I visited Barangaroo today. I was in Tower 3 for a presentation. It was the first time I had been anywhere near the new precinct. A quick impression of the place is that it was a lot chintzy-er than I had imagined. If the point of architecture is to express the grandeur of the state sponsorship in its decoration, then Barangaroo certainly expresses a ‘cheepnis’ — as Frank Zappa would have described — in the way the place presents itself to the world.
The buildings look like Ikea designers designed them, and not in a way that you would describe as efficient or productive or usable; more, it has an Ikea aesthetic about it. The kind of buildings where Ikea furniture would look most apt. The building size itself seemed small and not very functional, from the size of the footprint. The buildings looked bigger than it really was, and therein lies an empty gesture. But more on that in a moment.
I was up on the 38th floor where KPMG do presentations. Apart from the view and the fact that the building was new, the place felt sterile, and devoid of creative vision.The vista was shared by those who walked the corridors, but it most importantly was owned by the corporate entity. The carpet was buckling, the white pain looked uneven and even the decorative lights looked uneven and frankly, crap. It had the charm of cheap electronic gadgets made in China that goes out of date faster than eggs.
The coloured fins are a bit scary. They’re bolted on, and I sort of wonder how weather proof those bolts really are, given that they face a fairly salty bay that corrodes things pretty efficiently. You could easily imagine them falling off in the not too distant future. The overall aesthetic is architectural post-modern as taught at university faculties about 30years ago. I guess those architecture students are out and about in the world, plying their trade as fully-fledged architects; and boy if they were unimaginative then, they’re still doing the same things and getting paid.
All of this led me to ponder the missed opportunity that was the Barangaroo project. I know Paul Keating presided over the process and he was most impressed with what his stewardship came up with, but this entire project displays a lack of vision more than anything else. Predictably, it is the Price Waterhouse Coopers and KPMGs of the world that have moved in, and even though they want to talk about an arts area, they mean a state sponsored art arena. A bit like the Vivid Festival where corporatism and entertainment feign artistic gestures and pretend it’s art (like, uh, lighting up the Sydney Harbour Bridge with happy tubes Yeah, that must be art, hey? Uh, pleeze no.).
The thing that makes Vivid Festival such an empty artistic gesture devoid of meaning, is the same thing that marks out Barangaroo as a lame piece of architecture and urban planning; they are one and the same — it is the desire of the state to co-opt a space and present itself as the central player, without taking any of the risks that real artists undertake. The state has infinitely more power, reach and capability to expend money than any artist. Then why not reach for something good, rather than make crappy corporatist art? Why not reach for something extraordinary than bung up three more office blocks that look dated the day they open? As displays made by the state go, it’s pretty vacant and largely uninviting.
The thing that gets me the most is that you wish the establishment wouldn’t pat itself on the back so much. I know everybody likes the smell of their own turds, but a turd is nothing to be proud of.