Powering Down the House

Last week we celebrated NSW Labor Premier Chris Minn's decision to not do something: abandoning replacement of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, aka Powerhouse, in Sydney’s Ultimo, in favour of a reno, and some small alts and adds.

This week we celebrate another Minn's decision to not: this time to abandon the rebuilding of Willow Grove. The decision to demolish the 2-storey veranda and bay-fronted house was an egregious part of the Baird / Berejiklian plot to create a plot for Powerhouse 2 in Parramatta (actually MAAS 2, but that doesn’t sell well).

Locals demonstrated loudly against its demolition, and so the Government agreed to re-build it, piling a terrible idea on a bad one. No budget or site was established by the bureaucrats; once demo had taken place it had nowhere to go; some of the protesters conceded that there was no point creating a Disneyfied Madame Tussaud’s house. Quite how saving rendered bricks to be scraped clean and re-rendered is a heritage move mystifies me.

As I’ve argued a couple of times in ToT, a house like this wasn’t worth preserving in the first place. It's not as if it's unique in design and materials, in fact it’s very cookie cutter, standard production. And quite ordinary at that. Moreover, once the curtilage is of a Grandish house is lost, most of its meaning has gone too.

This is a very similar house in style and construction. I’ve been assisting the owner in stabilising and rehabilitating, if not fully restoring, the house over the last few years. Looking down over fields in the lower Hunter Valley it has the original farm setting. I’d argue that this one, with its curtilage, face brick and giant timber shutters is far more worthy of preservation than Willow Grove. But it too is threatened, not just by coal trains rattling its bones, but by the creeping residential from the local town.

Now that Willow Grove is gone, and not coming back, it’s time for the Parramatta heritage aficionados to turn their attention to the threatened Roxy Cinema, a rare Art Deco civic building, a design far more worthy of their entreaties and endeavours.

Great and grotesque graphics

One of the downsides of the digital revolution is the ready availability of graphics tools that tout the ability to turn amateurs into professionals. You can see hideous examples on light poles, book covers, invites, menus and PowerPoint presentations, seemingly competent graphics with little to no ideas.

But even professionals can make a hash of it, particularly when seen against inspired creativity, as here.

On the left, a logo of Australia for YES 23. It’s sinuous colours cleverly represent the multicultural nation without being overt, includes the oft-forgotten Tasmania as a full stop and, critically given the peoples we are voting YES for, the Torres Strait Islanders, their place above Cape York.

On the right, a hideously clumsy pastiche for the ABC National Bulletin. The outline is clunky, the states out of sync in size (Queensland dominates, Victoria disappears, and Tasmania is joined to the mainland). Why have states and a dot for the ACT when it’s meant to be a national bulletin? The only saving grace is that it’s buried on the website, and few will find this graphic atrocity.

Luna Park

The mention of Luna Park last week, in connection with the artist Peter Kingston, provoked a couple of emails, which in turn sparked three salient memories.

Firstly, as a student in the 70s I squatted for a year in a boatshed opposite Luna Park in Lavender Bay. The late ferry home from university coincided with Luna Park closing, and if you timed it right there’s a free ride at the end of the shift, which I did a few times. The boatshed, and apartments above, were converted into Philip and Louise Cox’s home not long after.

Secondly, Luna Park has Coney Island within it: a building containing several simple, joyous rides for all ages. On the famous Coney Island in Brooklyn in New York there was a Luna Park. Inverted Babushka dolls.

Thirdly, most importantly, I pay tribute to my friend Sam Marshall, the Sydney architect instrumental in saving its glory. He wrote his university thesis on Luna Park, the beginning of an almost 20-year odyssey of research, documentation, argumentation and advising architects Ken Maher and Paul Berkemeier who were responsible for its restoration. Such a worthy piece of work, even if Sam questions the energy taken by his younger self.

1/50th of a Submarine

Yesterday, the Greens negotiated an extra one billion dollars from the federal government, to be spent on public housing this year. PM Albanese and Julie Collins, federal housing minister, had been trenchant in their opposition to any additional funding outside Labor’s hopeless Housing Australia Future Fund, which was rightly ridiculed: the idea to place $10bn on the stock market was absurd, in idea and outcome. But they caved, thanks to the tireless efforts of their new bête noir, Max Chandler-Mather.

The downside for the Greens, and one third of Australians, is Labor continues to have a tin ear to those whose housing crisis is one of rental, not ownership. And $1bn? That’s pitiful really in the greatest crisis in inequality in the country’s history. One 50th of just one of eight submarines. Bugger all really.

Stade de France

You may have missed that there’s a Rugby World Cup on, as the games are pay-per-view only. So, you may have missed imagery of my favorite stadium in the world, (not that I've been in every one, but as a sport tragic I’ve seen a few). As Roy and HG say: “If it moves and sweats, I’ll watch it”.

The Stade de France is exceptional. A flat disc of roof fritted at the edges to defray the sharp edge of light. It’s a rectangular field with great viewpoints from all sides. You can get some sense of the cauldron nature if you catch a game from the Rugby World Cup. Viva La France. Although the All Blacks will probably beat England in the final.


As mentioned earlier, Sam Marshall, expert on Luna Park, published a book in 1995 called (as the amusement park was) Just for Fun. The 1995 edition is on the left. It was republished 10 years later in 2005, on the right. Rarely sold in bookshops, it was primarily available at Luna Park, but you can pick up a secondhand copy on the web. A must have.

Signs off

This Saturday the 16th September is Batman Day. This year's poster has equal billing for Batgirl and Batman. But who is that feral winking cat above, about to attack the Batpersons?

Tone Wheeler is an architect / the views expressed are his.

These Design Notes are Tone on Tuesday #179.

Past Tone on Tuesday columns can be found here

Past A&D Another Thing columns can be found here

You can contact TW at toneontuesday@gmail.com