The design for Australia’s most iconic building, the Sydney Opera House, a symbol of the nation now recognised around the world, was found via a public call for proposals in the 1950s. It attracted submissions from around the world, including from a 39-year-old Danish architectural maverick named Jørn Oberg Utzon, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A major Sydney architectural firm is now calling for a similar process to be used to find the design for a $200 million redevelopment of Circular Quay, which the state government has been promising for five years.
Plans to substantially upgrade Circular Quay were first proposed by former NSW premier Mike Baird in 2015, along with renders of two-story wharves with additional retail space, although these were only preliminary concepts and did not appear to offer any substantial changes to Circular Quay train station or the Cahill Expressway. Notably, there have been no further official designs released to the public for the upgrades to Circular Quay since 2015.
The 2015 Circular Quay redesign concepts. Photograph: NSW state government
Construction on the new Circular Quay was supposed to commence in 2019, however in July 2020, it was announced that the redevelopment works would not begin before 2023, some four years behind schedule, due to delays approving the final design.
Architect Clinton Cole of firm CplusC has released dramatic renders of a possible design for Circular Quay in the hopes that they will prompt the NSW government to invite independent design submissions for the project. Cole reportedly told the Sydney Morning Herald that a transparent design competition would prevent a repeat of the closed-door approval process in the 1990s that led to the construction of the apartment blocks on the eastern edge of Circular Quay, nicknamed ‘the Toaster’. Those buildings, overlooking Sydney Harbour and the Opera House forecourt, were sharply criticised as eyesores blighting the city’s most famous vista.
An overhead perspective on the CplusC Circular Quay design concept. Photograph: CplusC
While the CplusC designs are just concepts and have not been approved for construction, they offer a verdant vision of a future Circular Quay featuring elevated public gardens, retail and hospitality spaces, and an undulating structure echoing the movement of the waters below.
Currently, two shortlisted consortia – Plenary Group and COQ Partners – have been commissioned to develop preliminary designs, although no renders have yet been released to the public. The state transport authority, which is overseeing the development, issued a statement saying strict conditions were in place to ensure public benefit and urban design were pivotal aspects of the eventual upgrades, and that necessary approvals were currently being sought to allow the building works to commence in 2023.