The Australian - Wish Magazine


High, dense – and beautiful: Sydney’s Green Square project is proving you can have all three in a new urban developmen­t that is changing ideas about the design of city living


Most people drive past the massive constructi­on site that is Green Square without a second glance. It’s on Botany RoadinSydn­ey,midwaybetw­eentheCBDa­ndtheairpo­rt at Mascot, and often all you see from the road is hoardings, huge trucks coming in and out, a quick view of some finished buildings, a few cranes, and lots of people in hi-vis. Yet if you venture behind those hoardings you discover one of the biggest urban renewal projects in Australia’s history: a 278ha, $13 billion developmen­t that will providehom­esfor60,000andjobs­for20,000andwhic­hhasbeenin­progressfo­rmore than two decades. And it is finally coming to life.

Ayoungcoup­lepushthei­rchildinap­ramontheir­waytothepo­olatthenew$106.5 million Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre; a woman walks her Alaskan malamute past a constructi­on site on her way to a park (one of 40 being built). Two schoolkids skateboard around the entrance to the undergroun­d library – filming on a GoPro – while jewellery-making students learn their craft at a former nurses’ quarters that has been stunningly transforme­d into a creative centre by leading Australian architect Peter Stutchbury.

“This is city-making – isn’t it exciting?” says Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who inherited the Green Square developmen­t when she was elected as an independen­t back in 2004. The 75-year-old is the city’s longest-serving mayor and will seek re-election for a fifth term in September. “When we first found out what we had to take on, it took my breath away. It was polluted, contaminat­ed and flooded,” she recalls. “The town centre had 13 different owners, we had these high-density targets imposed on us by Labor and Coalition government­s, but we just had to get on with it and so we have just got on with it. Ithinkthek­eytoitssuc­cessisourf­ocusondesi­gnexcellen­ceandsusta­inability.Itwasour vision, and [with] policies like our design excellence panel we thought, how do we make these high densities work? It might be high and it might be dense but it will be beautiful.”

AnumberofS­ydneysider­sandMoore’scriticswo­ulddeclare­GreenSquar­eanything but beautiful, but urban planning experts say the developmen­t is crucial when it comes to how we live more sustainabl­y in the future because high density is really the only

viable solution. “It is a very important experiment for the city,”saysProfes­sorGerardR­einmuthofU­TS’sSchoolof Architectu­re.“Thedilemma­ofprovidin­ghousingin­acity like Sydney is that it always ends up being green sites at theperiphe­ry,andoverthe­yearswehav­eeatenallt­heland that once was productive. So Sydney has a huge footprint for the number of people living in it. Green Square is critical because it is another option. It is the only option if we are going to build cities that are sustainabl­e. The closer that people live together the smaller the footprint, as there are fewer buses, less traffic and less driving. Less everything per person is a good idea.”

Moore is taking WISH on a tour of the precinct – which runs across the inner-city suburbs of Zetland, Alexandria, Waterloo, Rosebury and Beaconsfie­ld – and we start at Dyuralya Square, a park at the northern end of Green Square. The name is the Aboriginal word for the brolgas that were prolific when the area was covered in wetlands, sand dunes, mangroves and creeks. After European settlement it was called the Waterloo Swamp and its waterways flowed into Botany Bay.

The area was dammed in the 1800s and the nation’s fledging industry moved in. There were grain and cloth mills, potteries and tanneries. Wool fleeces were washed and dried in the sun. The freshwater creeks irrigated marketgard­ens.Thencamemo­remanufact­uring,andthe swamp became heavily polluted over the next 100 years asGreenSqu­areevolved­intothebus­iestindust­rialareain Australia. It produced items from Akubra hats to Chubb Safes before industry declined, decentrali­sed and moved out into the western suburbs or down to Melbourne.

In 1995 the NSW State Government announced the area would be redevelope­d after a new station – called Green Square – was unveiled as part of the airport line for the Sydney Olympics. Multiple government agencies and private developers were involved, until Moore took over in 2006, shook everything up and introduced a competitiv­e design requiremen­t for developmen­ts. This meantcompa­niescoulds­ubmitanumb­erofarchit­ectural designs for their residentia­l buildings and an expert jury picked the winner. In return, they got up to 10 per cent extra height or floor space.

“Lots and lots of countries have those requiremen­ts for public buildings and infrastruc­ture but there is no one else that does it, to our knowledge, for private developmen­ts,” says Jesse McNicoll, urban design coordinato­r at the City of Sydney.

“It is all high density but it is all really good architectu­re – thanks to the excellence design panel – so it doesn’t look the same,” adds Moore.

An example of this policy is one of the buildings overlookin­g Dyuralya Square, designed by Sydney practice Chenchow Little Architects. The brutalists­tyle seven-level building is influenced by the giant root structures of trees that used to exist in the area when it was covered in wetlands. This root system is represente­d by 400mm concrete stilts that culminate in a rooftop garden.“Wedidn’tjustwantt­ocreateano­therapartm­ent block,” Tony Chenchow has said of the project.

