Olympics Preview

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Contradicting suburbs stultified by cul-de-sacs, Sydney’s Olympic Village is likely to morph New Urbanism with the Garden City. Ten architecture firms are designing a tightly costed, still-early scheme adaptable to the Games and real life later.

Village Centre

Still in an early stage of design, the Village Centre will include a 8500 sq m retail centre (top), an 8 hectare commercial and high-tech industrial zone (not designed), and a village green bordered by three-storey apartment blocks (above). The architects are Cox Richardson and Peddle Thorp & Walker.


Five housing types (most solar-powered) are being designed for Newington; family houses, courtyard houses, townhouses, three-storey apartment blocks and portable pavilions. In Olympic mode, the houses will be crammed with bedrooms (including sheds in courtyards), have bare finishes (painted concrete floors) and lack kitchen appliances. Afterwards, they will be upgraded for permanent habitation – fewer bedrooms, better kitchens, carpets, and more parking. The designs are being prepared by Virginia Kerridge, Order Architects, Grose Bradley, Tonkin Zulaikha, Gordon + Valich and Howard Tanner; working in pairs with developer Mirvac’s in-house design office, HPA Architects.

Review by Stephen Buzacott

Much has already been written about the story of the Olympic Village masterplan and its place in the sorry history of Sydney competitions, so I don’t intend to revisit that now. Let us just say that at last the selection process is over and the real work can begin for the selected tenderers- Mirvac/Lend Lease and their architects Cox Richardson, Peddle Thorp & Walker, HPA Architects, Virginia Kerridge, Tonkin Zulaikha, Howard Tanner, Order Architects, Grose Bradley and Gordon & Valich.

Frankly, the village-to be called Newington-is going to be a hard sell. The site is bounded to the north by a prison, to the west by industry, to the south by a motorway and to the east, over Haslam’s Creek, by the huge Olympic sports campus. Except for a small pocket of existing housing to the south-west, it will be walled off from other residential areas. These issues inform the masterplan, creating a sense of isolation and an inward-looking quality to what at first glance is an example of the ‘new urbanist’ vogue that is sweeping the Anglo world.

However, looks are deceiving. The plan has four precincts; three of housing and one retail/commercial/residential in the north-west corner, opposite the gaol. Each precinct is planned around a green square in a loose grid of streets (and thankfully few cul-de-sacs) which nominally link up to surrounding street grids, which for various reasons (industrial uses or local council opposition) are closed to traffic. In new urbanism, the central squares in each precinct would have higher densities and some shops or civic element surrounding them, yet the Homebush precincts do not. Higher-density apartment blocks and courtyard houses (there are now 250 more dwellings than shown on the masterplan) are generally strung along the edges of each precinct. The retail/commercial uses are concentrated in one shopping centre, with light industrial/retail uses on three sides, and some residential units around the ‘civic’ square facing the Olympic stadia. In a more traditional Australian approach to the suburb, one school is placed between two of the precincts along the main north/south connector road (and public transport route) of the village.

In the preliminary housing designs, it is a worry that new urbanist solutions of neo-colonial Georgian or an Australian ‘Fediterranean’ are being encouraged instead of the more contemporary housing designs that could be expected, especially from the ‘young’ practitioners. Working in pairs, the architects have proposed various types of houses, though with not very inspiring plans. An obvious constraint is the need to conform to basic Olympic standards for accommodating athletes yet sell afterwards to a conservative Australian public needing enticement to move to an isolated location without harbour views. In answer to this dilemma, the ‘relocatable homes’ seem the most satisfying, and more contemporary: it will be a lucky mining town (a Shay Gap for the nineties?) which will have them after the Games.

It is too early to clarify this development in its pre-Olympic, Olympic and post Olympic sell-off phases. Hopefully, Mirvac/Lend Lease will reconsider marketing a ‘Fediterranean’ development and will allow the architects to advance the mass-market with contemporary designs arising from dynamic urban structures, with figure/grounds and floor plans to match.



Published online: 1 May 1997


Architecture Australia, May 1997

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