Heritage Revisions

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Right DCM’s 363 George Street development, under construction, with a staircase link from George Street to York Street. Below The Crone-designed 400 George Street and its curved lane from King Street to the Pitt Street Mall.

The City of Sydney’s policy to bring back lanes in the CBD is seen in two new high-rise developments above historic corner buildings on the King and George Streets intersection. Tony Caro reports.



Two recent Sydney projects (on opposing corners of King and George Streets), by Crone Associates and Denton Corker Marshall, offer differing interpretations of the role and nature of urban space in the CBD. Both are high-rise commercial office developments, though each has a form and language developed from diverse architectural ideologies. Both projects contribute to the civic realm by providing coherent public space and architecture. This is in no small part due to the City of Sydney’s new planning policies and its commitment to outcomes where the public interest is held in equal regard to that of the development community. The Crone project, 400 George Street, is a beautifully crafted Neo-Classicist essay in good manners; ducking and weaving in response to the perceived architectural pre-condition of adjacent sites. The tower’s form is derived from one of the city’s planning tenets:
preservation of sunlight in certain public spaces (Pitt Street Mall in this case).
A strong urban gesture made by the architects is a graceful, curving and overtly public arcade incised into the site behind an extant Victorian building on the corner of King Street and the Mall. A similar approach to the George Street corner (behind a further Victorian corner building) might have established a precedent for a new typological condition in Sydney, in the same manner that Barcelona’s particular identity is forged by the chamfered corner blocks of its 19th century Cerda grid.
DCM’s project, 363 George Street, walks a taut line between the traditional street edge and this firm’s disposition towards Modernist spatialism. DCM have in the past ventured along this path (Governor Phillip/Macquarie Towers) with great distinction. This tower is an assured, sophisticated and tightly skinned object hovering over the podium below. Though not yet open, a new public link through the site between George and York Streets to the north of the tower lobby will improve
pedestrian permeability. The drawings indicate a complex but legible series of interlinked spatial types (lane/court/arcade). In this sense, the link will be a hybrid that notably recalls Harry Seidler’s 1980s ground-plane strategy for the Capita Centre in Elizabeth Street.
Here, DCM convinced a landowner to the north to demolish a recent seven-storey internal addition in order to carve out new public space and admit sunlight to the central courtyard element of the link. Solar access to this space has thus been preserved and council’s minimum requirements have been creatively surpassed.
Significant historic buildings exist on each site: these are linked by podium infills to complete the street edge. Both projects adopt the now-ubiquitous Sydney strategy of a set-back tower in order to lend a sense of civitasto the street – and each integrates well in this sense. The Crone building is more deferential in its detail, while DCM’s cool, abstract approach relies on clever use of materials and masterful manipulation of mass, scale and proportion.
Both projects call to mind a statement from Oriol Bohigas’ recent Gold Medal address to the Royal Institute of British Architects (in Architectural Review, Sept 1999). In this concise, coherent and commonsensical manifesto about city-making, Bohigas said: “The space of collective life must not be residual space but planned and meaningful space, to which the various public and private constructions must be subordinated. Architecture should be primarily a consequence of the form of the city and of the landscape and should participate in a new configuration of these.”
Both projects offer a sophisticated recognition of this hypothesis, within the configurative constraints and commercial realities of a high-rise city.
Tony Caro is an architect and urban designer in Sydney

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Published online: 1 Nov 1999

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Architecture Australia, November 1999

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