Large-scale property developments in Sydney are required to include a high quality public art component. For developers, this can mean enormous creative and financial challenges. At Central Park on Sydney’s Broadway, an $8 million public art program is being integrated into the urban redesign of an old brewery site, writes Michele Ferguson.
By Michele Ferguson
“It’s meant to look a little bit tipsy,” explains artist Jennifer Turpin. “There’s been a lot of thought on positioning it, and hopefully it will provide a heart for the site.”
Turpin is referring to Halo, the sculpture she has designed in collaboration with Michaelie Crawford for Chippendale Green in the new Central Park development on Sydney’s Broadway. The graceful, deceptively simple aerial sculpture celebrates the joy of movement and will be one of the most important artworks in the $2 billion redevelopment of the old Carlton & United Brewery site.
“It’s as much an invention as it is an artwork,” says Turpin, revealing that she and Crawford have spent a year on Halo‘s design and development. A team of 14 specialist engineers and fabricators has worked with the artists on model testing and the structural design of the kinetic wind-driven sculpture. The finished work will comprise a golden ring, 12 metres in diameter, floating off-centre around a 14 metre high silver pole. Gently spinning in the wind, the ring will tilt and turn in a slow, mesmerising motion.
Turpin and Crawford are also the art advisors responsible for Central Park’s ambitious $8 million public art program. The highly regarded duo has collaborated on a number of significant public artworks including Windlines, 2011, for Scouts Australia at Circular Quay; Tied to Tide, 1999, at Pyrmont Point Park; and Well, 1995, created for the New Children’s Hospital at Westmead.
The commitment to public art by the developer, Frasers Property Australia, and the support its art program has received from the City of Sydney are indicative of the changing attitudes of public and private stakeholders toward the value of creativity in large-scale commercial developments.
Promoting high quality public art in private development is one of the principles outlined in the City’s Public Art Policy, adopted in May 2011. It states: “Public art can enrich the public domain and artists can contribute to the shaping and transforming of the urban realm in ways which reflect, accentuate and give meaning to Sydney’s unique environment, history and community.”
As well as satisfying the City’s planning requirements, a site-responsive public art program contributes to the creation of a sense of place. This in turn can enhance a development’s financial and cultural value, boosting its potential for profitability. At Central Park the concept of place is being marketed as much as its apartments. The sales brochure claims the precinct will offer the opportunity to be part of what it describes as “a true urban village for a world city.”
Although public institutions and private development have different priorities and potentially conflicting value systems, the cohesive public art program and the calibre of the artists being commissioned to create works for Central Park have engendered an air of anticipation within the City of Sydney’s Public Art Unit. “It’s a gift to the city”, declares the Public Art Program Manager, Eva Rodriguez-Riestra, who is hoping to use the project as a case study for developers.
The six hectare Central Park site was purchased in 2007 from Carlton & United Breweries. Its redevelopment will be carried out over eight to ten years. There are plans for more than a dozen buildings, shops, offices, restaurants and some 1900 apartments.
One of Central Park’s main selling points is its grand scale eco-strategy which aims to achieve a six-star environmental rating for the precinct and to create a community emitting zero net carbon. Another is its formidable design collaborative which includes two Pritzker Prize-winning architects, Sir Norman Foster of Foster + Partners, London, and Jean Nouvel of Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Paris; and the Australian architectural firms Tzannes Associates, Johnson Pilton Walker and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer.
Turpin and Crawford’s strategy for the commissioning of temporary and permanent public art at Central Park is underpinned by a thematic approach based on a view of the old brewery as an impregnable city within a city. As its high walls gradually come down, they are to be replaced by contemporary architecture and the progressive installation of site-responsive artworks.
The strategy’s contextual framework focuses on individual artistic interpretations of the site’s past and future: its brewing history, past and present links with stories of transformative processes for water and liquid, and sustainable energy initiatives. Several locations have been identified for permanent installations to be created by artists working across a broad spectrum of media.
The lynchpins of the strategy are two creative elements which are embedded in the architectural plans and account for more than half the public art budget. One is a vegetal wall designed by French artist and botanist Patrick Blanc which will grow over the facade of two residential towers. The other is a mirrored lighting design by Yann Kersale, also a French artist. His design will be integrated into a cantilevered light-reflecting structure called a heliostat. It will be located in the top of a residential tower, reflecting sunlight onto the park below and glowing at night.
Central Park’s $500,000 temporary public art program, Artists in Residence, was launched in April this year with the installation of Local Memory, a monumental series of 18 portraits by Sydney artist Brook Andrew. Mounted high on the old brewery wall facing Broadway, it celebrates the local community and history of the area. At night the towering work is a dazzling sight as it shimmers with the glow of red neon that frames the photographs.
Artists in Residence is being jointly curated by Turpin, Crawford and Sydney-based curator Anne Loxley. They plan to have three more works installed progressively, remaining in place for three years. Their objective is to transform the character of the old heritage buildings and herald the involvement of contemporary Australian art in the creation of the new urban precinct.
The second temporary work to be installed was a 15 metre long windsock designed by artist Mikala Dwyer. It was affixed to the top of the 52 metre tall brewery chimney in September. Dwyer describes the whimsical sculpture, entitled Windwatcher, as “simple but profound”, a reminder of the sky and the majestic force of the wind.
One of the first temporary art initiatives at Central Park was the opening in September 2008 of three vacant warehouses called FraserStudios for use by the local creative community. More recently, Frasers has unveiled plans to revitalise the dilapidated Kensington Street alley bordering the site near Central Station into a vibrant laneway precinct. The company is also staging art exhibitions in its on-site display pavilion. Curated by Nicky Ginsberg of neighbouring NG Gallery, they feature the work of predominantly local artists.
The NSW Government has no state-wide policy requiring public art to be provided as part of large private developments. The City of Sydney, however, requires developers to commission and install artwork in private developments where there is significant public space and/or construction costs greater than $10 million.
Developers must submit a Public Art Report to the City’s Public Art Advisory Panel for approval as a condition of consent for an Occupation Certificate. The Public Art Advisory Panel, which comprises leading curators, museum directors and architects, takes an active role in working with developers to create a site-specific public art program early in the planning process.
In Sydney, the process of transforming public spaces through the City’s Public Art Program is well underway. As the public art program for Central Park is unveiled over time, it will be evaluated in terms of the quality of the contribution that a private developer can make to this process. If public authorities and private developers can continue to work collaboratively on integrating public art programs into large private developments, the city and the lives of its residents will be enriched.