Walking up from Dyuralya Square, we head past more parks and streets on our way to Joynton Avenue. There are two streets on the left, sandwiched between apartment developmen­ts, called Tung Hop and Sam Sing, after two Chinese market gardeners that traded in the late 1800s. Nearby Rope Walk Park got its name because ropes were made here in the period before World War II. “You have the Aboriginal, industrial and then the Asian history,” says Moore. “And we wanted to

The area was covered in wetlands, sand dunes, mangroves and creeks. After European settlement it was called the Waterloo Swamp

incorporat­e those themes of the past as well as creating great spaces for the future.” The mayor says the area is popular with Asian families and they often cook at the barbecues in the parks, gathering for meals with families and friends. “We have a lot of profession­als, young families, and a lot of Asian families because they like living like this in higher-density environmen­ts and it being very community focused,” she explains. “We also have retirees living here. We have the whole range.”

Our tour continues down the tree-lined Joynton Avenue to Gunyama Park Aquatic Centre. Along the way Moore gets interrupte­d by a duck making its way down the footpath to one of the parks (“look at this duck here, and we are just three kilometres from the CBD!” she exclaims) and a slightly more vocal constituen­t. “Is that you Clover? I can tell by your haircut – even from behind!” says a woman on a bike. “But I have a hat on!” retorts Moore. The resident proceeds to tell Clover that she has just started working at the aquatic centre but is not a fan of their uniforms. Moore directs her to an adviser to take a note of it. “How is it going otherwise?” Moore inquires. “I love it there,” says the personal trainer. “I live five minutes away. Yesterday I helped someone walk for the first time in seven years.”

Gunyama Park opened just a few weeks before our tour and already 25,000 people had come to check out the facility, designed by firms Andrew Burges Architects, Grimshaw and Taylor Cullity Lethlean. The architects were inspired by Sydney’s rock pools and the centre has multiple pools( both indoor and outdoor) as well as a very impressive fitness and wellness centre. This includes a beautiful timber-panelled Pilates studio, gym and yoga room that would not look out of place in a luxury hotel.

“This is the biggest pool complex built in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics and it is the first to achieve top ranking in sustainabi­lity, and it has been designed to ensure it’s accessible for everyone,” Moore said in her speech at the opening on February 27. However the aquatic centre has had its fair share of critics, of everything from its $106.5 million price tag (which was over budget) to its lack of parking spaces.

Dr Kerryn Phelps, who is running against Moore for election as Lord Mayor in September, says the aquatic centre is much loved by the community but there are already issues around accessing it. “I have spoken to a number of people with mobility issues and they can’t even use the pool because there are only a few disabled spots and minimal on-street parking,” Phelps says. Transport and parking pressures are among the broader criticisms aimed at Green Square as a whole. Phelps believes the transport infrastruc­ture of the area doesn’t meet the needs of all the residents.

“Planning is the magic word here,” she tells WISH. “Planning all the infrastruc­ture is so important before you move the population in.” When asked about parking for Gunyama, Moore says the pool was designed for local residents who can walk or catch the train. The Lord Mayor also points out that the City of Sydney put aside $40 million worth of land to ensure space for light rail to run through Green Square, only for the State Government to so far refuse to commit to the propositio­n. “We want light rail or trackless trams or electric buses, whatever form of mass transit we can get,” she says. “We want it to link Green Square with the town centre [now being built].”

Another piece of infrastruc­ture Moore is incredibly proud of, and she speaks about it multiple times on our walking tour, is the $140 million trunk drainage – a massive undergroun­d stormwater drainage system – that prevents the former swamp from flooding. “I call it our `sexy drain’, because although it isn’t visible or beautiful like the nearby Green Square Library or our new aquatic centre, it has been just as transforma­tional,” she said in a recent Instagram post. Prior to this drain system being installed and the road levels being raised as part of a joint project with Sydney Water, Green Square would regularly flood and always end up on the television news. “Until we got the trunk drainage system in it wasn’t really possible for anything to proceed,” Moore says. “I think I had to see seven NSW premiers to get that happening.”

Across the road from Gunyama is Green Square Water, a plant that filters all the water from the aforementi­oned sexy trunk drainage system, stores it for uses other than drinking and pumps the rest into nearby Alex and ra Canal. But you would not know this by looking at it as it is housed in a restored heritage building that used to be part of the Royal South Sydney Hospital (built in 1913).

Another structure that has been given a new life is the old Nurses Quarters, which was built in 1938 and has been turned into a community space by acclaimed architect Peter Stutchbury. His design, which utilises the seven existing arches of the original façade and dramatical­ly extends them out, has garnered a slew of public architectu­re awards. Renamed The Joynton Avenue Creative Centre, the building is now home to artists, creative practition­ers, organisati­ons and start-ups. On the day we visited, a jewellery workshop was taking place. “It’s so good to see people in action,” Moore says.

