The NSW LNP has razed the Darling Harbour precinct to the ground having lasted no more than 30 years.
How likely such demolition will be repeated at Barangaroo, Green Square, Mascot, Wolli Creek, Wentworth Point and Rhodes?
With Macquarie Park and North Ryde to follow?
Some of Sydney’s leading urban designers have called for a rethink on high-rise residential developments with warnings that long, dark corridors, balconies too windy to sit on and apartments with no cross-ventilation are damaging people’s health and wellbeing.
“Physically, these buildings are sick,” said Benjamin Driver, architect and senior urban designer with Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects. “In the long term, they make us sick.”
About 1500 Sydney architects, urban designers and members of the public gathered this weekend for the 12th annual Sydney Architecture Festival, which has as its theme: “What makes a building truly great?”
The national festival aims to applaud the best projects, admit the worst excesses, promise better and educate the public on best practice.
Mr Driver has called for public support of “gentle urbanism”, a planning strategy that rejects the bulky footprint of 10- to 30-storey-plus towers for slim footprint buildings with generous setbacks, landscaping with deep soils and mature trees and scope for three- to four-bedroom apartments.
A survey of 2000 NSW residents by NSW Architects Registration Board found that the most important factor in people’s home life was the availability of natural light.
“Long corridors, deep corridors, closed-off corridors where many apartments might share the one lift – this is not considered best practice any more,” Timothy Horton, registrar of the NSW Architects Registration Board, said.
Where towers rise too far above the street, apartment owners may gain views but can no longer step out and talk to friends on the street below, Mr Driver said.
“In fact, many balconies are too windy to sit on at all. We are well above the tree line and so are exposed to the elements, particularly the heat.
“We are reliant on lifts and unable to use the stairs – limiting regular exercise and interaction with your neighbours.”
Andrew Nimmo, president of the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, said far too many apartment developments were not delivering on the basic needs of good natural light, natural ventilation and creating a place you would want to call home.
He nominated The Rochford in Erskineville by Fox Johnston as a development that gets the basics right, a winner of the NSW Architecture Awards.
The 19th century, he said, had left the city a legacy of industrial and warehouse buildings “screaming to be adapted and reused”.
Another winner, The Griffiths Teas building in Surry Hills had languished for 30 years and fell into disrepair until Popov Bass architects adapted it into 38 new apartments, retaining the best qualities and romance of the old warehouse.
International House Sydney at Barangaroo by Tzannes, Australia’s first fully engineered timber building, had been built from sustainably managed plantation forests. It locked in 2700 tonnes of carbon sequestered in the floors, beams and columns, had 350 photovoltaic roof panels and achieved a six-star Greenstar rating. “It also happens to be a calming place to work where the gentle scent of timber pervades”, Mr Nimmo said.
Urban designer Laura Harding, who appears on a panel Sunday that looks at ethics in an age of excess at Sydney Opera House, believes the city had allowed private interests to have the first option on key sites.
“Once they’ve claimed their spoils – we squeeze an apologetic and compromised public realm into the remnants. The city cannot endure, or renew itself if it is conceived in this limited way.
“The public realm has a lifespan that is much longer than individual buildings and we should not tolerate it being shackled by developers in this way.”
Ms Harding, also with Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects, pointed to the mistakes made at Darling Harbour 30 years ago.
“We made a disconnected and dysfunctional place apart – albeit with a few worthy individual buildings and spaces, but with many more poor ones.
“When it was recently decided to replace the building stock – we razed the entire precinct to the ground to do it. We made a city precinct that did not last more than 30 years. We made a disposable city. What an unprecedented failure of civic imagination and, in sustainability terms, utter lunacy.”
Those mistakes had been repeated at Barangaroo, at Green Square Town Centre, Mascot, Wolli Creek, Wentworth Point and Rhodes, she said.