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The Madness of Green Square

15 Dec

I took a walk around Green Square the other day- I was shocked by the freaky Millennial Moderne multi-res going up there.
In 20 years time this area will be known as a museum of kitsch.
Like it or not it has some interesting forms going on (especially if you like pointy corners….).

BTW- I believe that I may have got some of the architects wrong here- please let me know if this is the case.

Full page at-

JAAY01 Divercity, Waterloo. (Turner)

JAAY02 Emerald Park, Zetland. (Stanisic)

JAAY03 Viking Apartments, Waterloo.

JAAY04 Apex apartments, Zetland. (Turner)

JAAY05 Meriton VSQ North, Zetland.

JAAY08 CityWest, Zetland. (Prescott Architects)

JAAY10 Coda, Rosebery (Stanisic)

JAAY11 Mondrian, Waterloo (Stanisic)

JAAY14 Arc, Zetland (Tonkin Zulaikha Greer)

JAAY15 a2, Rosebery (SJB)

JAAY16 Warehouse5, Waterloo (Crone Nation)

JAAY18 Garland Stella, Zetland. (Tzannes)


JAAY29 Form, Zetland (Turner)

JAAY30 ESP, Zetland (Turner)

JAAY34 ARTISE, Rosebery (Turner)

JAAY37 Danks Street towers, Crown Square, Waterloo.


Durbach Block- Architects carve their own space

8 Apr

Robert Bevan, The Australian March 18, 2011

Above- the Roslyn Street Kings Cross bar and restaurant by Durbach Block (2008). This is a wee gem of a building. The Spanish restauranteur ran out when he saw me taking photos and enthusiastically espoused the “Spanish Gaudiesque” qualities of the building.

BY making solids, you make voids, says architect Camilla Block. When an object is built, a space is also shaped around it.
The geometric principle is simple, but some designers – in awe of creating the spectacular facade or beautiful details – put space-making too far down their list of priorities.

Not so Durbach Block Jaggers. The Sydney-based architecture practice has made its name (until recently as Durbach Block) by making the space in and around its buildings crucial to its modernism. In so doing, the firm is part of a heavy-duty alternative to the mainstream of Australian architecture. “We make the garden central to what we do,” Block says.

Sydney-based architects Neil Durbach and Camilla Block on the rooftop space they created in the city’s Kings Cross. Picture: Sam Mooy Source: The Australian

There’s a garden at the heart of the 2009 Sussan Group Headquarters in Melbourne that the practice built for Naomi Milgrom, and a roof garden with grassy knoll and frangipanis crowns its bump-and-grind Barcelona building in Sydney’s Kings Cross. The curvy white-tiled homage to Spanish expressionist Antoni Gaudi is also home to the eight-strong DBJ studio.

National award for commercial architecture … Sussan and Sportgirl’s headquarters, Cremorne, VIC, designed by Durbach Block Architects. Photo: Patrick Bingham Hall.

Commonwealth Place in Canberra, on axis with Parliament House.

Garden House in Sydney. Corbusian villa.

The slate includes domestic, commercial and public projects. At the large scale, the architects’ award-winning Commonwealth Place created an undulating part-building, part-landscape for the ceremonial parliamentary axis of Canberra. At the small scale is a residence such as Garden House in Sydney, in the running for this year’s Australian Institute of Architects Awards.

A sculpted L-shaped block, Garden House has a conventional floor plan but its verticals (its section) are scooped away or bowed in places to create complex forms where the garden invades the house and vice versa. There is a wonderful external staircase sheltered by a narrow niche that is polished to a high sheen.

“The garden is present above you, below you, beyond you, beside you,” Block says. Her business partner Neil Durbach describes the building, with its miniature edifices and squares, as “a small city with lots of distinct moments”.

Glenn Murcutt’s influential call that Australian building should follow Aboriginal advice and “touch the earth lightly” has become the generator of a national architecture: a language of timber, screens and floating platforms that, internationally, is seen as the country’s most successful contribution to quality design.

