Better than backyards and balconies

This is a recent renovation of a pocket park in Camperdown, originally on the site of a factory. Fifty years ago the area was all factories, warehouses, a children’s hospital and low-rise public housing (Albo grew up 200 metres from here). Now it’s wall to wall apartments in those old factories, the hospital and newer high-rise public housing.

All those apartments have the mandatory 10 or 12 square metre balconies, as some deranged idea of a backyard substitute. You don’t see a single person on the south and west facing balconies. Actually you rarely see anyone on the north facing ones. There just not usable spaces.

As anyone who has lived in cities with a tradition of apartments, or traditional apartments, will tell you: outside living is not on some paltry balcony, or rooftop mini-backyard, it’s a community activity in the street, the square and the garden. So plaudits to the City of Sydney for resisting the urge to build over the site, and instead asking the locals what kind of park they wanted.

And the answer is a little surprising. Not a children’s’ playground, but outdoor gym equipment; not herbaceous borders, but usable lawn; not flowers, but community vegetable beds (not yet installed, and hopefully not stalled). Sandwiched between busy Parramatta and Bridge Roads, it’s a quiet delight. You can read more about the details and the lengthy, productive process.

In a shameless piece of cross-promotion. I want to mention the current series of articles about infill housing in Tone on Tuesday, and that thorny issue, ‘to balcony or not to balcony’. This week’s diatribe (from Whingeing Wheeler as my editor has it) lauds the red brick three storey walk-up flats as the most sustainable form of development. A topic that has engendered a fair bit of heat and some light, with several rejoinders that will have to wait until next week's Tone on Tuesday. Tune in please.

Beyoncé and Jay Z have bought a house. No, I’m not trying to impress with some millennial gossip, or improve my street smarts (more cul-de-sac crud than cred), but the house is a cracker: by Tadao Ando no less, and it’s not the only house he is doing for celebrities in the land of Californication. It’s 4,000 sqm, and comes with a price tag of $US200 million. A record house price in the state, but not the States, where a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park went for $US238m.

Taking a Leaf out of the Kiwi book

I drive a lot. And not always EV’s. One of the things I notice in my travels is the number of EVs with personalised number plates. Yes, Mr. Tesla I’m looking at you. But here’s two plates that made me smile (seen 2 years apart) on the original EV - the Nissan Leaf. Which BTW, was sold in far greater numbers in NZ than in OZ, and from where and whence I get their brilliant secondhand motors and batteries for my hacked EVs. Thank God Kiwis are terrible drivers and crash them a lot.

Bookends: Catalogs and Shelter

Two of the large format hippy bibles have turned fifty. The Whole Earth Catalog was founded in the late sixties by Stewart Brand, and despite its name as the ‘Last’ there was an Epilogue in 1974. One of the exceptional contributors (and editors) on housing in TWEC was Lloyd Kahn, who fifty years ago produced the last word on self-build and world vernacular in Shelter. The preface story about how Ishi, last of the plains’ Indians, thought of white people as ‘children, smart but not wise’, infuses the whole book. My original copy has fallen apart from overuse, but a new edition is available.

Sign Off with a 76 truck

The only thing you need to know is that 76 is a burger chain much favoured by truckers. Pennsylvania, 2007, (not 6-500).

Reference: A&D Another Thing week 23/ 2023

Tone Wheeler is an architect / the views expressed are his.

Long columns are Tone on Tuesday, short shots every Friday in A&D Another Thing.

You can contact TW at [email protected]