Renzo Piano: Aurora Place, Sydney

Renzo Piano,


Residences, Offices, SPA, Alberghi,

Next to Sydney's botanical gardens, amongst the skyscrapers near the city's financial district, a number of Australian investors decided to replace an old 'sixties tower with two new office and apartment buildings, in a programme to which Renzo Piano gave decisive urban coherence by creating a strong architectural identity. The slender, sinuous curves of the complex evoke the image of a sail swollen by the wind in a city where the consistency of buildings is seen collectively rather than as an individual characteristic of each building

Renzo Piano: Aurora Place, Sydney Once more the Italian architect sets out with an essentially simple basic idea and enhances it with masterful execution in terms of use of materials and construction techniques, with a strong focus in this case on the relationship between the two layers in the wrapping.
Starting out with the turned half-cones of the drawings, which already contained the idea of a reference to the dome of the opera house only half a kilometre from Aurora Place on the bay, the available space is exploited to the utmost, creating a whole building around a structural core characterised by a wedge-shaped distribution and two open end corners overlooked by the winter gardens.

The long longitudinal axis of the tower augments the visual effect of its monumental mass and adapts it to that of the nearby towers, especially Chifley tower, with which it creates a strong effect of a propylaeum forming an entrance to the city on the eastern side.
The cylindrical shape of the western side contrasts with the tapering on the opposite side, with the offset extension toward the north, all clearly underlined by a screen which twists on one side, and diagonally follows the projection of the line of the façade on the other, only to detach itself from the back, pass over the fronts and rise over the entire volume.

In this way the glass wrapping with its adjustable membrane consisting of vertical uprights and horizontal louvers accentuates the lightness of the building.
Somewhere in between pursuit of an abstract effect and use of the panel as a system, Piano chooses a system of glass elements without any visible frame, the opacity of which may be adjusted using small ceramic circles inside the plates, to permit an effect of greater density at the ends and a clearer vision of the central parts, or an effect of total opacity simulating masses or hiding floors or service areas.
The final effect produced by the building is permeated by a strong sense of rationality which, thanks in part to the continuous, regular rhythm of its windows, induces hypothetical visual comparisons not so much with Utzon's work as with other vertical giants enlivening the panorama of the Australian capital, such as Harry Seidler's Grosvenor Place or the Ana Hotel by Mitchell, Giurgola & Thorp, both of which date from the late 'eighties.

Piano opens up the base of the tower more than Seidler does, accentuating it with a clear enclosure and using flooring which is the same throughout to create visual and functional continuity between the foyer and the outdoor parterre.
The office reception area is separate from the entrance hall, which acts as a public city space, and is very soberly furnished and tiled with terracotta on the walls, contrasting with the even stretch of white of the ceiling. The residential block is separated from the tower by a glass screen emphasising its function as a nodal core in the space between the two buildings, dominated by a sculpture by Japanese artist Kan Yasuda.
The narrowness of the plaza is moderated by the adjacent curved surface of the offices and the cylindrical form of the residential block.

In an urban dimension which is undoubtedly problematic and not very linear, Renzo Piano manages to create a complex whose strength lies not in its virtuosity or advanced technological experimentation, characteristics we have come to expect in his work, but in the definition of a highly specific urban scheme which is at the same time flexible and easy to live with, and, above all, maintains an open dialogue with the city surrounding it.

Rosy Strati


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