Make’s Ian Lomas, who recently relocated to Sydney, explains why designing in the city is so different from in London.
Light and shadow
Any first-time visitor to or returning resident of Sydney is struck by the sharp precision of its light, which crisply incises shadows and details into the city’s walls, describing an architecture of light and shadow. A heady mixture of Mediterranean heat and Alpine clarity, Sydney’s high-definition light unrelentingly highlights each shift in texture and exposes every imperfection, with shade a place of retreat.
Arriving from London, characterised by its soft light and history of understatement, the Make team has had to question our established relationships with building materials. We relish this opportunity to explore the changed personalities of our long-time friends and collaborators – concrete, stone, brick, glass and metal – and choose materials that absorb and diffuse this light.
No material celebrates these characteristics more than the original sandstone quarried in the city. The stone seems to both drink the light and emanate it. The Lands and Education Buildings of our Sandstone Precinct project are hewn from the ground they sit above, with deeply recessed loggias, reveals and cornices richly brought to life by dark shadows and the fierce sun.
This material is now in short supply, and much of the stone quarried today looks drained by comparison. Wisely, our new extensions to these buildings don’t seek to mimic the originals but employ materials and forms that accentuate the grand sandstone base. A series of delicate diagrids appear to float in the sky above the Lands Building, while a rigorous rhythm of slumped glass bays, topped by a dramatic cornice of garden terraces, defines the reinstated shady garden court of the Education Building.
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.