The City North Substation project presented the unusual challenge of designing facades for a building in which the design of the body of the building including the building structure and substation contents, is already complete. The challenge had the added constraint of having contain the facades within a 150mm deep zone surrounding the body of the building.
Given these unusual circumstances, our proposition seeks to make use of and express the completed functional utility structure whilst overlaying an urban design strategy that seats the building into its city context.
Hence the engineering form of the building remains evident in the facade treatments with the patterning of large air intake grilles boldly expressed on each of the facades. The random patterning of these openings is amplified with an additional layer of different sized glazed panels that provide a textural contrast but reinforce the large scale patterning of the building.
The exception to this approach is the north facade where additional facade treatments respond to the building’s northerly orientation and pivotal location at the bend in Sydney’s Western Distributor.
Here the facade is designed as a light sculpture that responds to changes in light conditions both as the sun moves throughout the day, and at night as solar powered luminares are activated. Composed of frameless glazing with a ‘dimpled’ gold anodised backdrop, light and shade cause a complex interplay between the two surfaces in which the appearance of the facade varies according to the light conditions and the angle of view.
Furthermore, the use of the brickwork as a ‘skin’ that folds over the building on the east and west sides sets up the drama of the northern facade where the crystalline glass facade is revealed as the principal building feature.
At street level, shallow insertions into the facade contain either changeable tenancies or displays that activate the building at pedestrian level and give a human dimension to this otherwise quiescent structure. Also, a small public space at the north facade to the building works in concert with these tenancies to create a ‘public place’ that contributes to the life of the city. At the Sussex Street corner, a small café could partially spill into the space and become a place to meet for coffee, whilst racks of new or second hand books could be stored and sold from within 600mm deep shelving to the remaining length of the facade.
The public space works both as a punctuation in the experience of the journey to and from the King Street Wharf precinct, but also as a destination for city dwellers to meet and socialise. By removing the grove of existing fig trees, light returns to the footpath and rather than extending the darkness and heaviness of the flyover, becomes a place that enjoys sunlight and invites occupation and activity.