Barangaroo: Real architecture or developers dream?

Last week, The Daily Telegraph reported that Barangaroo Central is likely to house a new hotel and casino complex. The plan is thought to cost $1bn and be developed by James Packer’s casino group Crown. The announcement of the new project has again opened up the controversial discussion about the planning of the Barangaroo area, which over the last years has involved developers, architects, politics and city dwellers.

The building will be situated in one of the best locations in the heart of Barangaroo, between the already well-known South Barangaroo areas designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners in 2009 and developed by Lend Lease (whose buildings are now under the assessment regime of the NSW Government’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure) and Headland park in the north, designed by Johnson Pilton Walker, in association with Peter Walker and Partners who won the international competition for the master plan in 2009.

For this strategic location near Sydney CBD, the 350 room hotel/casino could enjoy the amazing panoramic views over the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour. The centre is going to house a high-end shopping area, multiple restaurants and a resorts pool on the rooftop. The complex is focused to appeal to and increase the proportion of local and international high end clientele and especially create a marked increase in the number of Asian tourists. The new casino will be located almost in front of the Star, the second biggest Casino in Australia, placed in Pyrmont just on the other side of the Harbour.

The discussion about that new building is surely just in the beginning; the interests at stake are really high in an area that is one of the more lucrative in Sydney. Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, reminded those involved that in accordance with the city plan, Barangaroo Central is reserved for civic, education and recreational use. But on the opposite side, the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrel is supporting the project considering it ‘an exciting proposal which could add extra life to Barangaroo, give Sydney another world-class hotel, generate jobs and boost tourism’. [The Sydney Morning Herald 27 February 2012].

Following the debate over the last few days, it is sad see that the architecture and urban planning do not play a large part in the quarrels over the realisation of the scheme. At this point does not really matter if the project will be realised, where it will be located or the percentage that will devoted to public space, but how could that could be influencing the urban city fabric? In a city where many factors are coinciding together – big money, big clients, multicultural contest and opportunities for experimentation – why that does not spark off a real analysis about how we can enhance the new Sydney?

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