Case Study

Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia: (1984 to the present)

Darling Harbour is an example of urban design by default as much as careful design. The harbour was once Australia's busiest seaport, but although updated in the 1960s, by the 1970s, it was a series of empty Victorian warehouses and rarely used railway tracks. Only an occasional ship used its wharfs. By the end of the decade it was derelict. Its location adjacent to the city centre, however, presented a major opportunity for redevelopment.

In May 1984, the New South Wales State Government announced its intention to redevelop the harbour. Much earlier - during the 1970s - the state government had initiated studies of investments in the area. The Rouse Corporation in the United States (the developers of Baltimore Inner Harbor) was invited to submit a master plan for the area and the government built the Sydney Entertainment Centre and later the Power House Museum in it. These two developments were catalysts for the further a fragmented development exploration of uses for Darling Harbour. Another impetus came from the development suggestions of Lawrence Halprin, the influential American landscape architect. Baltimore Inner Harbor was clearly the model in mind throughout the development of Darling Harbour but considerably more has been achieved.

Late in 1984, the Darling Harbour Act was legislated by the state parliament under the forceful leadership of politicians Neville Wran and Laurie Brereton. The goal was to create a major development by 1988, the bicentennial of European settlement of Australia (or invasion, as perceived by indigenous populations). The act established the Darling Harbour Authority with the Project Design Directorate (later assigned to the MSJ Group) and the Managing Contractors (later Leighton Contractors) under its wing. The Authority was given the task of taking the development forward. Darling Harbour was thus planned in the speculative era of the late 1980s to be a major commercial, entertainment, recreational and residential area that would enhance the economic state of the city and place it more firmly on the world map, as the Opera House had done at mid-century.

The decision to go ahead with the project was based on consultants' feasibility studies that were presented to the State Government, the Sydney City Council, statutory bodies and municipal utility authorities for review. A joint government/private enterprise team oversaw the process of development. The first step involved the resolution of the financial and administrative basis for the project. The second step involved getting the government-owned land released for the development and purchasing land parcels from private owners. It also required the land to be cleared so that it could be a construction site. The third step was to seek expressions of interest from developers and the selection of worthwhile projects. Individual developers making proposals were required to present architectural and engineering drawings and impact analyses of their schemes. Negotiations then took place between the Authority and the developers over their applications. Approvals for road closures, the use of air rights, as well as for the construction of buildings had to be obtained and agreements had to been made with utility providers. Once these steps had been completed, tendering for construction work took place. By 1985, most of the site had been cleared. No specific master plan was adopted but an early one (see Figure 8.73) has guided the development and formed the basis of successive plans of the Darling Harbour Development Authority. In 1985, construction began on the Sydney Convention Centre (designed by

John Andrews) and Exhibition Centre (publicly funded and designed by Philip Cox with Arup Associates as engineers). The process was carried out in haste in a piecemeal manner in order for the scheme to be sufficiently advanced by 1988 to be seen as a functioning entity.

When it became clear what was occurring in Darling Harbour, there was considerable political and public opposition to the development. It was perceived that the money could be better spent on hospitals and other public facilities rather than something frivolous. There was particular strong opposition to the building of an elevated monorail circuit that cuts across the fa├žades of buildings in the central area of the city before looping around Darling Harbour. With the award of the landscape design contract to Regal Landscape, public opinion, however, started to be supportive as the full nature of what Darling Harbour would be became apparent.

The design charge for the site was to create spaces with flat surfaces avoiding slopes. Elongated spaces were to be avoided unless they were terminated by a visible and desired destination. Imposing significant buildings should be contrasted with smaller buildings and accreted around open spaces to give them a sense of enclosure. By 1987 a master plan had evolved.

The site today extends seamlessly under two major highways with a mixture of hard surfaces in its heavily trafficked pedestrian core areas and grassed areas to the south (see Figure 8.74). The buildings are arranged in a horseshoe manner around the harbour which is now partially a marina and partially a site for water entertainment events. The design is anchored at its ends by the National Maritime Museum (with a submarine and

destroyer in the water adjacent to it) and a privately developed aquarium that has been successful enough to be extensively enlarged. Both these buildings were designed by Philip Cox. Today, Darling Harbour includes the Exhibition Centre, the Sydney Convention Centre (completed in 1999), the Harbourside Markets (designed by RTKL Associates, Inc and Clarke Perry Blackmore) and, on the city side of the harbour, Cockle Bay Wharf (a restaurant and entertainment area, completed in 2001). Towards the south are a Panasonic IMAX Theatre, Palm Grove (a waterplay area), the Chinese Garden of Friendship, children's playgrounds, amphitheatres, water features and parks. The old

Pyrmont Bridge has been converted to a pedestrian way but still opens for highmasted boats to pass under it. Underneath the highways are buildings such as information centres.

