Category Archives: Architecture and Urban Design

Prize pool

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Detail model, entry structure 2008. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Rachel Neeson in memory of Nicholas Murcutt.

Detail model, entry structure 2008. Powerhouse Museum collection, donated through the Cultural Gifts Program by Rachel Neeson in memory of Nicholas Murcutt.

A lot of people were pleased when Prince Alfred Park swimming pool starred at the recent 2014 NSW architecture awards. As well as the prize gong, the Sulman Medal for public architecture, the new pool received the Lloyd Rees Award for urban design.

I was among the pleased people as during 2013 I acquired a collection of 18 models made during the pool’s design and approval process. Rachel Neeson who designed the pool with her late partner Nicholas Murcutt suggested that I must have ‘sniffed’ an award win 12 months ago. I certainly loved the pool but also like anyone who visits architect studios I was often struck by the number of design models lying around apparently discarded.  Despite the advent of 3D imaging and design software models are still a crucial part of the design process for most architects, hence my request to Rachel for the pool models.
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Ultimo on the edge

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Lend lease

Model, Jacksons Landing, Pyrmont, made for Lend Lease by Porter Models, 2001-2010. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Jacksons Landing Community Association.,

The Powerhouse is located in what is now the densest suburb in Australia. With 14,300 people per square kilometre Pyrmont/Ultimo packs more residents into less space than any suburb or town in the nation.  I suppose this should be no surprise given the numerous apartment developments completed here in the last decade, notably the repurposing of the wool stores and CSR’s former factories at Pyrmont Point. We recently acquired this large model of the Jacksons Landing development at the Point.

Pyrmont/Ultimo is on the leading edge of a much-debated urban trend towards apartment living rather than the ‘Australian dream’ of single-family cottages in sprawling suburbs. Sydney has historically been Australia’s leading apartment city. Way back in 1934 Melbourne’s Australian Home Beautiful observed ‘Sydney has always, to some extent, been the home of the flat-dweller. For this a variety of reasons may be suggested, the most popular one being that the Sydneysider is more easy-going and less home-loving than his Melbourne brother…’
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Powerhouse goes to Venice

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No 2 Bond Street, George Street elevation. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of John Andrews.

No 2 Bond Street, George Street elevation, John Andrews International, Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of John Andrews.

The Venice Architecture Biennale launched on the weekend. As the new Australian pavilion is under construction the Australian exhibition for Venice uses augmented reality apps to create Augmented
Australia, a virtual, mobile exhibition.

One of the virtual creations is based on designs in the Powerhouse collection for No.2 Bond Street Sydney, an office and commercial development design by John Andrews. It is one of 22 virtual creations of unbuilt Australian designs forming the exhibition – 11 historic projects and 11 contemporary designs. You can see a virtual video of 2 Bond Street here.
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Monterey Moderne

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62 Pasadena Street, Monterey. Photo by Andrew Frolows, Powerhouse Museum.

With design historian Michael Bogle I recently completed a heritage report and a visitors’ guide called Monterey Moderne.  Commissioned by Rockdale City Council the report and guide are about a group of 1930s houses in the streamlined Moderne style in the small suburb of Monterey on the western shore of Botany Bay. I can still recall my excitement years back in coming across photos and plans of these houses in a Wunderlich Durabestos catalogue.  I quickly headed to Monterey to find that some of them were still standing.
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Neville’s Pompidou

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Neville Wran announcing the Powerhouse Museum project, 1979.

During the late 1970s I was living in England researching a doctorate. I also enjoyed a lot of museums including during a visit to Paris the Centre Pompidou, which had only been open for a year or so. I remember being totally blown away by it, astonished by this new take on the idea of a museum, and especially the way it made you look at art afresh, and how it had become a social centre, encompassing activities a long way from artistic contemplation.

It didn’t occur to me that anything like the Pompidou would be possible in Australia. Little did I know that another Australian traveller had also been impressed.  It’s urban legend that recently elected NSW premier Neville Wran said to his wife Jill after a visit to the Pompidou: ‘I want one of those’.  The Powerhouse is Neville’s Pompidou.
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Fibro coast

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'Seaside Cottages', Wunderlich Limited, 1937. Powerhouse Museum collection.

‘Seaside Cottages’, Wunderlich Limited, 1937. Powerhouse Museum collection.

The Gold Coast City Gallery has been displaying the exhibition Fibro Coast; it will soon be at the University of the Sunshine Coast Gallery. Fibro Coast is about the holiday architecture that is still a feature of the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

When I was writing the Fibro frontier during the 90s I went on a research trip to  Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. I hadn’t been to any of these places since I was a child so it was a revelatory sort of trip, especially the amount of fibro on view which I eagerly recorded on film. So I was pleased to be asked by the Gold Coast gallery to write for the exhibition catalogue and give a gallery talk.

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Max Dupain and Chris Vandyke

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Vandyke house at East Hills, 1948. Photo by Max Dupain. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Tony Vandyke.

You might have seen the story re the State Library of NSW’s recent acquisition of a photo album containing a different version of Max Dupain’s well-known 1937 ‘Sunbaker’ photo.

That Max disliked the widely published version doesn’t strike me as headline cultural news (well done to the State Library’s pr people tho). But the fact that the story was front page is confirmation of Max’s own annoyance that what has become a nostalgic salute to the old Australia of beaches and sunshine is more famous than his urban portfolio, the defining majority of Dupain’s output. The Library rubs it in somewhat by referring to the Sunbaker as ‘the holy grail of Australian photography’.
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Neons and museums

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William Street, Sydney about 1968. Photo by David Mist, Powerhouse Museum collection. Gift of David Mist.

A few years back I was interviewed about the fate of Sydney’s neon advertising signs:

‘The great age of neon has passed,’ laments Charles Pickett, a curator of design and society at the Powerhouse Museum, an institution that houses the AWA sign that once sat atop the eponymous1930s skyscraper, and a red neon greyhound removed recently from Wentworth Park Raceway. ‘The days of William Street being a gallery for neon are long gone. The Coca-Cola sign is all that’s left.’

Since then we’ve added the Sharpies Golf House sign to the Powerhouse collection, another of many well-known neons to disappear from Sydney nights (there’ll be an article about the Sharpies sign in the next issue of Powerline). The decline of neon as a marketing and visual medium is partly one of advertising fashion and technological change – LED signs are cheaper, less fragile and use much less electricity than neons.
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Design for happiness: George Korody furniture designs

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Seven designerd

Screen by Steven Kalmar, Sydney, c1955. Coffee table by Douglas Snelling and made by Functional Products Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1955. Settee, ‘RS161’ designed by Grant Featherston, Melbourne, c1951.

If you’re a fan of mid-century modern furniture, the Powerhouse Museum’s current display is a must-see. 7 Australian Designers profiles a number of Australia’s celebrated modernists and includes iconic furniture by Grant Featherston, Gordon Andrews, Douglas Snelling, Clement Meadmore and Steven Kalmar.

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Casinos and stadiums: Philip Cox

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Model, Aquatic Centre for the Asian Games, Bangkok, Philip Cox/Cox Architects, 1995. Powerhouse Museum collection.

The architect Philip Cox recently told us what we already knew:  Star casino in Pyrmont is by far his worst building. Needless to say a Star flack was immediately reassuring the media that almost none of Cox’s 1997 design had survived the casino’s recent renovations. Whether the casino genre is a likely inspiration for good architecture need not concern us here – for his part Cox declared casinos a toxic genre and wished he’d never designed one.
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