Durbach and Block’s work, however, is almost the antithesis to this celebrated national school and is instead characterised by a desire to create permanent and definite markers of human presence on a vast landscape.

“It is not about tiptoeing on the earth,” Block says. “It is about being embedded in it and loving it.”

Durbach says he is more interested in mass than weightlessness, and describes the ephemeral nature of much Australian architecture as romantic at best. “At its worse, it is incredibly exclusive. I feel like I will never really be Australian enough to get it. Overseas it is always picked up; it is seen as exotic and I suppose it is.”

Durbach came to Australia in 1983 after he had escaped conscription in South Africa and studied in the US.

“I read this huge article in Rolling Stone magazine about Australian film – the last of the Mad Max films, Breaker Morant, you know – and I thought that [creative opportunity] was very possible for architecture, too,” he says.

“I’m not a real Australian either,” says Block. Born in South Africa, she moved here aged 12.

Durbach’s first success was with architect Harry Levine, winning the job to create a new wing at Tusculum, the NSW home of the AIA. He taught Block in the final year of her studies at the University of Sydney and a decade ago they together formed Durbach Block and went on to build a series of houses: most famously the Spry House and the Holman House that won them international acclaim. The houses may inhabit clifftop eyries but there is nothing flighty about these concrete dwellings.

Spry House (image- Durbach Block)

Holman House (image- Durbach Block)

Unlike many architectural duos, Durbach and Block don’t work as a yin-yang pairing (typically one being the business force and the other the design ace) but instead share similar obsessions.

Both admire what Durbach calls “that incredible plastic quality of modernism” present in the work of architects such as Alvar Aalto, or in the post-war work of Le Corbusier and Eero Saarinen that moved away from rigid functionalism to something softer and more humane.

The Garden House is made of heavy recycled brick, used with the rough face outwards, then whitewashed. It is reminiscent of the summer house Aalto built for himself in a Finnish forest. Corbusian elements regularly find their way into Durbach and Block’s work, in the way a rap artist may sample a class hook.

It’s fitting, then, that DBJ is designing an important exhibition on Le Corbusier next year at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. As well as more than 100 original items from the Corbusier Foundation in Paris, the show will include full-scale mock-ups of an apartment from the 1940s Unite D’habitation development in Marseilles and of the arch-modernist’s cabin retreat which, Durbach and Block observe, may be an antidote to Australia’s obsession with bigness when it comes to housing. Australians build the world’s biggest, most greedy homes. “It is tiny, 4m x 4m, and he called it his palace,” says Durbach of Le Corbusier’s modest cabin. “It shows how people can live beautifully and purposefully.”

Block says that while contemporary Australian houses may have five bedrooms, a media room and an ensuite for everyone, they have lost the luxury of spaciousness: they have only the merest smear of greenery around them. Durbach and Block’s experimental scheme for an alternative, the Infinity House, won them a brick industry award last year. The 250sqm figure-of-eight glass and brick home can house up to two families, separated by the narrow waist of the “eight” (actually the infinity symbol), and is wrapped in gardens to the point that there is almost no useful separation between garden and house.

Infinity House (image- Durbach Block)

It is obvious that Durbach and Block (now joined by long-term employee David Jaggers) wildly enjoy what they do. But has their initial perception of endless possibilities for architecture in Australia been borne out?

Yes, says Durbach: “It is still true, but there are deeper problems. Australia has become so anxious,” he says, citing his suburb of Bondi Beach as an example, with its endless regulations and prohibitions: no drinking, no smoking, no dogs on the beach.

Australia has become, he says, one of the most highly governed Western countries. He quotes research that suggests Australians, more than nearly all other nations, welcome government involving itself in their daily lives.

At the beach, DBJ has found its way through the regulatory tangle with a scheme for the new North Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club, an inhabited sculpture with a roof garden crowning its three stories.

