Save the centres

An advocacy website supports the preservation of Darling Harbour buildings slated for demolition.

In response to the announcement by the NSW Government in December 2012 that it plans to demolish the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centres at Darling Harbour, a group of Sydney architects has created a website to raise awareness about the value and the fate of these buildings, and indirectly about city-making.

The website, Save the Centres, has discussion papers, building biographies and commentary by prominent architects and historians who suggest that the buildings could (and should) be repurposed far more economically than they could be replaced.

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Specifically under threat are the Sydney Exhibition Centre by Philip Cox Richardson Taylor & Partners and the Sydney Convention Centre by John Andrews – the latter is one of the only Sydney buildings by this important Australian architect.

The website doesn’t attack the developers or the architects of proposed replacements, but makes the case that design solutions could be found to increase the buildings’ capacity, scale and connectivity in a more sustainable manner, in line with the progressive thinking of current UIA aims.

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Professor Jennifer Taylor writes a brief reminder that, imperfect as it is, “The inner-city cultural precinct of Darling Harbour was born in a time of economic buoyancy and optimism for Sydney, and the major public buildings of the Exhibition Centre and the Convention Centre are representative of that time. They are part of the fabric and story of the city. Cities are not inert objects that can be dissected at will – they are the repositories of the history of the ideals and aspirations of the people who built them and the inheritance of those who follow.”

Andrew Andersons AO has contributed a report on the buildings and the proposal, in which he critiques the failure of process by the government and suggests alternatives to the demolition.

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“It is difficult to find the logic in the NSW Government’s proposals to demolish three public buildings, less than thirty years old, designed by three of Australia’s best architects and to use their sites for replacement buildings. To do this, temporary buildings will need to be procured. To subsidize the cost of this, over 1,000 apartments, a high-rise hotel and thousands of metres of commercial space will be built in a manner that puts pressure on some of Sydney’s best parkland and foreshore promenade space.

“Development proposals for the site were invited by the O’Farrell Government without any apparent regard to assessment of the cultural, social and architectural significance of these sites. There has been no involvement of the general public to participate in a momentous decision of this kind.”

Sydney Exhibition Centre by Philip Cox Richardson Taylor & Partners

Sydney Exhibition Centre by Philip Cox Richardson Taylor & Partners

Image: Patrick Bingham-Hall

“The Exhibition Centre can be expanded to the South, to the SEC carpark site, by a lobby passing under the Pier Street overpass. If refurbishment is required, this would be far cheaper than providing a totally new building as well as a temporary facility … The Convention Centre could easily be expanded to the north to the Harbourside Shopping Centre site where it could complement a new ‘Landmark: Convention/Hotel development.’”

Sydney Convention Centre by John Andrews.

Sydney Convention Centre by John Andrews.

Image: Danny Kildare

“The Harbourside shopping centre provides the opportunity for an outstanding extension of convention facilities and a superb site for a luxury hotel. The lessee of Harbourside could be assigned a lease of the ground and mezzanine levels of any new development as compensation. The Entertainment Centre car park provides significant opportunities to expand the Exhibition Building. The service yard of the SEC could be eliminated to improve connection with the north – south desire line to Quay Street. In such a scenario what is good about the legacy of the site would be maintained with exciting prospects for what would be new.”

Robert Woodward’s fountain in front of the Convention Centre.

Robert Woodward’s fountain in front of the Convention Centre.

Image: Charlie Brewer

A brief critique of the proposed replacement buildings are a part of Andersons’ report, along with concern for a smaller monument, of no lesser importance. “The faceted planar forms of the Convention Centre have a poor relationship to the freeway compared with the carefully considered geometry of the existing John Andrews building. The [proposed] building appears to ‘oversail’ Bob Woodward’s award-winning masterpiece, his recessed, helical fountain.”

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