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Former minister blasts Darling Harbour revamp

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Nicole Hasham, Leesha McKenny

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Government unveils Darling Harbour plan

The NSW government presents its preferred plan to transform the Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct at Darling Harbour. Vision: NSW government.

PT0M0S 620 349

THE man responsible for the rebirth of Darling Harbour in the 1980s has described its proposed revamp as "the work of Philistines".

Laurie Brereton, the former ALP public works minister, who spearheaded the precinct's transformation from a railway yard into a tourist and leisure zone, said he hoped the $2.5 billion remake of Darling Harbour announced on Tuesday would be a vast improvement on the initial drawings.

Proposed in 1984, Darling Harbour was a grand, controversial project plagued by cost blowouts. It now attracts 25 million people a year. At the time, the project earned Mr Brereton the moniker Minister for Public Jerks for his roughshod style of administration, and he was dumped from the portfolio before Darling Harbour was completed.

New look ... an artist's impression of The Theatre.

New look ... an artist's impression of The Theatre. Photo: Supplied

The government on Tuesday announced it would raze the site to create Australia's largest convention and exhibition space, a 900-room hotel and new residential precinct. Construction giant Lend Lease won the rights to develop the site.

"I trust that the end result will be substantially different from the pictorial illustrations, which look to me like the work of Philistines," Mr Brereton said, expressing reservations about the plan's "scale, scope and bulk".

He said Darling Harbour's lack of rail connection, and the fact it was bound by the western distributor, posed challenges for the precinct, but it remained "a splendid amenity for Sydney".

"[The government wanted to] look at taking Sydney in a western direction and build a core of facilities and amenities for public use … It has served Sydney very well and hopefully it will continue to," he said.

A former NSW government architect and now emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Sydney, Peter Webber, described the process surrounding the latest proposal as "covert" and "deeply flawed".

The government should have prepared a separate master plan for the precinct, taking public opinion into account, rather than wrapping the master plan into the tender process, Professor Webber said. "I think it's a back to front process. Instead of allowing feedback as the proposal was developed we are presented with almost a fait accompli," he said.

Artists' impressions released this week indicated the buildings would be "international style architecture" that failed to reflect their Sydney waterfront location, Professor Webber said.

"In the end they could be elegant and beautiful buildings [but] at the moment they appear very schematic".

An Infrastructure NSW spokewoman said early involvement of the bidders led to ''a better urban design outcome and a plan that is commercially feasible''.

She said the Lend Lease consortium had created ''signature buildings in an iconic location'', describing the designs as ''world class''.

''The master plan, released yesterday, will be subject to consultation and engagement as part of the formal planning process,'' she said, adding the proponents were required to consider issues that had been raised by stakeholders during consultation.

The public had been alerted to community information sessions by two advertisements in May - one in a local paper, and one in the Chinese language press - and Infrastructure NSW held about 30 industry events.

Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said the proposal would help maintain Sydney's position as a top conference destination, and provided much-needed hotel rooms and housing.

The city, which expected to receive a detailed briefing on the proposal early next year, would work with the community, state government and developers to make sure the redevelopment featured ''well-connected, high-quality designs'', she said.

51 comments

  • Philistines? really? the proposal looks a lot nicer that what we currently have. How about a little less ego and a little bit more professional courtesy for the new architects work?

    Commenter
    Tanuki
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 13, 2012, 8:37AM
    • @Tanuki

      Oh you mean the same professional courtesy being paid to the previous architects' work? Work that is less than thirty years old? Work that is fully functional and has been a host to many a convention? Work that cost the state plenty of money back then - that we now will be tearing down and replacing by spending public money again to do what is essentially reinventing the wheel? I thought the Liberals were supposed to be fiscally responsible economic managers. It looks as if the happy days of Labor's drunken and irresponsible spending are back again. I didn't vote for this. I would really like to know who did. I would also like to know how we're paying for it - are we selling the state's power assets again?

      Commenter
      Malik the magic sheep
      Location
      Ripauff, McKichbax and Vestedenstrestz Pty Ltd, Architectz
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 8:55AM
    • The new buildings are a vast improvement on the current eyesores

      Commenter
      kram
      Location
      Cammeray
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 9:25AM
    • Well, quite. Philistinism would be building an awful uninviting building with no sight lines in or out, and no engagement with either the harbour or the pedestrianised precinct (Tumbalong Park etc) or with Pyrmont behind it. It has nothing at ground level and is a cold, repelling building.

