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Art project for Rozelle Bay in Sydney

Laura Puttkamer

On the edge of Rozelle Bay in Sydney, three towers rise above a new park landscape. Interwoven between the ventilation pipes of the Rozelle Interchange, Studio Chris Fox is developing a striking urban artwork.

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Three monoliths in Rozelle Bay

Rozelle Bay in Sydney once consisted of a diverse ecosystem of mudflats and mangrove forests. In recent centuries, the bay developed into an industrial centre with maritime use and railway lines. Accordingly, most of the nature had to give way. A new project by Studio Chris Fox wants to change this: The project of three monoliths integrated into the landscape will create a living system. These monoliths hide a trio of existing exhaust stacks above the Rozelle Interchange.

The three towers have modulated zinc cladding and a sinuous steel structure. In this way, they reference the turbulent airflow of the facility as well as the spatial movements in the underground street network beneath Rozelle Bay. Each surrounds a living green system that provides bridges for pedestrians and cyclists. Green wall modules integrate the towers into the park landscape. They also transform the infrastructure into a habitat for urban biodiversity.

The construction on the land of the indigenous groups Gadigal and Wangal polarises Sydney. This is because the ambitious sculptures further emphasise the large exhaust stacks of Rozelle Bay. While they echo the former ecosystems, they ultimately embellish large pipes that pump exhaust gases into the air.

Construction has already begun: The first plants are visible on the easternmost tower. The art project could be completed by the end of 2023.

The green towers will offer attractive spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. Copyright: Studio Chris Fox

Criticism of the “beautification of a monstrosity”

Since 2019, the three large monoliths that Studio Chris Fox is now beautifying have been under construction where the WestConnex motorway meets the Anzac Bridge. This is where Sydney builds a new underground traffic routing, which is very important for the city’s road network. The existing chimneys are 40 metres or 12 storeys high. They are already part of the city skyline.

“I knew this would be a challenging task,” said architect Chris Fox. “The city needs to function, and the infrastructure is part of that functionality. But just like people, the city needs more than its basic functionality to be fulfilled. Moments of curiosity and wonder give the city a life of its own – they are worth visiting and engaging with.”

This is his response to scepticism about “beautifying a monstrosity”. He explained that the design visualises a future where the infrastructure is already a ruin and has been reclaimed by nature. The special cladding of the towers is meant to draw attention to the geometric contrast. Greenery will grow on the surfaces of the towers and a pedestrian bridge lined with trees and shrubs will guide foot traffic across Rozelle Interchange. This green attraction is expected to attract both locals and tourists.

Art and infrastructure

Studio Chris Fox has already designed several large public artworks in Sydney. These include the hanging Interloop sculpture above the lifts at Wynyard Station and the Interchange Pavilion in South Eveleigh. There is currently much debate in Sydney about whether art can or should be used to beautify problematic infrastructure. After all, the three monoliths are exhaust shafts for the huge highway infrastructure under Rozelle Bay.

Renowned Indigenous artist Tony Albert is excited by the design, telling the Australian Herald: “It’s really quite whimsical and mesmerising. I start thinking about different possibilities and futures. I love it when sights challenge me and give me endless possibilities of why they exist and how they might work.”

Critics of the WestConnex highway have difficulty reconciling the art and the infrastructure. Regardless of whether they like Chris Fox’s design, they criticise the large smokestacks: “They’re quite off-putting, aren’t they?”, architecture writer and editor Paul McGillick said of the towers, for example. “They’re very intrusive and you can’t avoid them, they’re completely out of scale. Of course, they try to mask that with the artwork around them … I think it’s up to everyone whether they think that’s right or not. I myself don’t find it particularly beautiful.”

The artful design has received criticism for "disguising a monstrosity". Copyright: Studio Chris Fox

Part of the Rozelle Interchange Project

Transport for NSW is the main transport company in New South Wales, Australia. The company is currently working on the Rozelle Interchange Project and the Iron Cove Link, among other projects. This involves building tunnels that will provide a new underground link for Sydney. The Rozelle Bay interchange location will be under the old marshalling yards in the area, so it’s largely underground. This should enable the creation of active transport facilities and up to 10 hectares of public space in Rozelle Bay. Transport for NSW is also supporting the planned Rozelle Parklands, a forest in the middle of the city.

The art project by Studio Chris Fox links closely to the new Rozelle Parklands Forest. The ecosystems will have several connections. Together, they will provide valuable habitat for native species. In addition to the hanging gardens on the towers, they include several parks and gardens as well as an urban forest. The Rozelle Parklands will also include tunnels, service buildings, bridges, footpaths and cycle paths, information on the history of Rozelle Bay and other infrastructure as well as sports facilities.

Read more: Two iconic tech-focused towers are under construction at Sydney’s Central Station, seeking to rejuvenate the city.

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