Parramatta City Council’s decision in 2010 to extend the foreshore pathways as portals through Lennox Bridge at Parramatta prompted controversy – echoing the situation at the bridge’s conception in 1835, when the new bridge’s geometry, height and character were fiercely contested.
The public desire to understand Lennox bridge as an historically ‘pure’ entity and the design team’s growing awareness, though research, of the bridge’s more equivocal history led to an architectural strategy that fostered both continuity and distinction.
The eastern façade’s stonework was cleaned and re-pointed and a historically consistent curved balustrade with projecting cornice was reinstated. New stone, profiled and cut with computer aided fabrication processes, was lowered into place by masons using Lewis pins – just as Lennox’s masons did almost 180 years ago.
By contrast the portal openings are unapologetically contemporary – conceived as surgical excisions of the abutment fabric. Set out from an unbonded vertical joint, the portals expose the depth and convict-tooled surfaces of the structural pier. The opposite reveal is made by a smooth cut to the abutment stones which accentuates the stone’s beautiful polychromy. The 25mm line of the stainless steel lintels is the only visible addition to Lennox’s wall.
The experience of moving through the portals is like walking a cross section through time – explaining its layered history. A pier from the earlier 1804 Gaol Bridge was discovered during the archaeological dig and is recorded in the works. The sequential construction of the separate halves of Lennox‘s bridge and the interim retaining wall that divided them are also marked. People can now walk through Lennox’s original western wall that has been buried beneath Church Street since 1939 when the DMR widened the bridge. The DMR works are articulated through skylights in the portals, which in their gridded form express the latticed concrete structure and allow sunlight to once again strike Lennox’s western stonework.
The portals are the latest in a succession of projects that have seen this key river crossing evolve with the settlement, township and now City of Parramatta. The portals plot a complex trajectory through the shifting interpretations of history.