UNSW Built Environment Alumnus: Andrew J Wiener MArch, MBuiltEnv (SustDev) on Lord Richard Rogers

28 09 2010

“Architecture transforms the ordinary by giving order, scale and beauty to space.”

Lord Richard Rogers spoke about architecture and the city at UNSW Monday night. He talked about some of his own work, but he elaborated on his philosophy about the built environment through some of his own case studies in cities like Barcelona, Paris, Shanghai, London, New York and now Sydney.

Roger’s (Stirk Harbour + Partners) ideas have brought significant change to cities – and presently his leadership in the Barangaroo development- an ‘air craft carrier’ sized parcel of land between the CDB and a part of the Sydney Harbour just around from the Harbour Bridge – could potentially shift the way the world sees Sydney – occasionally. Presently, the derelict Barangaroo parcel of land interferes with what Rogers would call the most essential aspect of the city: meeting of people.

Images of Sydney typically show the vivid blue harbour and the white sails of the Opera House pointing back and forth from the city to the water. Focus on the city’s skyline inevitably and deliberately begins at the top of the Centre Point Tower steps up Sir Normal Foster’s Deutsche Bank building to many of the taller buildings in the CBD including Renzo Piano’s Auroura Place and JPW’s Macquarie Tower. In the plan for the development of Barangaroo that Rogers discussed, the harbour would be brought into the CBD from the east edge of the city as well so that the buildings in the development naturally become an integrated part of Sydney. A foreshore park will connect the development to the finger wharfs of Walsh Bay under the Harbour Bridge to the Rocks, Circular Quay, the Opera House, the Domain and Wooloomooloo. A fan of three building complexes fronted by a new hotel will sit lower than the CBD skyline. The entire built development has a podium to scale at the people-level where taller buildings tiptoe above into the airspace.

Not many Tourism Australia photos are taken from the ‘back’ of the city where an abandoned shipping port blocks a modern city from the water. But now, could ‘come to Australia’ images show the Opera House actually sitting behind the city if Barrangaroo is to become such a vibrant, active and accessible part of the fabric of the city? Of course, the water of the great harbour will always come first – but if properly executed, the development could become the new gateway from which the world enters Sydney – almost symbolically.

Sydney is only one on a list of some of the world’s greatest cities in which Rogers has worked and helped shape urban development. In Barcelona, which Rogers referred to as the ‘best built city’, he helped reconnect the city to water serving as an advisor to the city’s mayor. In Shanghai, his advice was sought for the Pudong Masterplan where a key element in the proposal was to create a grand central park from which all development would radiate. In New York City, Rogers is the architect of Tower 3 in the World Trade Center redevelopment project. In Paris he is helping Sarkozy mark his stamp on the city by devising a way to minimise the impact of intrusions to the centre through radial transport development plans.

And Paris is a city in which Rogers made his own stamp nearly 30 years ago. He and Renzo Piano looked to the city of Venice as an example where the Doges Palace and the Piazza San Marco created an ‘explosion’ in the compactness of the urban landscape. The Centre Pompidou, now the most visited building in Europe, accomplished the same type of ‘explosion’. Half of the site is an large open piazza where people gather, meet, watch performers, and participate in Paris’ socio-cultural realm.

Rogers ended his talk with a suggestion for education that especially appealed to me as a former architecture student. He advocated combining architecture, planning and landscape architecture degrees because the student fully trained in all three disciplines would undoubtedly emerge with a deeper and more extensive working knowledge of the built environment and urban development.

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