Few guidelines shaped the development. In many ways the process has followed a piece-by-piece iterative ad hoc approach 'rather than [being] a product design wherein everything is determined before implementation took place' due to the exigencies of time (Young, 1988) and shaped by political forces. As Philip Cox noted: 'Politics and unions take up so much time today ... I have to get involved in politics because politics determine what the end product will be' (Cox cited in Towndrow, 1991: 257). Debates led to the overall project being fragmented with the landscape being used to coordinate the plan. The outdoor spaces of the precinct gain a sense of unity through the similarity of their surface materials, the use of linking elements such as the water features, the unified design of streetlights, seating and rubbish bins, and the vegetation. Tree species were selected for the microclimate conditions and the functions they are to serve. For instance, a row of palm trees in Palm Grove gives a strong axis to the water. In other places the trees provide a canopy for seating areas. The height of buildings within the harbour zone is restricted to four stories and the height of those immediately adjacent to it on the city side to 15 stories. The height of those on the other side is supposed to be related to the height of the old woolstores. The former regulation allows for good light and a spacious design, the latter allows views of the city's skylines. That three of the major buildings were the product of one architectural office, Cox, Richardson and Taylor and many of the smaller incidental items of another, McConnel, Smith and Johnson, also helps to add some unity to the development (Figure 8.75).

The development at Darling Harbour occurred in two phases: the rushed development of the 1980s and the work after 1988 - the bicentennial year. The first phase established the character of the scheme with the creation of the basic landscape, the Convention Centre, the Harbourside Markets, the Exhibition Space and the waterfront. The second phase occurred between 1996 and 1998 with a burst of primarily private investments: Sega World, the Aquarium extension, the IMAX theatre, the Darling Park development and Cockle Bay Wharf. Public investment continued with the extension of the Convention Centre and the building of an extensive children's playground.

One of the reasons for public investments in urban designs is to use them as catalysts for development. To date private investment in Darling Harbour has outstripped public three to one with over $A1.5 billion being spent on recent projects alone. Darling Harbour has spurred considerable development around it. The new buildings include hotels and residential units. Warehouses have been converted to apartments, and new commercial buildings are linked to the harbour. Waterfront housing is being developed to the north of the immediate site at King Street Wharf. The Sydney Casino is nearby. A light-rail system (developed by the Light Rail Consortium backed by the State Government) located along an abandoned rail track links the city's Central Station to inner western neighbourhoods and passes by Darling Harbour.

Darling Harbour possesses a vibrant mix of uses and attracts widely different people.

Figure 8.75 Three views of Darling Harbour in 2004. (a) A view southwest from Pyrmont Bridge, (b) a view looking southwest under the highways; the IMAX Theatre is on the left and (c) the landscape features running south under the highways.

Figure 8.75 Three views of Darling Harbour in 2004. (a) A view southwest from Pyrmont Bridge, (b) a view looking southwest under the highways; the IMAX Theatre is on the left and (c) the landscape features running south under the highways.

Today, of the 14 million or so visitors a year 55% are Sydneysiders and 22% are foreigners. At the time of writing, the exhibition space at the Convention Center was being increased by 10,000 square metres (107,000 square feet) with the building of two new warehouse-type structures to make a total of 40,000 square metres (428,000 square feet) of convention and exhibition space. Financial assistance from the government was reduced from $A17.6 million in the 1996-7 fiscal year to nil in 1999-2000. Still, questions are asked as to whether a stronger overall architectural image could have been obtained with some additional forethought. Similar questions are asked about the links between Darling Harbour and its surroundings. In many ways it turns its back on them. The site was dealt with as an island by a single authority.

Major references

Darling Harbour Authority (1985). Darling Harbour Draft Development Plan and Strategy, Planning Report. Sydney: The authors. Kozloff, Howard (2001). Sydney's Darling Harbour.

Urban Land 60 (11-12): 82-6. Project Sunrise Pty., Limited and Sunrise High Technologies and Design Pty., Ltd. (1983). Urban and Landscape Design Report. Sydney: The authors. Towndrow, Jennifer (1991). Darling Harbour. In Philip Cox: Portrait of an Australian Architect. Ringwood, Victoria: Viking, 254-64. Young, Barry (1988). Darling Harbour: a new city precinct. In Peter G. Webber, ed. The Design of Sydney: Three Decades of Change in the City Centre. Sydney: The Law Book Company, 190-213.

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