What to do with Erskineville? This has been the question troubling urban planners and government bodies for nearly 20 years. Following a competition held by the City of Sydney – an architectural battle for the future identity of the area – we are one step closer to an answer.
WMK Architects’ tender for the urban renewal project has been selected as the winning design for Park Sydney, a residential and retail community centre set to transform 6.9 hectares of industrial land.
Each practice that submitted to the council-led competition was the recipient of a very detailed brief – after all, what more could you expect when the suburb’s future had been the subject of two decades worth of discussion? The City of Sydney required that the site, which lies adjacent to Sydney Park, contained between 300 and 360 apartments, a childcare centre, and accommodation around 4,000 square metres of retail space. Further, this latter was required to interact with the existing neighbourhood, as well as future stages of the development.
Within this tight framework, WMK found room to move. Their resulting design struck a balance between acquiescent and original.
“First of all, we looked at the history of the area,” says Julian Venning, WMK’s director of design and delivery. “One of our main design aims was to integrate the existing neighbourhood with future communities. To the east is [the Cooper Estate Heritage] Conservation Area, and walking around that area, you see a beautiful urban landscape and a beautiful planted landscape – which is quite mature now – and we wanted to capture the sense of community that is evident there. We wanted to figure out how to utilise these community pockets in the best way.”
Park Sydney, WMK’s winning design, achieves 325 apartments. This, in addition to the requisite childcare centre, retail space, and open areas that feed back into the community. The ground-floor retail space is of a “pocket” typology, which Venning says is reflective of Erskineville’s existing, market-feel retail pockets.
“This encourages local business to take up spots within the new development, feeling that they’re part of the existing community fabric,” he says. “Our retail strategy was to bring people into the building – it was a market response. Our façade design and architectural response really integrated with the context.”
The design is, more broadly, reflective of Erskineville’s character – both natural and urban. Venning says the material palette was chosen to mimic the surrounding landscape, with particular reference to the Cooper Estate Heritage Area.
“We brought the idea of how existing urban buildings informed the façade. We wanted it to have the same fine grain built element,” he says.
“The material base is informed by the surrounding natural landscape. On the corner of Ashmore and Mitchell there are significant fig trees. One of the significant features in the local area is Erskineville oval, plus [there are all types of] public parks, right down to Sydney park. All of these greatly informed our thinking about how we wanted our buildings to sit within this.
“We chose a timber composite material along the façade, integrated within a more robust concrete. The façade has a good longevity, much like the other buildings in the area. Informed by nature, it’s quite a soft looking façade.”
As much as Venning says he believes WMK’s success was a result of their sensitive urban design response, the Park Sydney project is as respectful of community concerns as it is of resident needs. The design itself is based on context, with a floorplan oriented to maximise solar access, a shape conceived to create a natural transition between building heights in the area, and an “inside-out” design that responds to comfort concerns such as acoustics, ventilation and privacy.
“Our design is based very much on context, both immediate and surrounding,” says Venning. “Significant open space, solar access to our apartments, how to deal with noise issues… We designed from the inside, and we were very focused on the new residents, but always looking to integrate with the surrounding landscape.
“We often design our buildings to be very distinctive, but ultimately, the buildings aren’t about themselves. They’re about the neighbourhood.”