Mar 122010

Seen from the Cahill Expressway

Renzo Piano, I’d bet, gave his clients exactly what they asked for, a strong corporate symbol.  This is architecture as billboard, and, seen from the Cahill Expressway at its feet, it is advertising at its most seductive.  The building’s presence on the Central Business District skyline is more engaging than that of any of its competitors, by far.

From the Botanic Garden

Coastal New South Wales lies under a dangerous hole in the ozone layer.  A sun-breaker skin, appropriate in any subtropical climate, is even more welcome here.  Piano’s does double duty.  It embraces Aurora Place with a glassy ceramic sheen of leaning, curving shields that protect the building from harsh UV radiation and unduly high heat gain.   Plus, the shining and handsome shields disguise the rectilinear blocks of the actual structure and save them from mediocrity.  Truly, the brise soleil is highly effective signage, beautiful and easily readable, but responsibly green, too, as well befits affluent Australian international corporate leaders.

Orange Glazed Tile

At street level, within the CBD’s forest of tall buildings, Aurora Place disappoints.  Escaping the camouflage of the sleek and graceful ceramic glass sun-shields, the routinely blocky buildings underneath show themselves.  In an apparent attempt to mitigate the coolness of their metallic-looking shields, the buildings are clad with orange-glazed brick.  It’s a perfectly logical decision.  But it doesn’t work.  The result is not warming but garish.

Under the Dirty Glass

Worse, the building’s bases stand in poorly resolved collision.  They crash to the ground around a glass-roofed interior piazza that Piano must have thought would provide a busy urban gathering place.  That, too, fails.  Even on the summer day when I visited, the place was nearly empty.  It was lunch time, but the tables of a cafe were mostly empty, sad and forsaken.  And the gorgeously conceived roof?  A lesson in the repulsiveness of filthy glass.

At the end of the day, despite Piano’s huge talent and great expertise, I have to say that Aurora Place struck me as yet another skyscraper whose head and shoulders look absolutely terrific in photos and renderings, but which fails to humanise the urban streetscape where we actually experience the city.

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