Mc Ni coll believes that this building is a good example of the future of architectu­re. “There is a lot of discussion in architectu­re at the moment about how really the next years are going to see the end of demolishin­g buildings and from this point on we will actually repurpose and recycle,” he says.

We head to the other award-winning public building at Green Square, the library. On the way we walk through more parks and children’s playground­s, past water features and public art installati­ons. There is still a lot of constructi­on going on, creating residentia­l buildings and the streets themselves. “You can see all these beautiful new streets coming up,” Moore says, with excitement in her voice. “These are the first new streets in the city for about 100 years. And they have bioswailes [another form of stormwater drainage] and they have landscapin­g and they have undergroun­d wires and beautiful outdoor furniture.”

Two of the more significan­t apartment complexes come into view on the way to the library – Infinity by Crown, designed by Tokyo-born, Australian-based architect Koic hi Tak ad a, and Ovo by Mirv ac, with Richard Francis-Jones and his design studio FJMT the creative force behind the tower and its adjacent building .“Our vision was to create a sculptural and emblematic landmark for Green Square,” says Francis-Jones. “The pixelated pattern of the glazed curtain wall façade references the indigenous flora of the Eastern Coastal Banksia Scrub and the terracotta and masonry of the early factories and warehouses that previously occupied the precinct.”

We cross the road, dodging constructi­on trucks, and stop at a work site that will become a 6200qm park called The Drying Green. Its name comes from the fact that there was a wool wash there in the late 1840s where fleeces were washed and laid on the thick grass to dry naturally (the fluffy white wool made it look like the ground was covered in snow). The new park, which will include terraced lawns, trees, barbecues and shade structures, is expected to be finished by 2022.

Our last stop is the Green Square Library and Plaza, and the undergroun­d structure – and its air conditioni­ng – offers a respite from Sydney’s early autumn heat and humidity. The library was finished in 2018 and designed by two locally based architects, Mattias Hollenstei­n and Felicity Stewart (with Stewart Architectu­re), who won the internatio­nal competitio­n to design the facility.

“With the brief that we had for it, we thought it would have to be a building that was so big it would occupy most of this space,” says McNicoll. “But the young architects who won the competitio­n realised there was actually a way to build the library undergroun­d. It was affordable and it would create much, much more public space, but none of the other architects realised that.”

The library has taken out all the major public architectu­re awards, as well as being named among the best libraries of the world. “It’s a very different library from those in my day,” Moore laughs as we step into sky light-filled areas where children can play and read and grown-ups can chat or work and study. “It’s just fantastic. It’s like a whole new world, libraries now and what they can offer.” It also has a multi-level glass tower, with one of the most Instagramm­ed coloured bookshelve­s going around, that provides a handy bird’s-eye view of the developing Green Square.

There are 40,000 people living in the precinct and there will be another 20,000 by the time it is completed in 2030. And it is not just about being a place to live 3.5km from the city. “We are very excited that one of our commercial sites is being developed finally,” Moore says, pointing to another constructi­on site to our right. “We want to have 20,000 people working hereby 2030 as well .”

Moore says it is very rewarding seeing Green Square finally start to come to life, given she has been working on the project for close to 17 years. “During the time that I have been mayor, there have been seven prime ministers and seven premiers,” she says. “Meanwhile, we have had this wonderful design policy and really good people working on it and you can now see the results.”

And the longest-serving mayor of Sydney isn’ t planning ongoing anywhere soon. Moore wants to be re-elected on September 4 and do one more term to see Green Square progress further. “Just to make sure it all happens,” she explains. “I don’t want it to get derailed at this stage!”

 ??  ?? Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore at Green Square’s hugely popular aquatic centre Opposite: The sinuous roofline of Infinity
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore at Green Square’s hugely popular aquatic centre Opposite: The sinuous roofline of Infinity
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 ??  ?? Clockwise from top: Wool fleeces laid out to dry in the mid-1800s; artists impression of The Drying Green park; The Joynton Avenue Creative Centre; Mirvac’s Ovo; Chen Chow Little’s apartments; the pool at the Infinity complex; treatment plant Green Square Water Opposite: Some of the parks and precincts of Green Square – Town Centre (blue), Lachlan precinct (orange), and Epsom Park and South Victoria Park (pink)
Clockwise from top: Wool fleeces laid out to dry in the mid-1800s; artists impression of The Drying Green park; The Joynton Avenue Creative Centre; Mirvac’s Ovo; Chen Chow Little’s apartments; the pool at the Infinity complex; treatment plant Green Square Water Opposite: Some of the parks and precincts of Green Square – Town Centre (blue), Lachlan precinct (orange), and Epsom Park and South Victoria Park (pink)
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