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“I Couldn’t Believe It. The Pace & Complexity Is Astounding”: Chris Wilkinson On Sydney’s Urban Future

The city’s most sought-after residences have just reimagined Sydney. But One Barangaroo’s architect, Chris Wilkinson, says “It was a question of bringing the refined, sculptural elegance this great city deserves.”

“I Couldn’t Believe It. The Pace & Complexity Is Astounding”: Chris Wilkinson On Sydney’s Urban Future

Chris Wilkinson is hugging a column. “I love these,” he tells me in a muffled tone with arms wrapped around the perimeter. We’re standing in the display suite of Crown Residences at One Barangaroo, Sydney’s newly soaring, curved tower. “The columns are a courageous design statement in an otherwise very open and uninterrupted space,” Wilkinson continues. “They’re pure engineering. When we first showed the residential spaces to the client with these mirrored columns, they were … unsure – that’s a nice way to put it. But when we saw them subsequently, all they could do was rave about how much they had fallen in love with them.”

It’s indicative of a trend. Perspectives appear to transform quite dramatically when considering One Barangaroo. Set for completion early 2021, during the past 20 months of its construction, Sydneysiders have habitually craned necks from car windows, travelling northward to the Harbour Bridge, just to catch a glimpse of the city’s newest superstructure twisting dramatically to the sky. Speculation, however, remains rife. “Crown Residences at One Barangaroo will be Australia’s most prestigious residences,” goes the official line. But whether tomorrow’s newspaper will contain yet another article deliberating the price of the coveted penthouse suite, enumerating the building’s illustrious tenants, or simply describing the next phase of construction, one thing remains certain––

We’ve never seen anything like this before.

Wilkinson gestures out the window toward One Barangaroo’s neighbours. “Renzo is over there, and of course Richard is right in front of us. We’re in great company,” he says laughingly, reminiscing of time spent working alongside Rogers and Piano. Thanks, however, to a slew of international competitions, the rise and rise of Sydney’s East Darling Harbour hasn’t come without its detractors. Accusations of instant urbanism have plagued Barnagaroo’s escalating developments, bringing questions of Sydney’s civic identity to a crowning point.

“The profile of a project like this will always attract a wide range of viewpoints, but from our perspective, One Barangaroo has always represented an incredible opportunity,” says Wilkinson. “We wanted to contribute a sculptural form that would equal the beauty of the waterfront – an elegant structure deserving of Sydney. It has such a capacity to delight, and I truly believe this has to be one of the most beautiful sites in the world.”

Stretching an impressive 275-metres, One Barangaroo’s part high-end residential, part luxury resort, has unsurprisingly continued to draw comparisons with the likes of London’s exclusive One Hyde Park or any number of supertall skyscrapers along New York’s Billionaire’s Row. According to Todd Nisbet, Crown Resorts’ Executive Vice President, Strategy and Development, in an interview with CEO Magazine, “We want to create one of the best hotels in the world. It’s been our mantra from day one and we’re getting up every day to try and deliver it.”

WilkinsonEyre Senior Architect, Stuart Dow, however, draws equal attention to technological advances and renewed consumer activity in the hospitality sector, as core drivers of this capacity to deliver:

“We’ve been great exponents of pushing that boundary of technology influencing what we can achieve with architecture. By extension of that, when you receive a brief like this project, on a site like this, in a city like Sydney, it’s clear we’ve been privileged to create a sculptural building pushing consumer expectations in this sector – both architecturally, but also in terms of the fluid blending of more traditional and newly emerging hospitality amenities.”

At all points, it would seem, design pays homage to sense of place while still stimulating these consumer expectations: swimming pools seemingly dissolve into the harbour waterfront; cafes and restaurants spill out onto perimeter terraces, corresponding with the generous site planning of landscape architects St Legere. Meyer Davis’ interiors, meanwhile, evoke the material ecologies and tonal palette of city’s famed Harbour, performing the building’s final magic trick of bringing the outdoors, within. And, finally, with a dynamic, heliotropic twisting stretch, the structure’s bending petals are expressed at the very last moment between storey 69 and the troposphere.

“We’re nearing the final stages now with these last storeys going up,” says Wilkinson. “The cladding is going up now too at a terrific pace. In fact, the whole building is moving at an incredible pace. I couldn’t believe it. The pace and complexity is astounding – a very exciting experience, and technologically gratifying. And to think, ten – even five – years ago, this would have all been impossible.”


Photography by Lynton Crabb.
Renders provided by Crown Sydney.

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