The Venice Architecture Biennale recently launched. As the new Australian pavilion is under construction the Australian exhibition for Venice uses augmented reality to create Augmented Australia, a virtual, mobile exhibition viewed on mobile devices.
One of the virtual creations is based on designs in the Powerhouse collection for No.2 Bond Street Sydney, an office and commercial development design by John Andrews. It is one of 22 virtual creations of unbuilt Australian designs forming the exhibition – 11 historic projects and 11 contemporary designs.
The catalogue for Augmented Australia focuses on Andrews’ extraordinary tower design: ‘While the upper half looks like a conventional late modern downtown high rise, at ground, except for its half-cylinder core, the building pulls itself up with immense triangulated structures. At one end as high as a fifteen story building. It is as if the building has been eroded at ground level…’.
It is worth detailing the background to this design, proposed in 1986 to avoid the demolition of George Patterson House, George Street – now home to the Establishment; bar, restaurant and nightclub complex. Built in 1895 as a department store for the retailer Holdsworth MacPherson, this seven-floor building became famous as the editorial and production headquarters of The Bulletin magazine as well as advertising agency George Patterson.
In 1984 George Patterson House was purchased by New World Properties which applied to demolish it and neighbouring properties including the Metropolitan Hotel and construct a 31-storey office and retail building on the site. City Council’s approval of the application caused a major controversy, as did the concurrence of the Heritage Council of NSW and the Minister for Planning and Environment, Bob Carr. Opposition was led by Frank Sartor and other City Councillors and the Council’s own planning department. The application also incited opposition (on the grounds of potential overshadowing) from Lend Lease, owner of the neighbouring Australia Square complex.
In 1986 the Land and Environment Court declared New World’s application void. In the aftermath the consolidated site was purchased by Parramatta-based construction company McNamara Group. In partnership with two Japanese companies McNamara engaged John Andrews to design a tower which would retain and regenerate the heritage properties facing George Street, as well as resolving the overshadowing problems.
Andrews designed two polygonal-plan connected towers elevated above street level, connected and supported by a cylindrical lift and service core ‘allowing the retention of the historic buildings while developing the site to the maximum allowed by the statutory authorities; providing maximum floor space at levels from which the best views and hence highest rental returns were available; and, with the tower support rationalised to a minimum, avoiding further overshadowing of Australia Square’. George Patterson House was to be redeveloped as an apartment complex.
The Andrews design was approved by City Council in 1988 and was widely praised. However CBD property prices plunged in the aftermath of the 1987 Wall Street Crash, the project lapsed and the corner of Bond and George Street became one of Sydney’s several undeveloped demolition sites. George Patterson House remained vacant despite being heritage-listed in 1992. During 1996 the building was severely damaged by fire, before being restored as Establishment for Justin Hemmes’ Merivale Group.
A similar controversy took place during the same decade with the nearby Grosvenor Place development designed by Harry Seidler. The original design for this commercial complex assumed the demolition of heritage buildings facing George and Grosvenor streets, but the retention of these structures became a condition of its approval much to the architect’s displeasure. John Andrews was less convinced than Harry Seidler by the appeal and necessity of plazas surrounding commercial towers. He eschewed this solution for IAG House (corner George and King streets) in favour of retail and café spaces, declaring that Sydney was ‘plaza-ed out’.
The prospectus for 2 Bond Street states that Andrews’ design ‘allows the consolidation of the streetscape established by the Metropolitan Hotel and the Holdsworth MacPherson Building, firmly reinstating the traditional street building pattern of central Sydney which had been greatly eroded by nearby plaza/tower development’. We can detect here an expression of the competitive relationship which existed between Andrews and Seidler at this time.
As the Biennale team comment Andrews’ design is a ‘radical vision for the consolidation of a future city…The heritage buildings are spared below but above a vision of the city as megastructure rules’. No 2 Bond Street is a perfect project for the Venice Biennale given Festival director Rem Koolhaas’ focus on histories, ‘on the evolution of national architectures in the last 100 years… this retrospective will generate a fresh understanding of the richness of architecture’s fundamental repertoire, apparently so exhausted today’.
It’s worth pointing out also that one of the contemporary unbuilt projects featured in the Australian exhibition is Tower Skin, LAVA’s proposed reskinning of the UTS Tower. The Powerhouse collection hold’s LAVA’s model of this project.
This article was recently published on the Powerhouse Museum blog Inside the collection.