City North SubstationEdit profile
Efficient generation and delivery of power are critical to contemporary urban infrastructure, and were prime drivers in EnergyAustralia’s brief for replacement of the City North 33/11kV zone substation in order to meet electrical load requirements for the City of Sydney’s future growth, as well as building on a tradition of quality design for electrical infrastructure The project was the subject of a design excellence competition to achieve an architectural concept that would respond to the site’s CBD context, provide a durable and low maintenance envelope, and improve the urban domain of this precinct of Sydney with effective communication of the substation’s operation, and provision for streetscape improvements including display of static and digital art. There were very specific spatial, technical and layout needs to accommodate the electrical equipment and ensure safe and reliable operation for the zone substation, and a key objective was the achievement of an optimum working environment for equipment operation and staff functions with minimum energy consumption. Passive design principles were to be adopted wherever possible and influenced a natural ventilation system utilising louvres and vents in strategic locations. Security and access provisions were also critical elements in the design resolution. On this highly visible site in the public domain of Darling Harbour and on the periphery of the Western Distributor, the opportunity was sought for a contemporary and enduring design that could interpret the building’s function with references to the sources and impact of energy supply while complementing the urban context. Further potential was explored at ground level for the integration of a media-based outdoor gallery space that could activate the pedestrian environment and contribute to the cultural layers in this evolving precinct of Sydney. City North Substation is the largest in Sydney, and its envelope has three basement floors and five levels above ground presenting a considerable bulk and visible presence in this location. It was therefore considered necessary to break down the façade with a hierarchy of forms, materials, layers and details that would be both robust and appropriate in this context, while providing a suitable palette to realise a design concept that could successfully engage with three street frontages, and present well when viewed from a number of surrounding commercial properties. Through a façade modulation and matrix configured around the functional elements of the substation, a ‘Mondrian’ inspired aesthetic became the source of an architectural expression for a dynamic and flexible design envelope that could be site responsive, portray a sense of the building’s function and convey an impression of the transformation of energy within and the transmission of power beyond via the distribution grid. This façade system also provided references to the materials, details and varying scales of buildings surrounding the site, and a rationale that might complement future commercial development on the existing substation site to the south. `A Mondrian abstract is the most compact imaginable pictorial harmony.... At the same time it stretches far beyond its borders so that it seems a fragment of a larger cosmos` David Sylvester, About Modern Art: Critical Essays, 1948 – 1997 On both Erskine and Sussex Street frontages, provision has been made for display of static and digital art. Grid Gallery on Erskine Street is Sydney's first public gallery dedicated to the exhibition of digital works by media-based artists, and recently opened as part of Sydney's VIVID light festival. The Gallery is about power and light, and has an LED screen 15 metres long by 1 metre high using electricity to light it that is matched with 100% GreenPower. Combined with the physical gallery space is an online web portal for artists to submit and display digital creations that are curated and displayed on a monthly rotation – an ongoing expression of artistic endeavour that, like the electrical power generated within, extends outside the site and into the world beyond.