Proposed Darling Harbour redevelopment needs to be rethought

| May 22, 2013

In March, the NSW state government unveiled its plans for the redevelopment of Darling Harbour. Pyrmont resident Ed Truscott makes a passionate case for leaving Darling Harbour exactly as it is.

Have you been to Darling Harbour lately? Probably not, unless you have children or grandchildren! It is one of the best kept secrets in Sydney. It is vibrant, safe and relatively inexpensive.

Yet due to the bad press from years ago, many people from the suburbs ignore it. The State government seems to have decided to destroy its character and design without any consultation. No one living on the western side seems to have been surveyed, and it appears there was no public consultation regarding the present plans.

Let me be upfront. I live in the Goldsbrough Building directly behind the Convention Centre, and if the redevelopment goes ahead without changes, my view and power bills (foreshadowing) will significantly be affected, as will my access to the CBD.

Here is a description of the real Darling Harbour:

First, it works.

There are thousands and thousands of people here every weekend and during school holidays. Why? Here are the amenities for the people of Sydney:

  • Wildlife Park,
  • Madame Tussauds,
  • The Aquarium,
  • IMAX,
  • Chinese Gardens,
  • Powerhouse Museum,
  • Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre,
  • Harbourside,
  • Maritime Museum.

Yes, Harbourside caters to young families and tourists… Not everyone can afford a day at Circular Quay with its $42 fish and chips and $10.50 mineral water. At Darling Harbour families and tourists can spend an excellent day going to many of the features, and eating at a restaurant, whether takeaway or fine dining. Others can also enjoy Darling Harbour very cheaply by bringing their food and eating in or around Tumbalong Park. Then they can use the wonderful playground, the free areas in the Maritime Museum and maybe go to one or two of the other features.

Second, it has character.

Given all the negative press that may be hard to believe, but let me explain. Darling Harbour has what I call the ‘Bondi’ look. All the buildings have a similar height and look. Can you imagine the northern end of Bondi with skyscrapers?

All the King St Wharf apartment buildings with restaurants and pubs below mirror the height of the rest of Darling Harbour. Cockle Bay from the Pyrmont Bridge to the IMAX is of a similar height. True, the IMAX and the new Commonwealth Bank buildings are higher, but still within the apparent unspoken height restrictions in place. Coming to the Western side you have the Exhibition Centre, the Convention Centre and Harbourside all similar in height as is the Maritime Museum.

Third, it is has the present Convention Centre and the Exhibition Centre.

They are recognised internationally. The Convention Centre is designed by one of our very few internationally recognised architects, John Andrews. He is honoured for designing the Intelsat Headquarters in Washington, the CN Tower in Toronto and the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, to name but a few of his many notable accomplishments.

The Exhibition Centre, awarded the 1989 Sulman Award and listed by the Australian Institute of Architects and the National Trust, was designed by another important Australian Architect, Philip Cox. How could anyone think of tearing them down? Yes, they need some tender loving care and yes, more space is needed, but surely for the future history of Sydney these two buildings need to be saved.

Yet both of these iconic buildings are going to be torn down, and replaced by garish, pseudo-modern monoliths. The proposed Convention Centre is approximately twice as big with apparently no more meeting room space, but it does have a ballroom with 13m ceilings. The new Exhibition Centre is significantly larger, but with only about 20% more useable showing room.

Worse for residents on the western side of Darling Harbour, instead of the balance and symmetry of the present Convention Centre, residents will see a large glass wall with no appeal and the Exhibition centre is enclosed by a large painted wall.

Fourth, Darling Harbour is fun.

It has the wonderful new playground. It has the water features in front of the Exhibition Centre and around Tumbalong park that children love and can be seen in cooling off on hot days. Yet the designers want to replace these water features with a straight, wide pathway. This highlights the lack of understanding and connection the designers of the redevelopment proposal have with the users of Darling Harbour. No one – I mean no one I talk to about the redevelopment – can understand how anyone would replace these water features.

Best of all it is a maze.

Users do not want the open features so loved by… who knows who? Darling Harbour is loved the way it is. I accept you can’t always walk in a straight line from one destination to another, but people on vacation or relaxing want interest and that’s what the layout of Darling Harbour offers. Can you imagine the pathways in the Chinese Gardens being a simple circle? Even the many workers from the western side who walk through Darling Harbour to the CBD seem to enjoy the ambiance.

The present DA does not include the proposed 40+ storey, 900 room, twin tower hotel. This hotel placed next to the oversized, poorly designed Convention and Exhibition Centres surely will kill the heart and soul of what is now a relatively spacious, safe, enjoyable public area in the middle of a very crowded, noisy city.



  1. Sandy

    May 21, 2013 at 11:46 am

    So well said. The proposed development at Darling Harbour will change the ambiance, which is such a shame, because it is such a special place at present. Hopefully enough public opinion will shine through in time to stop this unnecessary extraordinary expenditure of money!