The ground floor will be for storage, changing rooms and nippers, the middle floor the observation deck and radio room, and the top floor the bar. Its front is cut away, as if a shark has taken a bite, to visually connect its “beautiful courtyard” with the ocean.

It is an ambitious building for the urban seaside, an environment that, strangely, Australian architects have been consistently poor at responding to.

The approvals have been given and 75 per cent of the money has been raised, so work should start soon. The aim, says Durbach, is a “genuinely public building” that users can wind their way in and out of, exploiting its different levels of entry. With a commission for a surf club that touches the earth weightily, Durbach and Block are in danger of losing their outsider status.


Paddington Reservoir Gardens

21 Nov

I visited the Paddington Reservoir Gardens yesterday and was very impressed.  It’s the closest thing Sydney has to a Roman ruin. It also blocks out the noise from Oxford Street well- a real urban oasis.

Beware- the image files below are quite large (about 800Kb), so may take long to load.

Listed as a site of State heritage significance, Paddington Reservoir was originally constructed in two stages, in 1866 and 1878, with water chambers below street level. A grassed park above was opened in the 1930s. Decommissioned in 1899, the site was used as a workshop and garage until 1990 when roof collapses forced its closure.

The concept for Paddington Reservoir Gardens was embodied in the existing artefact. An accessible sunken garden and pond, surrounded by a raised pre-cast concrete boardwalk, have been inserted within the conserved ruin of the Western Chamber. The edges of the ruin are contained by concrete that amplifies the distinctive curves of the original brick vaults. The gated Eastern Chamber has been conserved as a multi-purpose community space. The stabilised brickwork and reconstructed hardwood columns form the base for the new landscaped park above.

Two lightweight roofs float above the Reservoir, signalling the main entry points.

A restricted palette of three materials – steel, aluminium and concrete – was chosen as contemporary partners for the historic brick, cast iron and timber. Their raw expression is softened by generous planting and water below with sweeping lawns above. The walkways and gardens invite exploration of this unique urban ruin.

Text by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer with JMD Design and City of Sydney

The site back in simpler times (probably the 1970’s).

Repairs ordered on Australia’s oldest house, Surry Hills

1 Apr

CentralMag, 31 Mar 10  by Robert Burton-Bradley

Cleveland House Picture: Phil Rogers

The owner of Australia’s oldest home, Cleveland House, has been ordered to repair the building after a surprise Heritage Office inspection found it in a state of severe decay.

LGC Enterprises, the owner of the state heritage-listed Georgian mansion in Surry Hills was issued with a works order earlier this month after Central revealed the poor state of the building.

It built was 1823-1824 and is the oldest home in Australia, predating Cadmans Cottage in The Rocks previously thought to be the oldest property, though this was not actually lived in until 1827.

The Heritage Office order requires the company to repair the roof, drainage system, gutters, down pipes and flashing to prevent water damage.

Cleveland House Picture: Sally,

It must also hire an expert to inspect the house and make any necessary repairs.

A spokesman for the Heritage Office said a full report on the whole building was also required.

“(It) is to be prepared and submitted to the Heritage Council,” the spokesman said.

“The report must identify all maintenance and repair measures that are necessary to ensure the building is structurally sound and watertight.”

Cleveland House was designed by well-known colonial architect Francis Greenway for convict emancipist merchant Daniel Cooper according to the State Heritage office, which has officially listed the house as the oldest surviving residence in Sydney.

The exterior of the building is in very poor condition with peeling paint, crumbling columns and broken veranda railings. Part of the veranda also has scorch marks from a fire and has grass growing on the floorboards along one side.

The descriptions of the house on the NSW Heritage offices online register express concern at the state of the property and the relative obscurity in which it presently exists.

“Its lack of setting and state of disrepair do not do justice to its history as a prominent house on a large city estate,” the entry says.

Late last year a complaint was made to The National Trust about the poor state of the building and the Trust contacted Sydney Council. The council told the Trust that the owner was going to make repairs which it was monitoring.