Architectural model and perspex cover, 'Darling Harbour Hotel Casino Competition', plastic/paper, designed by Harry Seidler and Associates, made by Arcmod Models Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1986.
The Harry Seidler entry to the Darling Harbour Casino Competition is significant beyond its value as an artefact of Seidler's architecture.
Although largely forgotten, the casino competition was an essential element of NSW Premier Neville Wran's plans for the redevelopment of the Darling Harbour precinct. The casino and hotel were to create much of the financial basis for the new urban park and its cultural, retail and lifestyle elements. Its demise did not halt the new development but significantly altered its character. In 2012 a new Sydney casino has been proposed - for similar reasons to those of thirty years past - for the Barangaroo development north of Darling Harbour.
Charles Pickett, Curator, Design and built environment.
Designed by Harry Seidler and Associates, Sydney, 1986. Not built.
The design was in response to the NSW State Government's invitation calling for casino proposals on publicly owned land. It was prepared for the New York entrepreneur Donald Trump and local developer Lend Lease.
From 'Harry Seidler' by Kenneth Frampton and Philip Drew, Thames and Hudson, 1992
Made by Bob Brown of Arcmod Models Pty Ltd, Winston Hills, Sydney.
Harry Seidler (1923-2006) was born in Vienna and fled Nazism via England, Canada and the USA where at Harvard University he was a student of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Seidler visited Sydney in 1948 to design a home for his parents. His intended return to the USA was halted by numerous requests to design houses similar to Rose Seidler house.
Seidler was one of a generation of new arrivals who internationalised an Anglophile outpost. Another was Dutch engineer Dick Dusseldorp who engaged Seidler to design numerous projects for his Lend Lease construction company. Among these were sophisticated but affordable apartment blocks which lent glamour and liveability to inner city living. Others included major urban redevelopments designed around office towers; Australian Square was the first of these. Seidler also found success internationally, his Australian Embassy in Paris the best-known of several off-shore commissions.
No architect has had a greater impact on Sydney through both his own work and its influence on others. Although Harry Seidler's Modernism was shaped by Europe and the US, Sydney also formed his work and his social presence. Often caricatured as a doctrinaire modernist, Seidler tailored most of his work to Sydney¬?s climate and topography. Some of his best buildings ¬? Blues Point Tower, Australia Square to name but two - were also his most controversial. As a polemicist, Seidler was less compromising but Sydney¬?s urban culture benefited from his scorn of the second-rate in design and decision-making. His donation of this model, among others, was typical of his generosity to the Powerhouse and the arts community.
In addition to numerous awards received locally, such as the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal, in 1996 Seidler was the recipient of the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal.
When the Darling Harbour project was announced in 1984, a casino complex was to be a major element. On the surface, this announcement was unremarkable. Tasmania had beaten the mainland states to this particular cash-cow when it opened Wrest Point casino in 1973. By the mid-1980s Wrest Point had been joined by similar operations at Darwin, the Gold Coast, Perth, Alice Springs, Adelaide and Townsville.
But the politics of a casino were decidedly more difficult in NSW. In other states casinos were created by fiscally desperate state governments looking for a new form of revenue and a new tourism generator; there was no established gambling industry and no public campaign for a casino. In contrast NSW had a vast legal gambling industry in its registered clubs, an institution which didn¬?t exist in other states as well as a thriving illegal casino business, protected by the notoriously corrupt NSW police force.
Shortly after his election in as NSW premier in 1976, Neville Wran commissioned a high-profile QC to investigate the possibility of opening a legal casino, an idea that Wran personally supported. But the inquiry refocused attention on the illegal operations and the corruption surrounding them. In 1977 Wran bullied a reluctant police commissioner into closing the casinos down by the end of the year. But the casinos and related scandal wouldn¬?t go away. Neither would opposition to a legal casino, and demands from within the ALP that it be government owned and run, despite the pitfalls of this approach both financially and politically.
At the depth of the early 80s recession Wran was again pushing for a legal casino, desperate for a new source of revenue and a stimulus for tourism. In addition, Wran saw a legal casino as a means of removing the most obvious evidence of corruption, still an intractable issue in NSW, presenting the casino project as an acid test for the NSW police force:
'To put it quite bluntly it will be a test for the bona fides of the police force. There will be no excuses whatsoever for these places [casinos] to remain unraided and remain open when the legislation goes through Parliament. There¬?s no point in us going to this trouble if the police don¬?t support the Government'.
The government was to hold the casino license while choosing from competing consortia to build and run the new venue, which was to be sited on the eastern (city) side of Cockle Bay. Several prominent architects, including Harry Seidler and John Andrews, were engaged by the tendering consortia. Seidler¬?s proposal was produced for a consortium of Donald Trump and Lend Lease.
In June 1986 a consortium of Hooker Corporation and the US Harrah Group won the casino tender with a design by Michael Dysart and a bid of $610 million. However the tender was cancelled a few months later after an investigation into Harrah¬?s US casinos by the NSW police ¬? how ironic ¬? raised serious doubts as to the company¬?s probity. Harrah¬?s won a substantial compensation payout, but Sydney would have to wait until the mid-1990s for a legal casino, eventually built on the site of Pyrmont power station.
By the time the casino was ruled out, the Darling Harbour project was too advanced to be abandoned even though, without its major source of revenue, a substantial part of Darling Harbour¬?s economic rationale was destroyed. Instead of paying for itself as Wran had promised, the project passed half a billion dollars of debt to the state¬?s balance sheet.
Charles Pickett, Curator Design and built environment.