Sadly, Sydney was originally settled by convicts and planned by such ever since.
Charles Maclurcan
The pier should not be allowed to proceed. The pier and espescially the building upon it is Dubai-esque architecture and not in context with our beautiful city. Leave the harbour as it is. The harbour is the reason we have so many tourists, claims of being a livable city and a city in a beautiful setting. Putting buildings within the high water mark will only "muddy the waters" (excuse the pun)
Valerie Giammarco
By Paul Keating's own testament, prior intrusions into the harbour at Barangaroo (and indeed other parts of Sydney) are acts of "vandalism" pervaded as necessary acts of industrialisation in less environmentally conscious eras. There is nothing necessary about a hotel in our harbour. Sydney does have a history of building into the water; long thin jetty buildings to facilitate industry and tourism. The proposed hotel building sets an unprecedented type and scale of development allowing private interest to literally occupy our harbour.
Angelo Korsanos
Director, Redshift Architecture
No-one has been able to justify the construction costs of a new hotel in Sydney during the past decade. Sydney room rates, visitor numbers, etc. do not justify it - watch the hotel become a small component of an office building
Howard Tanner
Tanner Architects Pty Ltd
The proposal is for a pier with a hotel standing at its end. I do not believe that any hotel should be given the privilege of such a prominent siting. Although the architect claims the pier will be accessible to the public he can not guarantee that. The owners could at any time "privatise" it. An "exclamation point" to an office theme park is not what the city needs.
It is not good thinking to place the tallest buildings on the shoreline or in the harbour as they block views and light. If anything is to be given such a position, a new Opera house would be the best option as it would then form another element of the cultural life of the city.
Once a pier with a hotel on it is permitted then of course it will become a precedent. Why should not others claim an equal consideration?
Construction of piers into the harbour is a possibility which should be examined on a site by site basis.
Swetik Korzeniewski
Former senior lecturer in architecture, University of Sydney.
The Barangaroo Project is a contradiction of the urban design principles, building and development principles, planning principles, social values, public domain and open space principles that have been embedded into our thought process.
These are principles that my generation are trained to do in order to establish a strong foundation for good urban design outcomes and a sense of place but these principles I have mentioned are also enforced by the State and Local Government's with their regulations and controls. These principles can be found in State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPP's), Local Environmental Plans (LEP's) and Development Control Plans (DCP's) and have objectives that are required to be achieved.
We have highly talented local urban designers and architects that are as good or better then other practitioners from around the world. It is the Sydney people who have the most to gain but it is also the Sydney people who have the most to lose.
The Barangaroo Project will no doubt set an unhealthy precedent and affect the next generation of architects, urban designers and leaders and when the current government, authorities and Paul Keating are long gone, it will be my generation that will have to bear this project and outcomes for the next 20-50 years.
Michael Lescesin
Obviously the design needs a great deal of refinement before one could be definitive, as well as a full study of the environmental effects. However, the shoreline at Barangaroo is completely unnatural and the protrusion of the pier adds interest and needed variation to the edge of the city.
Brian Zulaikha
NSW president Australian Institute of Architects
I don't believe it should be allowed to proceed, simply because I don't trust the NSW Government has the best interest of the public in mind and without a transparent process, whereby I am able to personally access all details of contracts between the government and the developer at the very least, I have to take the default position of distrust. I reserve my decision until such time that the government guarantees, and proves transparently, that the contribution to the public outweighs such a handout to any such developer.
I believe it will one day be a precedent, much the same way any other event can be made a precedent.
Claire Grigg
Surely there's enough land to build on without building in the Harbour!
A pier in the Harbour is OK as long as it doesn't jut out to far. May be it hugs the shore like the existing one doe in Darling Harbour. The building in the Harbour is the wrong thing.
Paul M. Cook
It should not be built. As the buildings on shore contain more floorspace than the government brief, and the development is 15% over existing limits, the hotel is superfluous. Why would we set a precedent, creating many potential problems, with something that is superfluous? It is a precedent because, until now, only low rise wharf buildings have ever projected past the harbour shoreline. It is a precedent as it is a high rise residential/commercial. This would encourage other residential/commercial developments to take up this prime public space - the harbour. More generally, residential and commercial buildings make up the fabric of the city, and are not located on exceptional, stand out sites. These are usually reserved for public buildings such as the Opera House. This is the wrong place for a hotel.
Russell Olsson
Director, Olsson & Associates Architects
I see no problem with the pier concept per se particularly as part of a general re-configuration of the shoreline. I do see a problem with monopolising the pier with a multi-storey hotel for the exclusive benefit of the wealthy few – as well as the damage it will do to the rest of Darling Harbour. A cultural locus would be more appropriate for the proposed pier. It's lower profile would do less damage and could potentially draw general pedestrian traffic. The notion that the development would be a 'natural extension' of the CBD is flawed in my opinion. The western distributor - the 'brightest' idea since the Cahill Expressway, has split the western shore from the rest of the city and effectively relegated it to the wrong side of the tracks' for ever more.
John Adameitis
Construction of the proposed pier at Barangaroo should not proceed because Barangaroo is not a natural 'site'. It has been stolen from our harbour through accretion, stealth, and greed by our maritime authorities over many years for commercial purposes. The construction of a new pier into our harbour will only continue this precedent. Publicity material presents a transparent building. How many tower blocks in
Sydney can you see through? Let's be realistic. Harbour and foreshore are unique to Sydney and have an intrinsic value that cannot be quantified in dollars and floor space that will only become obsolete at the end of its 25 year economic life cycle. Our city has lost its soul and this current proposal will only add to its demise.
Let's increase our harbour, replace the natural foreshore and create living, sustainable biodiversity in an open green space for people and nature to regenerate.
John Sparks

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