Kengo Kuma’s first Australian project is set to become one of the major pieces of the $3.4 billion transformation of Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

The Japanese architect announced his entry to Australia at a Lendlease launch party 14 March, where his design for a piece of the developer’s Darling Square precinct was revealed.

Kuma will contribute a six storey mixed-use building to the Darling Square urban renewal project which will see a new city neighbourhood injected into a harbourside site made vacant by the demolition of the Sydney Entertainment Centre carpark.

Darling Square is expected to become home to around 4,200 residents including circa 1,000 students and will also see residential building contributions from Denton Corker Marshall and Tzannes Associates and a retail podium by Archer Office.

Kuma’s project, The Darling Exchange, has been called the heart of the Square and will be the bookend to the precinct’s 2,700sqm public space which has been masterplanned by Aspect Studios.

The 6600-sq m project will have six circular levels including a ground level market, a mezzanine food level, two levels of library, two levels of childcare, and a rooftop restaurant and bar. Image: Food Slicer

Plan shows The Darling Exchange (N) as the bookend to the public square. It will be surrounded by retail and apartment buildings and linked to the surrounding neighbourhood by new pedestrian links and boulevards. Images: Aspect Studios

It is proposed to contain a new library for the City of Sydney, a ground floor open market hall, a childcare centre and a rooftop bar and restaurant. These will fit within the circular six-storey building that will be entirely wrapped by curving timber screens.

Kuma says that the screens and the geometry of the building, which is accentuated by contrasting floorplate setbacks at different levels, is  reflective of his team’s goal to create a recognizable, welcoming and highly accessible public building.

“Our aim is to achieve architecture that is as open and tangible as possible to the community, and this is reflected in the circular geometry that creates a building that is accessible and recognisable from multiple directions,” he explains.

“The wooden screen wraps the exterior of the building in a dynamic and exciting manner, a historical reference to Darling Harbour originally being a hive of business activity and a focal point as a market exchange.”

Images: Aspect Studios

The Darling Exchange will open out onto the Aspect Studios-designed public square which will be knitted into the surrounding city fabric and linked to the surrounding Ultimo, Haymarket and Chinatown via two new pedestrian laneways which will have new bars, cafes and restaurants and a 20 metre-wide, pedestrian boulevard connecting the Harbour to Haymarket and beyond.

It is situated just south of the FJMT-designed Darling Quarter, the recently reconfigured Hassell Ribbon and the to-be-completed International Convention Centre by Hassell, OMA and Populous.