The big box store that wasn’t, and other Australian architectural marvels

Architecture is one of the primary means through which culture is transferred from one generation to the next. Sure, books are printed, blogs are published, and oral traditions are relayed, but, at just a passing glance, architecture’s larger-than-life character relays all this and more. It speaks to the politics, the economics, the hopes, and, yes, the fears of a people in a layered manner both sequential and topographical. Humanity has lost the Library at Alexandria, but at least we still have the Pyramids at Giza.

So, continuing what we started in Riga, let’s see what the land of barbied shrimps, ‘roos, and emancipated convicts has to tell us about its post-colonial form. Let’s hop around urban Australia!

sydney growing building

Kicking things off in Sydney, the city of signs and certainly the country’s most diverse and intriguing architectural landscape, is One Central Park, designed by Parisian architect Jean Nouveli in conjunction with Australian firm PTW Architects. Composed of two towers of unequal height, each covered in vertical gardens,ii the hottest new residential address in town is a sight to behold, even on a gloomy and overcast evening as shot here.

The cantilevered design flourish, a 110-tonne steel heliostat, projects 320 panels, each 15 sq ft, horizontally from the 29th floor in an effort to direct sunlight onto gardens below. And that’s just their practical function.iii

Personally, while the two towers certainly caught my attention from street-level, I have low-to-middling expectations for the property long-term. As with any residential property development, One Central Park aims for the whiz-bang-glitz that sells unites quickly rather than adding long-term value to the city’s infrastructure.iv

Part of the city’s $2 bn urban renewal project, One Central Park sits right across the street from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), itself another hotbed of recently and soon-to-be completed architectural marvels.

sydney uts building 1

At UTS, this building in particular caught my eye. Say “g’day mate” to the Thomas Street Building, designed by Durbach Block Jaggers and BVN Architecture to house the Faculty of Science and Graduate School of Health. This building was completed just a few short months ago and features a softer, warmer and livelier facade compared to, say, UTS’ new I swear-I’m-not-a-Borg-mothership Building 11, the home of its Engineering and IT faculties.v

syndey anzac bridge

Also in Sydney, astute readers will recognise Sydney’s ANZACvi bridge as belonging to the same school of design as “Brezhnev’s Guitar” in Riga.vii Because even a “mixed market economy”viii is so very much in the socialist vein, y’know?

syndey marquee

Following the path along the harbour, we come to something you just don’t see in northern climate: frameless, operable curtain wall. Gorgeous, isn’t it?ix

Marquee is apparently a pretty hot nightclub. Apparently.x

sydney governor philip tower

Delving into Sydney’s core, we find the staunchly sturdy foil to Renzo Piano’s Aurora Place. Sydney’s Governor Philip Tower was designed by Denton Corker Marshall and completed in 1993. In concert with the Sydney Opera House, it’s the pivot against which Piano’s diaphanous dime floats above the CBD skyline, making Governor Philip Tower an essential component of the city’s architectural conversation. The tower seen here houses some of the city’s most expensive commercial real estate (about AUS$ 1650 per sq m per year) while the smaller connecting tower just to the right (obscured by 1 Bligh) is Governor Macquarie Tower and houses New South Wales state offices.

sydney 1 bligh street interior

Just across the street is 1 Bligh Street, one of the country’s most environmentally conscientious new buildings. Designed by Düsseldorf-based Ingenhoven Architects, 1 Bligh achieved the rarified ranking of “Six-star green status” from the Green Building Council of Australia. The 135m interior atrium seen here, which stretches the entire height of the 29-story structure, allows for both natural ventilation and illumination of the interior offices, greatly increasing prime office space as well as energy efficiency. Other features such as the double skin floor-to-ceiling glass façade and blackwater (sewage) recycling, both firsts in the area, only add to the intrigue of this commercial office tower.

canberra red hill cafe

Of course, there’s more to Australian architecture than just Sydney. Seen here is the Red Hill Café overlooking the nation’s capital, Canberra. Based on the designs of Miles Jakl and built in 1964, the UFO-mimicking design speaks very much to the interstellar zeitgeist of the time. Similar expressions of mid-century modernism can also be seen in the Theme Building at LAX and the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Brasíl. And just behind the Red Hill Café here were wild kangaroos!

canberra national museum of australia

While Canberra isn’t my favourite city in the world, after all, I did go on the record as saying,

with inhumanely scaled boulevards and buildings, car-centric urban planning, and enough coldly calculated rational idealism to choke a cat, the city is still ever so fitting in its use as the nation’s capital. What better place to make projections about GDP and inflation?

