September 27, 2016

Horse 2168 - Wynyard Walkway To Barangaroo - A Step To The Future

Ever since I was a wee lad, I have always been fascinated with the built environment. Whether that meant roads, railways, dams, canals etc. the things which ferry people and goods fro and to were always fun to look at. That also includes things like bridges, viaducts, pipes and tunnels and especially train stations. I think that it's pretty easy to say that the physical infrastructure of a city is one of the things that imparts character onto that city. Infrastructure and public works, along with arts and culture, are part of the clothing of civilisation and infrastructure and public works in particular are like the skeleton thereof because even after the people have long since gone, they are what remains. 

Customers of the Sydney Trains network (and I hate to use the word "commuter" since they ceased commuting our fares to a lower rate), will have noticed that the wraps have finally come off of Wynyard Railway Station and I have to admit, I think that it's rather a bit pretty. 
Other adventures in architecture in this city have resulted in some of the most hideous things that I have seen. Many housing developments obviously look as though they have been designed on a computer and copied and pasted a million times over. This new station hall and walk through to Barangaroo, looks like a veritable temple to the future; which is something that always looks good in railway station architecture.

At the far end of the walkway is a large vaulted canopy, which covers a set of stairs and escalators. Travellers then plunge into a vast tunnel, which is large enough to drive a bus through. At the other end of Wynyard Station is the Hunter Connection and although the walkway through that is probably as equally wide, the ceiling is far lower and feels kind of claustrophobic. With this walkway, they've created a space which is tall enough to feel airy and bright and that makes it pleasant to travel through.

There is a set of strip lights which run along the ceiling and these are hinted at with a set of tilework below. There are fitted wall panels which must have some sort of snap fitting and these line the sides of the tunnel. I don't know which street we pass under but we soon arrive at another set of stairs and escalators, accompanied by an elevator in a glass container.

The distance from base of the stairs to the very top of this particular chamber, must easily be about three storeys and with shiny panelling and lights that are seemingly off in the heavens somewhere, the place feels massive and grand. The whole thing tightens up again as you pass the sign to the station proper and the entrance hall itself.

I don't know if it's deliberate on the part of the designers but by separating the station Hall from the walkway visually, it has created moments of distinct transition. To me that has the same effect as passing through an art gallery or a large house, when you pass from room to room. I think that's kind of fun in something a functional as a walkway because it gives you moments of transition between the various spaces. I think that it's always fun to pass from one place into another where the transition opens up and gives you a sense of vastness. 

As you move into the station hall, the ceiling in this section is made up of thousands of strips, and the services such as electric, fire extinguisher lines and other bits of plumbing and conduit are kind of hidden if you want ignore them but accessible enough should maintenance staff need to repair something. I think that it's fine but will look incredibly dated within a decade. It works in a place like the QV building in Melbourne where the whole thing is playing on an industrialist vibe and although it isn't ugly, I'm still not sure that it fits in with the rest of the design cues that they've given us.

Beyond the automated gates where fares are collected via the Opal system, the basic infrastructure of Wynyard Station from 1932 is still kind of evident. Obviously they couldn't just rip out the whole station and build it anew but they have tried to clad the ceilings and the main concrete support pillars in a new skin and I'm not entirely convinced. If you look upwards, especially in stairwells, you can still see the wooden boards that have been in place for more than eighty years and I don't know about you but that doesn't fill me with confidence.
I kind of liked the old brick booking booths and the older brown colour scheme but they've done away with all of that. Any concession to the past has been obliterated as we look towards a glorious shiny future.

I do like that if you are on the main entrance level to the station, that you can see long sweeping views through it. This has meant that the station has the illusion of appearing bigger than it used to despite being in exactly the same space.

Upstairs and downstairs; on the platforms, the renovations haven't yet been fully realised. The tile work on the floors has been finished, with that same grey slate replacing the older brown bricks that used to be there. What hasn't been updated yet, are the pillars which hold the ceilings up, and the station furniture. I imagine that the pillars will eventually be clad in a similar sort of white panelling as the walls of the rest of the station and I expect that the station signage will get that same sort of orange and black theme as Town Hall has got. Town Hall recently was fitted with a few roundels in the style that would have adorned the station when it opened in the 1930s but they have been stripped off again and I don't hold any hope whatsoever that Wynyard will receive any roundels of its own. In an attempt to speed forward into the future, the past has been treated as a station to which trains no longer stop at. The thing is though, the London Underground and the Paris Metro both prove that provided you keep a corporate identity, you can embrace futurism, art deco, brutalism, gothic revival and a whole host of different architectural styles and still make everything work together. Sydney Trains appear to have settled on a sort of anti identity and their stations look like they could be anywhere.

The new walkway through to Barangaroo looks really cool and I like it very much and I think that the renovations to Wynyard Railway Station are very sleek and pretty indeed but neither of them look like they particularly belong to anywhere. I hope that someone is eventually given a proper graphic design job to tie together the network in a cohesive design language. At the moment, there are blank canvasses just waiting for someone to come along and give it that little spark which starts a fire.

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