Powerhouse Precinct at Parramatta




Winning design by ©Moreau Kusunoki /Genton 


Although one might normally assume that local firms participating in a competition might have a clear advantage over foreign competitors, this has seldom been the case: just see Sydney’s Opera House, won by a Danish architect, and Toronto’s City Hall, won by a Finn—as evidence that well devised competition briefs as adequate documentation can create a level playing field for potential competitors, regardless of their location.

In the case of the Powerhouse Precinct at Parramatta competition, the passage of time, which has led to more invited competitions for major projects, has given local firms even less of an edge. It is common now for the limited number of participants to visit the site, and even be involved in discussions with the clients beforehand. According to the competition adviser, Malcolm Reading, “All of the non-local teams visited at least once (several twice). We held a 3-day symposium in Sydney that all of the key team members attended.

The Parramatta competition’s participants, a list of five determined by the common shortlisting process, were:


Moreau Kusunoki (France) and Genton (Australia)
AL_A (UK) and Architectus (Australia)
Bernades Architecture (Brazil) and Scale Architecture (Australia)
CHROFI (Australia) with Reko Rennie (Australia)
Steven Holl Architects (US) and Conrad Gargett (Australia)


The above were chosen from a long list of interested firms and based on the following criteria used as a guide for the shortlisting process:
“Interested teams will need to demonstrate capability as a lead architect on a built project of comparable complexity and program of at least AUD $200M or, alternatively, provide evidence of their ability to deliver a buildable, memorable facility exemplifying design excellence within the construction budget for the base building, public realm and pedestrian bridge (set at AUD $400M). International teams will need to partner with a registered Australian architect.”


Aerial view of Powerhouse Parramatta site



The competition jury was made up of:
• Naomi Milgrom AO (Chair), Philanthropist, Sydney
• Kim Crestani, Architect, Sydney
• Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang, Chicago
• David Gianotten, Architect, OMA
• Lisa Havilah, CEO, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
• Wendy Lewin, Fellow, Australian Institute of Architects
• David Riches, Lendlease Corporation, Sydney
Specialist Advisers
• Sarah Lynn Rees, Architect, Melbourne
• Malcolm Reading, Competition Adviser



Interiors ©Moreau Kusunoki /Genton


Surrounded by large, tall buildings, this site, although located on the water, was not an easy fit for such a project. But the young Paris firm, Moreau Kusunoki, collaborating with the local Australian firm, Genton, managed to fit the program into this parcel in a commanding manner that elicited the unanimous approval of the jury. Moreau Kusunoki, best known for winning the Helsinki Guggenheim museum competition in 2015, can now anticipate, that by winning this competition, it can be a project that will actually be realized. Accordingly, “The Jury found the proposal to be a standout, simple and elegant solution, with a strong identity derived from the building’s architecture and structure. The generosity of space, transparency and lightness of the structure created a ‘sense of joy’ that encapsulates the ambitions of Powerhouse Parramatta. (The complete jury comments for all of the finalists are available in detail below.)



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Prince Charles in the White House?

Expressway toll booth of the future ©Paul Spreiregen
(Explanation of lane designations below*)


Recent news about a new U.S. government policy concerning the design of public buildings under President Trump bears a striking resemblance to the controversy surrounding that very issue in the U.K. in the second half of the 20thcentury. It was then that Prince Charles appeared on the scene to challenge the use of modern design in architecture. Prince Charles’ career as architecture critic on the public stage began in 1984 with his criticism of Mies van der Rohe’s design for a new tower on Mansion House Square in London. Unfortunately for Britain’s architects, the voice of the crown carries some weight in British society, and the Mies tower was scrapped, replaced by a post-modern structure by James Stirling—which the Prince also did not like. According to the Prince, those modernist buildings resembled “Frankenstein monsters.” According to U.K.-based architects who had to deal with Charles’ pushback on modern design during that period, he was the “worst thing that happened to architecture here.”


Since then, Prince Charles’ influence in blocking the evolution of modern design in the U.K. has diminished considerably with the ascendance of modern architecture as a common staple—led by architects such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Amanda Levete, Zaha Hadid, John McAslan, Nicholas Grimshaw, Thomas Heatherwick, and others. Although not taken seriously by his European neighbors on the continent, Prince Charles’ ideas did find fertile ground in the U.S.—both in municipalities and even in academia, where classical architecture became a staple at such programs as Notre Dame and, to a lesser extent, Yale. At the latter, I learned from a former student there that Prince Charles even surfaced on a list of “architects” one could choose from as a topic in one seminar.


Instead of peer review, federal architecture under the auspices of the General Services Administration (GSA) now will apparently be at the mercy of a “beautification” panel, which will see to it that modern architecture recedes into the background, if at all. U.S. architects may see themselves placed in the uncomfortable position German, Italian and Russian architects experienced under their totalitarian regimes in the 1930s. By embracing the primacy of classical architecture as a blueprint for public buildings, the Trump regime certainly has helped the National Civic Art Society reach its ultimate goal, at least at the federal level—requiring American architects to turn to the replication of 17thand 18thcentury-style buildings as the preferred design model. Assuming that happens, Prince Charles would be a welcome visitor in the White House.


Addressing this issue, Paul Spreiregen FAIA, architect and professional adviser for the Vietnam Memorial competition states:

“Architectural history is not a copybook. Rather It is a textbook, to be read with a deep understanding of the many principles upon which architecture comes into being. The history of architecture is not served by aping it but by building on it, addressing the programmatic needs of each new building in its own time and place, its neighbored respected, thereby reflecting and honoring the culture it serves. 
To use the “styles” of the past as a cloak for the new is a lie, a subterfuge for respectability and supposed prestige. That is the work of authoritarian governments. Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini were its more recent and notorious promoters. They produced not architecture but laughable if not tragic cartoons of architecture.

All the great works of architecture of the past were, in their own times and places, masterpieces of ancient principles seen anew. That practice has been the glory of the best of American architecture.”**

*Letters to the Editor, The Washington Post, 17 February 2020



*Lane designations

I – Express lane for National Civic Art Society members and family
II – One-horse Roman War chariots (a non carbon emitting benefit)
III – Two-horse Roman war chariots (other emissions of a non carbon nature to be monitored)
IV – Fiats
V – Ferraris
VI – Alpha Romeos
VII-IX – Other automobiles of the great unwashed
VVV…. etc (in colonnade)

Vestal virgins (scantily clad in aisles I-VI) poised in colonnade who wave red or green flags to signal receipt of toll fee
R It – Italian fast food restaurant. (order by mobile phone)
R Gr – Greek fast food restaurant.