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    From boomerang to eucalyptus: the philosophy behind Parramatta’s Church Street skyscraper

    Nathan Johnson

    Group GSA has provided further insight into the philosophy behind its competition-winning design for a 266-metre gumtree-inspired skyscraper at Parramatta, NSW.

    The 197-207 Church Street address is owned by Holdmark Property Group who shocked the public in late 2015 with a bold proposal to develop the site, currently occupied by the 1889-built Murray Bros building.

    The concept for the bending an 80-storey apartment building, nicknamed ‘The Boomerang’, was designed by Robertson and Marks architects, and was endorsed by the Parramatta Council in January 2016. The endorsement did come with several conditions however, one of which was to send the development out to an international design competition.

    Seeing its opportunity to make a mark on the booming Parramatta CBD, Group GSA then joined forces with Spanish architect Rafael de la Hoz to submit a design for the competition.

    The team eventually won that competition in July, and although there is some talk that the tower will struggle to get approved at its current height, they have since sent out additional information in justification of its design.

    INSPIRED BY NATURE AND HISTORY

    Compare.jpg
    Then and now: Robertson and Marks’ ‘Boomerang’ proposal and Group GSA and Rafael de la Hoz’s new design 

    Group GSA and de la Hoz have kept the height proposed by Robertson and Marks, but that’s about it. The jagged boomerang tower was discarded and replaced with a rounded version, articulated as three vertical glass volumes that slot into a series of white oval façade elements and are staggered in their floorplans.

    The smooth aluminium oval elements are in-filled with vertical clip-on sun shading systems, and together are said to reflect the bark of the eucalyptus tree right down to its microscopic cell structure.

    “The façade geometry originates from the bark pattern of the Eucalyptus trees that were once prevalent in Parramatta.

    “The composition of the façade comprises carefully proportioned vertical openings that are inspired by the rich patterns on tree trunks that are created by the bark that is shed.

    “The pattern of solid and void elements on the façade emulates this Eucalypt patterning to break down the scale of the building.” –Group GSA.

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    Inspiration: Group GSA drew inspiration for the building’s façade from the eucalypts in the nearby Parramatta Reserve

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    Diagram.jpgAbove: The two buildings are unified at the ground level by the pedestrian Plaza provided under an ETFE roof and contained by the retained heritage façade of the Murray Bros building. 

    Right: The site sits right in the centre of the City at the end of a visual axis that runs from the southern end of Centenary Square to the intersection of Church Street and Macquarie Street 

    The new version of the Holdmark tower has also developed into a mixed-use development as per the demand of the Parramatta City Council. A 13-storey office building and a retail plaza have also been proposed, the latter to be housed behind the façade of the heritage Murray Bros building.

    The ‘open’ public plaza will be sheltered by an EFTE canopy connecting the heritage façade and the new building, and is expected by the architects to be busy thoroughfare and hub for pedestrian activity due in part to its proximity to Parramatta Square and the historic Post Office.

    “Our conceptual starting point is founded on the idea of elongating the pedestrian route into the site: to integrate the diagonal with the Church Street axis.

    “We created a new public space by extending the public realm beyond the heritage façade of the Murray Bros building, establishing an “Empty Podium” that becomes the pivot for these axes.

    “The new Plaza behind the historical façade expands the public realm spaces intersecting at that corner, binding Centenary Square to Church Street.” –Group GSA.

    MAY NEVER BE

    But the project was cast in doubt even before it was announced the winner. In June, the Greater Sydney Commission, chaired by Lucy Turnbull, rejected a nearby development of similar scale and height to 197 Church Street because it overshadowed Parramatta Square between noon and 2pm during winter.

    The decision would mean Holdmarks’s tower would need to be reduced from 80 to 20 storeys and was unexpected for Gavin Carrier, Holdmark's head of development. According to Chris Johnson, chief executive of Urban Taskforce, and organisation made up of property developers and equity financiers, the decision was also a step backwards for Parramatta City.

    "The reduction of two tower proposals from 60 and 80 storeys to 20 storeys would appear to bring to an end the vision of the now sacked Parramatta City councillors for a futuristic city of tall slender towers," believes Johnson.

    "The new Council of Parramatta City and the NSW Government can't have a high-rise city and sun access planes across the city that stop development."

    The Group GSA and de la Hoz tower does comply with the 45-minute maximum overshadowing rule mandated by the council in the competition brief.

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