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24 Mar 2023

George Street Plaza by Adjaye Associates with Daniel Boyd

George Street Plaza by Adjaye Associates with Daniel Boyd

A tiny, collaborative effort in Sydney's central business district significantly improves the city's public areas by inspiring us to think about various viewpoints and our own place in the world. 

The George Street Plaza in Sydney is a location and a time that is "in between." Guest editor Michael Mossman ties the word Dindarra (the Kuku Yalaji word for "between") to "the Third Space - the space and moment between interacting cultures in our contemporary cultural landscapes" in the July 2022 issue of Architecture Bulletin, titled "Dindarra/Between." The George Street Plaza was created by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye in partnership with First Nations Australian artist Daniel Boyd. It also marks a change in philosophy from a time when "hero" architects, buildings, and views were praised to a time when the architect and their architecture were sought to be decentralised, particularly in Australia. According to this new viewpoint, architecture may enable changing and developing experiences and modes of usage, and it is merely one component of a much larger and dynamic network. The space has literally been created between two of the largest recent private developments in the City of Sydney: Lendlease's 180 George Street, designed by Foster and Partners and scheduled to be finished in 2022, and Mirvac's EY Centre at 200 George Street, which was designed by FJMT and completed in 2016. 

The City of Sydney came up with the idea for the plaza more than ten years ago as a solution to turn the maze of shady passageways that had developed behind Waran (Circular Quay) into a connected public space on George Street. Instead of creating a publicly owned space, the City wanted to build a true public space. It took a long time and included numerous stakeholders to make this happen. In exchange for the bigger public area in front of 180 George Street where the plaza, owned and maintained by the City, has been built by Lendlease, two separate City-owned areas (a narrow lane and a small triangular lot close to 200 George Street) were sold to Lendlease. 

The project, which is located next to the plaza, is made up of two unique elements: a new, two-story structure built by Adjaye Associates, and a sheltering canopy created by Boyd. The building has a public terrace on the first floor that looks out over the civic square and faces the plaza directly at ground level. The commercial retail area has been built to accommodate a variety of uses over time, and as of the time of writing, the City was looking for a First Nations company operator. There will be a public end-of-trip bicycle facility beneath the plaza. 

Successful relationships are essential to creating good architecture, and it is evident that the partnerships between Lendlease and the City of Sydney design and project management, as well as between Adjaye Associates and Boyd, were founded on mutual respect and trust. 

The space's architectural effectiveness may also be attributable to its distinct elements and duties having "fuzzy edges" or ambiguous limits. The building and the canopy have developed a symbiotic relationship in which they mutually sustain one another in many ways. The structure has a straightforward pitched roof form that is steeply pointed at the top to create an interior area that is bordered with spotted gum and is cathedral-like in height but intimately scaled in width. Continuous vertical black aluminium tubes that are black in colour screen a glazed inner facade that allows for a strong visual link between the inside and the plaza outside. A single, concrete-filled steel column supports the large steel canopy on one side, which cantilevers dramatically to the street front. The other side is supported by the apex of the structure. The canopy's edges incline upward to hide steel trusses. Boyd and Arup collaborated closely to complete this impressive feat of engineering. 

The canopy's holes produce polka dots of light that constantly move over the ground plane of the plaza, across the striped facade, and across the sloped rooftop of the structure. The dots scatter and migrate throughout the course of the day due to the motion of the sun and the various surfaces of the building and plaza. Moreover, a subtle pattern of dots that mimics the canopy above has been engraved into the plaza asphalt. The dots don't always line up; occasionally they do. Boyd claims that the structure is continually changing due to the light. It's crucial to pay attention to the intangible. Boyd has transformed his artistic work into a big public construction using the canopy. The artwork is made up of the light—and occasionally the rain—that streams through the canopy rather than the canopy itself. 

Depending on the viewer's angle and the angle at which the light strikes the surface, Boyd's paintings can be viewed differently. “As you move in front of it, you activate it. There’s no dominant way of seeing. It’s all about multiple perspectives and understanding the beauty in difference.” Boyd developed the area and the experience in between Adjaye designed the building that gives an edge to the plaza. 

Each component is dependent upon the others, and the experience would be less complete without them. “With public space, you have to create something that is open – not trying to impose your will on the land, but create an open space for interaction, and make people aware of their relationship to the sun and the earth, and situating us in the universe,” says Boyd.

For Adjaye Associates, architecture can be used as a “mechanism for bridging and creating relationships between the human body, society and the world.” There is a clear philosophical agreement between the approaches. 

Turf was responsible for designing the precinct's ground plane and street margins. Large, flat stones line the plaza's street edge, providing areas for people to sit and gaze, either together or separately. The benches appear to protrude from the plaza's surface and are constructed from the same black granite as the plaza and the municipal pathways. 

Jacksons on George by Studio Hollenstein is located to one side of the plaza; the height of its roof terrace is comparable to that of the plaza building terrace, giving the impression that the two are conversing. More sitting is provided on the opposite side, where a sizable, flat block of sandstone has been shaped into a replica of an on-site grinding stone. A street tree that has been moved from the kerb as if to indicate a new path between buildings and spaces is next to this bench. This route goes to the plaza building's newly opened lanes, which serve as connections between projects and finally pass over to Warrane (Circular Quay). 

Neither because it is big in scale or because it serves as the city's main focal point, George Street Plaza is an important part of the creation of a city. In actuality, the fact that it is none of these things makes it symbolic. This plaza offers a fresh perspective on how to design, perceive, and experience the city. It is a location that has been developed by numerous people, some of whom have worked in the background for a long time to make it possible logistically, legally, and strategically. It is a public plaza intended for people and activity, where the defining features are the actions that fill and change it—the shifting light, the brief moment of shelter, the movement of people, and the ways they will gradually start to inhabit it and take ownership of it. The defining buildings are recessive. The city can be seen and experienced differently through the architecture, and it serves to remind us of our location.

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