Competition entry for City of Sydney
The Green Square urban plan has become heavily compromised. The urban structure has gradually been eroded to prioritize the amenity of development parcels at the expense of the public realm, which is relegated to residual geometric parcels in the lowest and most flood prone parts of the site.
The conundrum of the Library brief was primarily urban and public. How can a very small footprint building acknowledge and amplify the spirit of the ‘public’ in an urban square that will be forcefully defined by the commercially procured buildings that surround it?
We decided to honour the vestiges of the Master Plan, and place a confident and strident urban building in the square in a manner that biased the spatial symmetry of the plaza.
A muscular concrete armature amplifies the small size of the library building and stakes its territory in the square. Its slim form holds the small lending collection. A lightweight box unites the disparate functions of the contemporary library and plugs them into the physical collection via a series of elevated bridges. A much lighter and generous outdoor public stair is unfurled along the southern side of the library – to draw people out of the building, along the axis of the landscaped spine of the square, before returning them to the more focused spaces of contemplation within – and to enable a convivial procession from the publicly accessible roof to the square at the conclusion of events.
We sought to challenge the tendency of new technologies to generalize architectural space. Knowledge is now readily available in one’s palm – but the symbolic feeling and collegiality of a space of learning still has an instinctive physical and psychological pull. We sought to populate our proposal with multiple architectural spaces for engagement – small concrete carrels for solitary thought and reflection that open to the melaleuca grove; a large reading room that runs from east to west drawing in the full dimension of the urban square; external spaces that hover above the stair towards the landscaped spine; smaller spaces for groups that overlook the reading room, but retreat from it, and a series of lounges on the roof that accommodate reading for enjoyment and space for small groups to gather in a more convivial social environment.
The roof terrace is capped by an undulating and illuminated concrete soffit that acts as a beacon for evening events, public talks and functions.
We sought to make the square a truly urban space; a type of space not entirely embraced by Sydney culture that tends to resist urbanity in preference to a more idealized landscape sensibility. It drew the prevailing street geometries into a delicate fishbone pattern that fractured along the drainage easement. The easement was acknowledged by the planting of grasses, sedges and melaleucas that gently hinted at the more lyrical origins of the heavily engineered infrastructure below the surface.
The architectural competition was won by the exciting young practice of Stewart Hollenstein Architects. We look forward to seeing their entry come to fruition.
With McGregor Westlake and Wesley Grunsell
DRAWINGS + PERSPECTIVE IMAGES
© Drawings – Hill Thalis Architects/McGregor Westlake/Wesley Grunsell