Topography and grid
The internet encourages us to experience the world remotely, through satellite images that serve to trick with their easy overview and tell us nothing of what it means to walk streets and experience places. From above the shifting grid iron of central Sydney, contained within a narrow peninsular jutting out into the harbour, the city seems as straightforward and recognisable as Manhattan. However, the steep hills, landscape and history have other plans.
In New York the buildings conspire to provide drama, with street canyon vistas focusing on the void of water. In Sydney the experience is more spatially complex, with the rolling topography, grid alignments and buildings playing sometime harmonious, sometime discordant melodies. This dramatic urban setting conspires to frame unexpected vistas, allowing seemingly diminutive buildings a dramatic presence, with grand set pieces often enjoyed through tightly focused slivers that tease the pedestrian.
When we were invited to participate in the Wynyard Place competition, we had to throw away our first sketch designs, which had neatly rendered Sydney in a two-dimensional plan. Our final, winning design was driven by the context, which we came to understand only after we walked the streets at length and experienced how people move, views change and the city guides you – something architects must do in all cities they work in. We deliberately took the massing apart and reassembled it to alternately anchor views down Hunter Street, open up vistas to the Shell clock tower and act as a backdrop to Wynyard Park.
Extracted from Make Annual 13.