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    AIA speak out against Darling Harbour redevelopment

    Madeline Prince

    The controversy over the planned overhaul of the Darling Harbour precinct has continued with the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) issuing a statement expressing disappointment over the NSW Government’s decision to award the redevelopment through a single contract with a single developer, Lend Lease.

    The Institute said that the decision betrays the public interest and that the government has relinquished its responsibility for the site and that the decision to demolish and rebuild is 'wasteful'.

    The Institute’s National President Elect Paul Berkemeier said that the Institute's NSW Chapter has adopted a new policy as of last year which proposes a number of actions to achieve the long-term recognition and protection of buildings that have won the Chapter’s highest honour, the Sulman Medal, including listings on local environmental plans and the State Heritage Register.

    The Cox Richardson designed current exhibition centre at Darling Harbour is a recipient of the Sulman Medal and is set to be demolished and replaced by a new exhibition and convention building under the NSW Government's plan.

    A website has been set up to rally support to save the building which includes Cox Richardson Architects submission for 'State Significant Development Application' which outlines the significance of the building and its history.

    Drawing of the proposed new International Convention Centre designed by Hassell, OMA and Populous which will replace the current Centre designed by Cox Richardson Architects.

    Last week a proposal to rebuild the Exhibition and Convention Centre at the Sydney Fish Markets was revealed however it is unknown so far as to whether this will become a reality. 

    Berkemeier said that the NSW Chapter's policy supports the preservation of 'highly regarded' buildings.

    "The policy aims at the long-term survival of these highly regarded buildings and encourages adaptations and additions that respect the integrity of their original designs.
    "In view of this policy, the Institute strongly advocates the retention of the Sulman Medal-winning Exhibition Centre in any re-development of Darling Harbour.

    "The Exhibition Centre was awarded the Sulman Medal in 1989 by a jury chaired by the late Harry Seidler," Berkemeier said.

    "We also recommend the retention of the other major buildings in the precinct and the key features of Tumbalong Park, a facility that has proved to be extremely popular with the people of Sydney.

    Further to this, Berkhemeier said the Government should fulfil its responsibility as advocate for the public interest by defining and defending the public realm for the project, rather than leaving this 'critical step' to a development tender.

    "Lend Lease is a reputable organisation that should not have been put in the position of both planning and developing this large 20 hectare public precinct," Berkemeier said.

    "The government has contracted out its responsibility to prepare a master plan for the use of public land, as well as the rights to demolish and develop it," he said.

    "The Institute’s view is that city development is better served by a multiplicity of players in the development industry, not just one. That is the way most urban areas have been developed, and re-developed, in the past.

    "The Institute does not take issue with the quality of the professional teams involved in the re-development,’ Berkemeier said.

    "What we question is the muddled brief to which they are responding and the out-dated and wasteful demolish and rebuild strategy underlying the whole proposal," he said.

    The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) has compared Barry O'Farrell to Russian President Vladimir Putin after Darling Harbour was nominated for a global hot list of 20th century places at risk.

    The SMH also reports that the International Council on Monuments and Sites is considering a bid to issue a "heritage alert" for the waterfront precinct in a bid to save the convention and exhibition buildings and their surrounds.

    Video and slider image courtesy of Save the Centres.

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