Canberra does have some noteworthy architecture. Seen here is the front entrance of the desolate and, in my unimportant opinion,xi grotesque National Museum of Australia, which tells the stories of Australia’s aboriginal people, early European settlers and innovators,xii the country’s relationship with horses, and more.

melbourne face house

Turning now to Melbourne, the home of old skool computing and the country’s second-largest city with about 4 mn residents, we find a highly unusual way to customise the front of one’s house. Printed on glass or plexiglass panels, does anyone else see a young Pamela Anderson?

melbourne costco 1

And last but not least on today’s architectural tour, a little bit of transmogrified Americana: the big box store that wasn’t.

melbourne costco 2

Seen here in Melbourne Docklands area right next to the Melbourne Star ferris wheel, how bizarre, marvellous, and so very Australian is this?

Until next time.

___ ___ ___

  1. He of Barcelona’s baby Gerkin, el Torre Agbar, fame.
  2. While this is a “cool” and “new” feature on high-rise buildings, given Babylon’s hanging gardens from a few thousand years ago and the vine-covered walls of British castles a few hundred years ago, this idea has had one or two lives before. Plus ça change, n’est pas?
  3. Each of the 1.5sqm panels is fitted with nine tri-chromatic LED nodes from Philips Color Kinetics, placed into a custom harness to allow wider spacing of the light points. Every two panels shares a power supply with its own URL.
    A DVI video file provided by Kersalé is input into a video system manager that transports the information through Ethernet protocol (KiNET) to the power supplies, where it is converted into DMX signal for each individual LED. In total, 2880 LED nodes combine to create the finished installation.

    The result is a swelling, rippling, sparkling display that brings the heliostat back to life after the sun has set: five 30-second lighting ‘performances’ that run on regular rotation from dusk until 10pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

    via Mondo Arc.

  4. Public and commercial buildings are pretty much always built to a higher standard of fit-and-finish, particularly those that are owner-occupied.
  5. uts building 11 exterior

    UTS’ Building 11 is seen at centre jutting its fangs into the sky. While only a fraction of it is seen here, it’s quite a large structure, though it’s surprisingly claustrophobic on the inside, perhaps doubly so given that it’s designed to be the hub of “innovative material” and “green energy” and such and such.

  6. Originally, Australia New Zealand Army Corps. Now, a lousy but popular cookie.
  7. The Sydney bridge was built in 1995, the Riga one in… 1981.
  8. If Canada’s social studies text books are anything to go by, there’s a good chance that Australia positions itself similarly on the economic spectrum between capitalism and outright communism. And really, they’re not wrong, it’s shades of gray.
  9. This featherlight feature is also seen on Renzo Piano’s stunning Aurora Place. Unsurprisingly, Piano’s residential wonder, designed to make a big splash when the city hosted the 2000 Olympics, is some of the priciest real estate in town:

    sydney aurora place detail

  10. What am I, 20-years-old? Or worse yet, wishing I was?
  11. “Unimportant” because art is simply the subjective expression of wealth and power. In this case, it’s the coercively extracted wealth of Australia’s citizens as manifest through the machinations of top-down bureaucratic power that’s on display. To the extent that I choose to direct my energies elsewhere, Canberra isn’t the least bit affected by what I think of their architecture.
  12. Australians are reported to have given humanity polymer bank notes, wifi, Gardasil, and the electronic pacemaker. So there.

4 thoughts on “The big box store that wasn’t, and other Australian architectural marvels

  1. […] I don’t live in the suburbs, and no, I don’t shop at Costco. And yes, I minimise the amount of broken software and hardware I use.iv But even still, though I […]

  2. […] century will be the rare earths century. (Brazil and Australia pretty much own the known Hf supply atm). In any case, pretty fucking weird that goldbugs and […]

  3. […] vacationing in Melbourne, no less. […]

  4. […] limit me to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, BBistan, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia ? If so, aside from Brazil and Australia, which I’ve been to and can form my own opinion of, […]

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