Super Colossal

Paddington Reservoir Review for Monument Magazine

Tuesday, 11th August 2009

Following is a review that I wrote for Monument Magazine. I have written briefly about the Reservoir on the blog when it opened, but it the article following was a good opportunity to
It appears in Issue 92 currently on sale.

Paddington Reservoir

Tonkin Zulaikha Greer with JMD Design (Landscape) and Simpson Design (Structural Engineering)

paddington reservoir

Sydney is not one for ruins. Its buildings are rescued before they are able to grow decrepit in the desire to prove that yes, our architecture is not that new to this place. Even the notionally old get treated as archival specimens, touched up in period lead based cosmetics and sealed in acid-free mylar bags. They are abutted with contemporary additions clearly delineated by stainless steel angles so as to remain uncontaminated by current building practices. There are exceptions to these exquisite corpses, Cockatoo Island, that fantastic accident waiting to happen, is one. Left to its own devices it is a post industrial public playground on the harbour so far left alone by conservationists. Paddington Reservoir is another, and while it has undergone major surgery in its reboot as an inner city public space, its status as a ruin remains.

Completed in 1866, Paddington Reservoir was one of Sydney’s early pieces of hydraulic infrastructure servicing the local area, however its reach was limited and was decommissioned in 1899 when the larger and higher elevated Centennial Park Reservoir was built. Following this its empty chambers were used for storage and as a garage by the water board before being handed over to Paddington Council who maintained its use as a garage and opened a park on its roof. When the roof collapsed over the Western Chamber in 1990 moves were made to adapt the reservoir as an public space.

paddington reservoir

Tonkin Zulaikha Greer were engaged by the City of Sydney to undertake the adaptive reuse of the reservoir as an urban park. Together with Anton James Landscape Architects they have inserted a sunken garden into the remains of the western chamber and left the interior of the eastern basin as a large column-filled space. A park sloping up from Oxford Street sits over the eastern basin and vaulted aluminium sun shading, patterned to mimic the brickwork below, hover over signalling the submerged park to Oxford Street and in their filigree provide some contrast to the otherwise robust detailing of the project.

I am reminded of Peter Zumthor’s recent project in Cologne, where the integration of a gallery onto the 19th century museum was an act of grafting rather than the removable bolt-on addition to an historic relic. New walls were laid directly onto the ruins below creating a new entity as a monolithic whole. At Paddington Reservoir, a similar tectonic is at play; the brick arches, requiring a binding agent to keep them standing, are covered by deep slabs of concrete. The permanent melding of two eras of construction.
In the repetition and amplification of the arch motif in the concrete there are also allusions to the work of Italian modernist Carlo Scarpa and while the project demonstrates an exposition of what came before through similar tectonic means, as project director Tim Greer makes clear, the architect operating under the lump-sum design and construct contract has few of the luxuries Scarpa shared in dealing directly with master craftsmen on site over the course a buildings making.

paddington reservoir

Here, the architects developed a comprehensive strategy for interventions at the Reservoir to accommodate the inevitable quirks and dodgy structure that may give way over the course of the construction. So concrete running perpendicular to Oxford Street traces and repeats the neat line of the brick arches, while concrete that runs lengthways runs a ragged line of best fit. Likewise, balustrades running around the park are vertical or wonky depending on their orientation to the street. The palette has been restrained to steel, timber and concrete and where possible existing surfaces have been left untouched.

In its current state, the Paddington Reservoir has a charming purposelessness. For a park it is a lot like a building, and for a building there is not a great deal it accommodates. There are plans – as there always are – for a cafe along with amenities that will allow more varied uses to take place; a good thing as it is a space perfectly suited for a number of activities beyond pleasant walks, much like TZG’s other recent project in similar circumstances, Carriageworks at Eveleigh that is now as much a market hall and site for hip hop and graffiti art showcases as it is a theatre.

Sydney is not short of opportunities like the Paddington Reservoir, and it is a credit to the City of Sydney Council that they have invested in this project, a park within a ruin, replacing hydro-distribution hub with public infrastructure, that will hopefully find itself the scene of much activity before it is adapted once again in its future life.