      Darling Harbour isn't bounded by the Western Distributor on the east side - it's bisected by it. The precinct is bounded on the east by Darling Drive - a horrible unwalkable ratrun that lets the exhibition centre act as a wall between DH and Pyrmont. It didn't have to be that way - there could have been much more connection with the terraces etc of Harris St across the light rail line (which would have meant DH was used by Sydneysiders as well as just tourists), but Brereton's team didn't make provision for it. Philistinism indeed...

      Commenter
      architecture express
      Location
      in your harbour, destroying your buildingz
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 10:12AM
    • Agreed. It looks great, This guy just wants some limelight but is just coming across as a jackass.

      Commenter
      Azza
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 10:20AM
    • Totally agree. The proposed new buildings look fantastic compared to the dull and bland current ones.

      Commenter
      NB
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 11:49AM
    • Buckle up Barry, I see you and your mob back in opposition next election. Stop looking after the developers and instead, do what the people of this state hired you to do. If you need it spelled out, it does not include wasting public funds on demolishing and rebuilding infrastructure we already have.

      Commenter
      Malik the magic sheep
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 11:57AM
    • This remark from one who was part of the government that cancelled the northern beaches railway line? Thanks for 30 years of no proper PT for the NB.

      Commenter
      Bennopia
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 1:48PM
    • Yes, forget Brereton.

      It doesn't look that bad, but it doesn't look that good. Like a Meriton tower when they dominated planning and building in Sydney (now Lend Lease?).

      Will these buildings look and feel as dated as the current ones in 25 years ( I am no fan of the Cox approach, apart from stadia). Are they 'classic' in the good sense of that word, meaning enduring by virtue of aesthetics, form, function and all kind of stuff. Like the little black dress, forks or the Opera House - things that don't date.

      We saw planning start to be twisted asap under the O'Farrell government (along with contempt for the environment - what are the energy and waste credentials here?). Here there are problems with process as Peter Webber says.

      The faceless hand of government control through 'job for a Liberal mate' Infrastructure Supremo Nick Greiner (yes, I know and I like the mixed metaphor!) and presumably a developer wish for facile designs that suggests flashy fashion, but are really cheap boxes inside. Design or approval by committee too and inevitably there will be missed opportunities at best.

      This is a lot of money and the 3rd most important site in central Sydney. The Opera House and RBG are sorted very nicely indeed, but Circular Quay isn't; then Barangaroo; then Darling Harbour. Whither them?

      Is it too much to expect a government to get it right? And right not meaning bland.

      Commenter
      Uncle Ho HO
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 2:26PM
  • i'm struck by a few aspects of this story... i) has anyone seen a spec for the project? 'we need a, b, c, d. we need to consider e, f, g, h.' ii) call me anti-democratic but public consultation is sometimes overrated, unhelpful. especially with projects like this. an information-providing and ideas-getting process might have been useful. iii) how is it possible for anyone involved to propose demolition of the beautiful, functional exhibition buildings but leave intact that godawful shopping centre? iv) limiting the height of buildings is sometimes stupid. witness the deutsche bank building on phillip street designed by norman foster. its pathetically truncated. dumb decision. v) what makes the darling harbour site different from others i know - notably in melbourne, brisbane and perth - is that its is [now] reasonably well integrated into the city and has at its immediate boundary a significant and complex community [residential, commerical, educational]. the dreadful new barn in melbourne is on a very lonely fringe; even dreadful docklands is a long way away. neighbours matter.

    we ought to begin with and build on what we've got. i'm sure that convention hosts and guests would enjoy a collection of buildings and spaces that aren't monolithic, 'world class', placeless, unhuman. let's learn from the west-facing wall-to-wall glass of the new cba complex. let's leave the exhibition buildings, add more, replace the meeting spaces, demolish that bloody mall.

    finally... when will architects, developers, governments and other stop rendering images of buildings that suggest they are transparent. we're not that stupid. we just aren't.

    Commenter
    everyone's a critic
    Location
    north bondi
    Date and time
    December 13, 2012, 8:42AM

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