In the works for the past ten years, the Cockle Bay Park project will revitalise a 73,000sqm stretch of land that will give the entirety of the Darling Harbour precinct to the Sydney CBD back to the public.
After Henning Larsen was awarded the contract for the project after a worldwide design competition in 2020, the Copenhagen-based practice embarked on a design validation process throughout 2020. Architectus were successful in bidding for the local role within the project, and have worked with Henning Larsen to evolve and develop the scheme. The Australian practice has looked to support Henning Larsen’s concept and stitch together part of the city that will reinstate its strong public demand.
Developed by The GPT Group and AMP Capital, includes a 183-metre state-of-the-art commercial office tower atop a 10,000 square metre public realm in the heart of Sydney. Given the site’s location over the Western Distributor, it was important to ensure the piece of freeway would no longer be a barrier to the city centre, the waterfront, and the thriving Pyrmont district.
Architectus Principal, Colin Odbert, says that while the pandemic has sped up the need for increased green areas within our cities, it has been a long time coming.
“The pandemic has certainly changed how we work and use cities. We now need cities to respond to certain requirements, and Darling Harbour for a long time has not responded to these requirements, as it is overly dominated by transport and infrastructure,” he says.
“The Cockle Bay Park project gives us the ability to give the area back to the city. For us, it’s about making a precinct that works for day-to-day occupants, citysiders and visitors and creating a 24/7 environment.”
The project includes a retail precinct, of which Henning Larsen has sought to bring a richness of scale and material texture to the podium. Henning Larsen's Design Director, Viggo Haremst, says it was imperative to the project to focus heavily on the podium, which will be utilised by many visitors from near and far.
"During the competition phase we were focused primarily on the podium. We had a strong vision of bringing Sydney back to that part of the harbour, creating a destination for people (not tourists, but really Sydney locals) that we feel doesnt really exist there at the moment. With this focus in mind, our approach was almost more of an urban planning exercise, geared towards creating paths and journeys through the large public park and the podium, which also contains restaurants and shops. But of course, the urban experience isn’t just down to space and buildings – it is strongly affected by climate," he says.
"We did numerous wind and sun simulations based on the site’s conditions, and used the information gleaned from those studies to craft our design for the podium. It was important for us to create hyper flexible areas, futureproofed to the demands of retail and F&B and optimised for customer retention. We created an open retail street, in direct connection to Pyrmont bridge, that went all the way through the podium volume in a north/south direction connecting to three circulation nodes that will bring people between the harbour promenade, the open retail street and the Park on top of the podium that bridges over the wester distributor and carries 6500sqm of public park.
"It was important that there was a strong relationship between the podium, the park and the tower. By using the fine grain scale of villages as our inspiration for the podium, it encouraged us to think about how we could apply that fine grain approach to the design of the tower as well. Our design breaks down the single mass of the tower into four more manageable volumes, creating a slimmer, more dynamic profile. This also allows the Cockle Bay Park tower to have a bit more of a relationship with Harry Seidler’s Darling Park Towers behind it, and a more slim and dynamic profile on the Darling Harbour waterfront itself. "
In comparison, when designing the commercial tower, the approach adopted by Henning Larsen saw the practice balance scale between elements and provide a sense of depth and richness. The facade features glazed vision panels and solid hood elements that ensure the building is not perceived as monolithic, ensuring it is inviting to both occupants and visitors. The building’s main entry faces to the west, in order to deal with heat load and solar gain. Haremst describes the project as 'crucial' to the city of Sydney,
"Our design for Cockle Bay Park is carried by our human centric approach and ambition to bring an authentic and inclusive public domain that holistically will bring a higher return of investment to retail and the tower due to the fact that these spaces are carefully designed 'at eye height,'" he says.
It is a balance between commercial and public drivers and this relationship, positive tension, has been and is a great inspiration to us. Walking through the park, experiencing the tower lobby areana space of informal workareas and F&B hangouts with great views to the harbour and park from where you seamlessly can walk out on the retail street, park or down to the water creates a strong sense of place and community. It is a unique experience in Sydney and through out my travels I have yet experienced it else where on the planet.
Odbert agrees with Haremst's sentiments in regards to the importance of the development.
“This is a city-shaping project. A large amount of public space was fundamental to the project and was driven heavily by the State Government and the City of Sydney. The commercial upside had to be balanced with contribution to the public space, and provide an enduring commitment to the city,” says Odbert.
“A big focus for us and Henning Larsen was the incorporation of biophilic design principles. McGregor Coxall has undertaken the landscape architecture, and has looked to soften the edges to the precinct to ensure it has layers and texture. As well as this, plantations provide protection from the sun and account for the winds.”
Sustainability has been a major focus throughout the design process for the developers, Henning Larsen and Architectus. The practices have designed both the commercial and retail building to a 6 Star Green Star Rating and 5.5 NABERS Energy Rating and a WELL Gold Certification. Mass timber within the build will reduce the overall footprint of the project.
The Development Application for Cockle Bay Park was lodged in October, with the public exhibition completed in December 2021. The final consultation processes are currently being undertaken with the Design Integrity Panel, before the NSW Government and City of Sydney will be asked to approve the project.
For more information regarding Cockle Bay Park, visit cocklebaypark.com.au.