My most loved architectural shots by me from my car window

Architecture affects your mood, your sense of wonder, your ability to get through the day. When it’s good you won’t notice it. When it’s great you may not even realise that it’s given you a certain lift. When it’s bad you’ll feel it niggling like an itch or a distant fire alarm that won’t let you find peace. Because what’s done is done. That is, until someone comes by with a good mind – and budget – for rethinking what’s been done.

When I step into many buildings I immediately think ‘Oh no, disaster.’ And for me, that’s where the engagement usually ends. That’s why I enjoy driving around surveying what people build as their home – sometimes I’m alone, often I’ll have kids asleep in the back.

Unlike the enjoyment of Grand Designs, seeing what’s inside a building tends to unravel the mystery too much for me. I much prefer to judge the book by its cover, as it were, standing in front of a house and imagining the people inside, their jobs, guessing at what motivated their choice of bricks, that colour paint, such enormous windows or no windows at all.

For some years, I’ve been compiling a gallery of photos taken out the front of the houses of everyday Australians who love in Sydney. I began a Facebook album with the goal of capturing the most inspired and most typical. And in recent months, the album has become a topic many people raise with me. I’ve even had several submissions from people who spot a good house and photograph it, thinking of my album.

(I have also had requests for it to be published as a coffee table book, but that won’t happen as the quality of my photos was never a concern.)

This week, using a new Facebook feature,  I opened up  the album for contributions. If you submit an appropriate pic to me via my Facebook page I will gladly add you as a contributor (background checks, permitting).

Here are my favourites.

The McMansion Mothership

The McMansion Mothership. The Shire.

The McMansion was a spawned by a widespread demand for affordability, function and privacy amid the shrinking blocks of urban sprawl. I’d like to think this monolith was the original, with broad shoulders, an eagle chestplate and a doorway big enough to sprout small houses.

Grand Resigned

Grand Resigned. Dural.

So many of us dream of a countryside mansion set among fields of green. This house would have had it all, that is, if something had not gone terribly wrong. She now stands alone in a field, scaffolding still attached as if holding out hope that builders may return to finish her off before the encroaching bush does.

Cathedral windows and a angel watching over me.

Cathedral windows and an angel watching over me. Loftus.

Being caught for the first time is always a special moment. For me, it happened one sunny day as I drive a sleeping baby around the southern suburbs of Sydney. This home of weatherboard and louvred windows captured me as the owner captured me capturing a photo.

A home with such simple lines it could have been poured into a single mold.

A home with such simple lines it could have been poured into a single mold. Five Dock.

Of all the architectural styles I have noticed and photographed, I can’t get past the simplicity and artfulness of art deco numbers from the twenties and thirties. After that, I most enjoy the angular roofs and enormous windows of the sixties. There as always a single vision, unlike modern homes with their eclectic materials, varied textures and look-at-me rooflines. Sure, they have more fun, but something is lost in all the revelry.

I must be getting old.

Let me know if you also think architecture is captivating or if you think this is all bonkers.

Sydney apartments

Sydney apartments

I take photos of the most inspired and the most typical architecture I see in Sydney. You can add your own to the hashtag #AustralianHouses on Instagram, or check out my Facebook gallery (click photo).

New Sydney skyscraper needs a nickname…

8 Chifley Square is 30 storeys tall, easily viewed from three sides and about to take its place on Sydney’s increasingly diverse skyline.

How it will look…

Welcome Sydney’s newest member

How it looks now…

The structure has distinctive yellow and red steel supports. Each row of glass features a pale platform to
boost shade inside the office block.


8 Chifley Square

Atop the building is an enormous vertical grille.

Across the road from the Deutsche Bank ode to steel and glass, this Mirvac construction is a bold and playful design in a CBD of colourless masculine monoliths, giving the financial district a European counterpoint.

The girders and shades evoke a Meccano set or may even have taken inspiration from the Pompadour museum in Paris (see picture at bottom).

I honestly can’t think what it could be called by Sydneysiders, but it’s time we got to work thinking up a nickname.

The Pompadour, Paris

More: Mirvac Design website

UPDATE: First suggestion I’ve had came via twitter… “The Shopping Trolley”

Sydney – where’s the colour?

Last night I found myself driving through the Sydney CBD at 4am. It was a worthwhile drive as I discovered two things.

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1) No one-year-old can stay awake with the monotony of the 702ABC graveyard shift and street lights passing by, and
2) There are still people sitting on the Town Hall steps waiting for people at four in the morning.

Apart from those stunning discoveries, I took note of Sydney’s colour palette. If you ever get the chance to, don’t. We are a city bathed in light, imbued with a harbour and buried in trees, but once development gets a green light, that’s where the colour stops.

I see concrete… concrete for miles. Our buildings, our footpaths and our monuments are grey, nearly without exception. Some of our older buildings may be Sydney Sandstone – the art gallery, the museum, the QVB – but the years and the traffic leave so much of it a dreary, dull tone. We have so little public art that the only thing punctuating our passion for grey is the electric blue sky. But don’t worry, we’ve done away with that too. Sydney’s latest shopping destination, Westfield Sydney at Centrepoint, is such a cave that I feel lost as soon as I enter and adding to the claustrophobia, natural light seems like a memory.

If you follow me on Instagram you will know I have a love/hate thing with Sydney. My photos of our hot, dirty town are either critical or adoring.

What is it with this city? Why did we make the plaza in front of St Mary’s Cathedral completely paved, unusable space? Why is the Cahill Expressway (below) still standing and, for that matter, Harbourside in Darling Harbour?? As monstrosities go, that one literally saps your soul just walking past it.

The Cahill could never look as good as Jeffrey Smart made out

The Cahill could never look as good as Jeffrey Smart made out

I am feeling the effects of reading Delia Falconer’s book ‘Sydney‘ which provides countless metaphors and historical tales telling how our great city functions and, more intriguingly, how it malfunctions. It misfires socially, spacially and structurally, but we still wouldn’t give it up for anything, not even Melbourne.

We insist on ugliness when all around us is beauty. We glorify Kings Cross, our dingiest strip. We have tainted the harbour since day one of European settlement and nowadays we just slap cookie-cutter real estate over one-time toxic waste dumps. (Hello Breakfast Point!)

I am also grieving the loss of enormous Wynyard Park, now a small strip of grade about the size of three acres. Last week I stumbled upon a photo of how large this invaluable green space once was – as big as a three football fields.

Now, at lunch hour, as office workers pile in, you struggle to find a square metre of grass.

I am also peeved that when given massive opportunities to impress, our planners entirely opt out. The City West Link is one such example with four-metro high concrete walls. Some of these lifeless panels feature a metal sculpture laid over them – it could be a stimulating addition until you realise it’s repeated like a stamp on one hundred subsequent panels.

Recently, the bus depot at Balmain Road had a makeover. I travel past this corner often so was eager to see what design they came up with.

Have you seen Silverwater Prison? It looks five times better. And, as they are made of wire, at least you can see through the first two maximum security walls.

The bus depot is grooved concrete all the ways round. Lifeless. Thoughtless. Practical. Well, we need walls don’t we. Must protect the buses.

Concrete panels - adlib to fade

My wife hopes that the grooves are meant to represent something – corrugated iron roofs perhaps? I wish it was corrugated iron. A least that would rust and we wouldn’t have to look at any more soulless concrete.

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