Janelle Woo and Gracie Grew
Re-imagining the civic potential and public ownership of Sydney’s historic urban utility infrastructure
Utility infrastructure often occupies historic, strategic and contextually-significant sites within our cities, as anchors of civic density and transportation. It is within the satellites of pumping stations, plants and substations that the city’s skin is punctured – its strange systems made visible.
Foregrounding both sustainable and civic aspirations for Sydney’s future, Common(s) Utilities celebrates the historic beauty of the country and the city’s urban memory. The obsolescence of these sites is untenable and must be revisited in order to solicit greater value for the communities they serve, accommodating not only new technical requirements but hybrid programming and clean energy.
Our civic ambitions need not be founded on a tabula rasa approach, but may instead seek the transformation of existing infrastructure to renew our communal supply of spaces of joy, social inclusion and culture, enhancing our ever-densifying urban fabric with a corresponding uplift in public amenity. These facilities will be nodes of a single cultural organism demonstrating exemplary standards in design, creativity and sustainability, an opportunity for a singular and visionary programme for the public re-development of state-owned urban infrastructure.
The proposal seeks to engage local built-environment practitioners through council-led open competitions, and community and indigenous consultation. It is more important than ever to focus our attention and resources on the communal spaces in which we gather. Renewed architectural engagement presents an opportunity to preserve these historic spaces in public trust, re-tuning them with good design for ongoing community use, inclusive access and cultural offerings to engage within a broader urban transformation.