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    Darling Harbour convention centre controversy continues as revitalisation work begins

    Geraldine Chua and David Wheeldon

    Sydney’s Convention and Exhibition Centre has an official date with the wrecking ball, February 2014, with builders already beginning to strip out the facilities after the complex's last event on Sunday.

    At the same time, the development has a new foe, in the form of Accor armed with input from renowned architectural firm Architectus. 

    The demolition date announcement follows the financial close between the Darling Harbour Live consortium, and Infrastructure NSW and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority last week.

    Work is due to start in February 2014, marking the end of the life of the buildings, which were opened for the bicentenary in 1988.

    The developer, Lend Lease, is continuing to attract strong criticism from the architectural industry; along with many objections from the existing residents nearby, who say the scale of the project will block views.

    Hotel company Accor, the operator of the Novotel Hotel Darling Harbour, has now hired architectural firm Architectus to critique the design of the39-level hotel to be built near the Convention Centre. They have a six page submission before the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, The Australian reported this week.

    Architectus says the current design would have 'significant impacts on the views currently enjoyed by the Novotel Hotel.'

    They are requesting the hotel's western podium be reduced and the tower repositioned to minimise visual impact on the Novotel without impacting other neighbours.

    The proposed International Convention Centre (ICC) Hotel at Darling Harbour. Image: The Australian

    Approximately 70,000 tonnes of concrete and 2,000 tonnes of steel will be demolished and removed from the convention centre site in February.

    Hoardings will be erected around the buildings after Australia Day (Monday 27 January) next year, while reusable contents of the facilities will be auctioned. This includes catering, staging and audio-visual equipment, and furniture.

    In addition, 21 paintings and sculptures by leading 20th century artists such as Brett Whiteley, John Olsen and Llyod will be dismantled from the Convention Centre, and rehoused or kept in storage until the new facilities open in 2016.

    Structural concrete works are expected to commence in the third quarter of 2014.


    Image: travel.uk.reuters.com

    Replacing the centres is a new International Convention Centre (ICC) designed by Hassell and Populous. It will feature 40,000 square metres of exhibition space, more than 40 meeting rooms and an 8,000-seat entertainment centre.

    ICC Sydney from Cockle Bay

    The precinct overhaul also includes a harbourside hotel and a residential neighbourhood known as the Haymarket, which will be home to approximately 2,000 people.

    According to acting Premier Andrew Stoner, this project was "the most exciting transformation of Darling Harbour in a generation", and that the new $1 billion convention, exhibition and entertainment facilities will be "the largest and most flexible" in Australia.

    He added that Sydney-siders will see up to 10 cranes dot the skyline over the next three years for the project, which will generate $5 billion during the next 25 years, and provide over 3,700 construction jobs.

    Exhibition Centre from Tumbalong Park

    However, not everyone shares Stoner’s sentiments about the fate of the Exhibition Centre.

    Philip Cox of Cox Architecture, the architect behind the original centre, has described its pending demolition as a “great tragedy for architecture”.

    The building, which won the coveted Sulman Medal for public architecture, could be retained, Cox says.

    Architect of the Sydney Convention Centre John Andrews is on the same page, claiming that the demolition plans are “rather stupid”, and that “as Australia, we just haven’t grown up…we don’t protect and look after our good things”.

    The City of Sydney had previously suggested that the white steel superstructure of the Exhibition Centre, which comprises a series of steel masts and cables, could easily be salvaged.

    Two of the five bays could be rebuilt at the fish market, and the remaining bays used separately for new community facilities, such as a sports hall or equestrian centre.

    One proposal to reuse steel columns from the structure was received, with its feasibility currently being assessed, including whether salvaging the columns would compromise the demolition timetable.

    The Entertainment Centre will remain open until 2015.

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