top Looking into the Crucimatrilux installation.
Lightwall Crucimatrilux, looking towards Hunter Street.
Chifley Square, looking south west towards Avenue Café.
The City of Sydney has transformed the forecourt of Chifley Tower,
at Hunter and Phillip Streets, from a corporate plaza to a
public space with a bustling glass-sheathed café defining the
south (Hunter Street) edge. The café faces north across a
granite court planted with a grid of cabbage palms and
interrupted by low timber benches. The concept was initiated by
Tim Williams of City Projects. The council then appointed
Hassell as architects to develop the design and artist Simeon
Nelson to build a "heroic" statue of former Labor Prime Minister
Ben Chifley and a glass installation, called LIGHTWALL
Crucimatrilux, as an extension of the cafe's rear wall.
Architect's Statement by Ken
The space is intended as a background to public activity. It is
therefore understated, using natural finishes-bluestone, verde
granite, glass, stainless steel, zinc, plywood-within a limited
colour spectrum. In acknowledging the character of Ben Chifley,
the intended effect is one of restraint. ... A strong east/west
linear pattern was introduced ... as a geometric discipline
expressed through the alignment of paving, insert strips which
continue across Phillip Street, the tree setout, position and
form of seats, and the form of the café wall and hovering
Comment by Brian Zulaikha
City spaces are not the product of one person; they are the
intersection of many. There exists a plethora of historic
linkages and the convergence of an extraordinary series of
creative forces. Places have fragmentary and inward-turning
histories; pasts that evoke interpretation; accumulated times
that can be unfolded; stories held in reserve. This is far
greater than the province of the urban designer, who treads a
tenuous line between architectural responsiveness and the
democratic processes of community consultation and government
In urban design, there should be skilful deployment of
architectural energies, so that the influence of fine buildings
radiates outwards, articulating the spaces between in a
meaningful way. In most cities, there are buildings of character
which have lost their effectiveness through a lamentable
context. Chifley Square is fortunate in being surrounded by some
of the more interesting towers in the CBD and these can now be
seen and appreciated within the curtilage of the new square.
No-one commented much on the previous incarnations of Chifley
Square. There was a sadly neglected Bob Woodward fountain, which
I remember worked as recently as the early eighties. It was a
sculptural explosion of ripped earth, covered in tiles, which
eventually delaminated into a flower bed. When Chifley Tower was
recently completed, the square was dressed with an imported
aesthetic similar to the tower. It meant very little to the
people of Sydney.
The deliciously curvilinear trio of Qantas House (Rudder
Littlemore and Rudder), the Wentworth Hotel (Skidmore Owings &
Merrill) and Chifley Tower (Kohn Pederson Fox/Travis) forms the
variegated northern perimeter of the square, and in the middle
distance to the north rises the handsome trunk of the Governor
Macquarie Tower (Denton Corker Marshall). The hard-edged Hunter
Street Government Offices (Rodney Connors/NSW Government
Architect) forms the southern boundary. This juxtaposition is
the geometric basis of the new square.
The square is carpeted over with a grid of cabbage palms.
Initially deriving from the columns of Chifley Tower's curved
entry patio, this pattern dissolves to present a series of
fortuitous accidental relationships to Qantas House and some
less fortuitous connections to the Wentworth Hotel. The trees
cross over Philip Street, providing pleasure for the passing
A glass box café, inserted along the south edge of the site, faces
north. Its rear facade along Hunter Street has semi-opaque green
glass panels set 40mm in front of a concrete bunker wall-a sign
of forbidden entry. Above, the three curvilinear buildings
gesture an elusive invitation. Yet inside the square, the
hitherto forbidding plane-over a metre thick to house services
and storage-becomes a backdrop of light behind the café;
successfully excluding the stream of traffic and negotiating a
significant change of level.
At its west end, the wall becomes a sculptural element named
LIGHTWALL Crucimatrilux. Here, the green glass wall becomes
transparent and houses overlapping diagonal sheets of glass,
intended to create plays of light and reflection. An aviary
without birds or a fish tank without fish: one is forced to look
at a detritus of bogong moths, palm leaves, cigarette packets
and grime. Its subtlety is perplexing-is it completed? Should
water be cascading over its glass diagonals?
Near LIGHTWALL Crucimatrilux, a sculpture of Ben Chifley stands on
the grid in place of a palm tree. An image cut from two flat
sheets of stainless steel, impressively detailed, narrowly
separated by a truss and standing proudly-but not quite tall
enough for the square. The cutout is a cartoon line drawing of a
fully standing figure in clod-hopper boots-as though the photo
on which it was sourced did not have a base.
In rejecting the traditional notion of solidity and 3D
representation, the sculpture is a 2D pop art alternative. In my
view, the sculptor avoids any expressive interpretation, perhaps
preferring that the work stands (sic) on its own merits- WSIWYG.
I do not believe this is a comment on Ben Chifley's character or
even an expression of disillusionment with the creation of
heroic figures. It begs a complex question for contemporary
representation: how much content can a flat sheet of steel
contain when it is not attempting a pure minimalist statement?
The café is the square's major element. The superb granite paving
carries into its interior and large and handsome glass doors
open the space to the splendid northern aspect, giving an
alfresco experience now almost de rigeurfor Sydney. The building
stands like a handsome interpreter of the Barcelona Pavilion,
appropriately relocated to Australia and a delight to be in.
There are some questions. The domestic architectural detailing of
the roof seems at odds with its urbanity. The basic planning
solution references its context, yet the chosen materials fail
to allow a complete integration. For example, the green glass
cladding denies the teal blue spandrel panels of Qantas House;
the grey-grunge walls of the café deny the brickwork of the
Wentworth Hotel. The international style of the pavilion is
decorated with a number of flourishes; not quite redundant and
not quite functional. The stainless fins let into the low
granite wall in front of the café, the studs supporting the
glass panels of the Hunter Street wall and the buttoned timber
benches in the plaza all place the design in a context at odds
with both the modernist origins of the building and any
Both the sculpture and the café are the consequences of a
schizophrenic approach which attempts to straddle opposing ideas
of contexturalism and purism. However, the grid of palm trees
lives in my memory, as does the beautiful paving. They have
given a renewed energy to the surrounding buildings.
The memorable is that which can be dreamed about a place. Time
Brian Zulaikha is a principal of
Tonkin Zulaikha Architects, Sydney, and has been involved in
many collaborations with public artists.
Chifley Square, Sydney
Concept City of Sydney City Projects- Tim Williams.
Hassell-design development Ken Maher, Andrew Cortese;
documentation and site advice Robin McInnes, Adrian Gotlieb.
Café Design McConnell Rayner-Grant McConnell. Artist
Simeon Nelson. Project Manager City Projects-Tim
Williams. Structural, Civil and Traffic Engineer Taylor
Thomson Whitting-Richard Green. Mechanical and Electrical
Engineer George Floth-Adrian Carrick. Electrical and
Lighting Engineer Barry Webb & Associates-Barry Webb.
Landscape Architect Hassell-Ken Maher, Paul Gerlach.
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