Category Archives: architecture

The colours of the architectural rainbow

All too often residential and commercial streets are made bland via the choice of the paint colours owners select for their buildings. Sydney’s streets commonly ‘comply’ with a palette of colours that stretches the not-so-great distance from beige to cream to mushroom.

A good example is the heritage facade of the former Commonwealth Bank building on Campbell Parade at Bondi Beach. Formerly painted in striking pastel baby-blue and white, in harmony with its adjoining Art Deco buildings, it was recently ‘mushroomed’ over. With the new paint job came a loss in visibility of the aesthetic characteristics of the building and a diminishment of its landmark value.


Where have all the colours gone in our suburbs?

Happily, I happened upon a great little grouping of them today in Paddington, where a stretch of terrace houses have been recently painted in a gorgeous run of harmonious tones. The effect provides a lot of visual value to the streetscape.


Would love to see more of this.

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Residential front fences

Local municipal Councils produce development control plans (DCPs) which act as background for their determinations about development in their local government areas.

These DCPs contain information about various matters, from floor space ratios to percentages of sites required to be ‘deep soil plantable’. They also contain planning and design guidelines about residential fencing – so as to ensure that private property boundary fences (facing both the street and other properties) don’t physically or visually overwhelm the streetscape or neighbour’s lots.

In my landscape architectural and heritage work, I’m very often talking clients away from their desire to create ‘fortified’ boundary walls around their properties. I discuss the many benefits of not enveloping a site with modern day bulwarks, getting clients to consider the streetscape as-a-whole and benefits to passers-by of being able to appreciate the exquisite garden they are just about to install. A ‘portcullised’ mindset can, however, be hard to dislodge.

Whilst Council control guidelines are pretty strict – for both the good of the physical and visual suburban environment – certain aspects of new developments do slip past those guidelines from time to time.

I saw a good example of this recently, on a property where a developer had knocked down a lovely cottage to build a much larger residence. In sync with the new over-sized house came what could only be described as fortifications facing the two streets which the property fronts.


The subject fencing (as seen above) is c.2.5 metres high and totally overwhelms the abutting footpath and adjoining property. Alarmingly, the fence’s scale is actually quite in keeping with the massing of the residence, a house whose compliance with the local Council’s DCP on a range of matters is questionable. That’s another issue. The subject local Council’s DCP says that front fences should generally not exceed 1.2 metres in height and contains various other objectives, including avoiding adverse impacts. Clearly, controls regarding fencing were not rigorously applied to this development.

One contributing factor, which is common to many suburban areas of Sydney, is that most residential streets contain a total mishmash of fencing styles. It’s therefore very difficult for Councils to enforce a design typology unique to a certain locale.

A broader aspect worth mentioning, regarding front fences, is the topic of ‘good design’ – so often overlooked in fencing treatments. In the case of the property discussed above, the architecture of the front fence is left sorely wanting. A nearby fence of a new apartment complex (seen below) shows how a reasonably low front fence/wall, in a modernist style with articulation, can add an interesting visual element to the streetscape, whilst not being in conflict with the street or adjoining properties.


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Preservation of historic industrial sites

Funding of adaptive reuse* isn’t priceless, but it is borderless. (*Adaptive reuse is the process of reusing a place (usually old) for a purpose other than which it was originally intended).

Many prominent sites in Lodz, Poland’s third largest city, are undergoing an intensive phase of urban renewal. I experienced this on a recent trip there.


The city was, during the C19th and C20th, an industrial metropolis and one of Europe’s major textile capitals – at its height supporting numerous large factory complexes.


Due to the wealth of the city at its peak in the mid-late 1800s and early 1900s, many superb buildings were constructed. The most prominent of these have a very distinctive Art Nouveau influence – as can be seen along the city’s central Piotrkowska Street, for example.

In World War II, the Nazis didn’t destroy the city and its architecture – as they did with much of the rest of Poland – because of the value of Lodz’s industrial hardware. Instead, Lodz was annexed to Germany as part of the Warthegau – the Germans renaming the city Litzmannstadt.

Many grand parts of the city’s built fabric are now being given a second life, after decades of deterioration under the Communist era. This is most prominently seen in the remediation and adaptive reuse of several of the city’s largest factory sites, including the former spinning mill (see below) of the once enormous Scheibler Factory complex.


In the case of the spinning mill and the Scheibler site more broadly, remediation work is being undertaken with Aussie dollars.

The world is indeed a small place.

DSCN0237The plaque says “Scheiblers – the historic factory division revitalised by the Australian developer……”. A. Anderson, 2012.

DSCN0234Part of the front facade of the redeveloped Scheibler spinning mill. A. Anderson, 2012.

The Scheibler Factory adaptive reuse by Opal Property Developments is just one part of a very expansive land acquisition in Lodz by this company. According to a piece written in Purpose magazine by Opal’s Dorota Urawska in 2006, the company purchased a 21 hectare tract of land, much of which had/has dilapidated industrial structures on it. Part of this 21 hectares contains the above-described Scheibler spinning mill redevelopment. The remaining sites include a former power plant and former warehouses.

The company is seeking to develop its other land holdings for residential use and for large scale commercial and cultural venues. No doubt this developer has kept a keen eye on the evolution of the Manufaktura complex in another part of the city – also the site of a remediated former textile factory.

Interestingly, Lodz is a candidate for the title of European Capital of Culture 2016. If you find yourself with a bit of free time on your hands in central Poland, have a look at the city’s architectural re-invigoration – you might also spot some of the more than 20 giant street artworks on the sides of buildings in the centre of the city.

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Spotting nature in architecture

For those interested in architecture and specifically classical Greek columns, you might have wondered where the header detailing of the ‘leafy’ Corinthian column comes from.

Doric, Ionic & Corinthian columns (

Doric, Ionic & Corinthian columns (

In the third row of the above image, take a closer look at the decoration below the scrolls.

You’re looking at Acanthus mollis (Bear’s Breeches), a gorgeous groundcover shrub for semi-shaded positions, with spectacular flowering stems. An ancient plant and a talking point in your garden.

Acanthus mollis (

Acanthus mollis (

Acanthus mollis (

Acanthus mollis (

Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns can be seen on many Neoclassical buildings (especially grand institutional ones), like the State Library or Art Gallery of NSW. The next time you’re in front of a grand Neoclassical facade, have a look up for the Corinthian detailing and see if you can spot the Bear’s Breeches. You might be lucky at the Australian Museum in College Street, Sydney or even in the rose garden in Sydney’s Centennial Park.


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