Macquarie Centre in Sydney’s northern suburbs has been at the heart of its community since opening in 1981. Bordered by Macquarie University, a metro stop and bus interchange, it is the centre of a thriving business precinct and a growing residential area. One of the city’s largest shopping centres, it also boasts Sydney’s only full-sized Olympic ice rink, a facility embedded in the local identity, culture and character, and a training centre for elite athletes as well as entertainment for the entire community.
While the Centre currently serves a wide range of users and uses, enormous potential for the evolution of the Centre remains. With the Centre’s 40th anniversary approaching, it is time to realise that potential, reinforcing Macquarie Centre as one of Sydney’s great urban places.
The centre’s managers, AMP Capital, selected NH Architecture and Hames Sharley, with REALMstudios Landscape Architects, to revitalise the Centre, transforming it into a contemporary landmark engaging the community and activating the neighbourhoods around it.
A key strategy to this transformation is changing the way the centre responds to its site and surroundings. While the existing complex occupies a prominent position, the current spatial organisation is focused almost entirely inward. An opportunity presents to interact with the outside world, maximising engagement and dynamism at street level.
To address this, the new design is founded on a deep understanding of place, focusing on the character and quality of the directly adjacent Lane Cove River, its riparian valley, and its spatial, tectonic, ecological and material richness. This understanding informs the overall design at all levels, from urban integration, architectural form and access and circulation through to materiality, colour and atmospheric and lighting effects.
A new public plaza will be the entrance to the Centre as well as offering generous spatial amenity for the community. The plaza will create connectivity between the Centre, the university, the various transport hubs and the pedestrian routes surrounding it. Additional entrances to the natural interior and a fully open threshold with the plaza will encourage greater interaction between public space and activities, and the resources of the centre, while also providing a new venue for community events and performances.
The plaza will be defined by two building wings of the centre, each creating a headland framing the space, and defining its urban form. The headlands will be embellished with native planting, while the remaining façade elements will function as an ever-changing skin, transforming through different light levels, enhanced by both daylight and night-time lighting. Inspired by the surfaces, textures and play of light on tree trunks and rock surfaces within the Lane Cove River gorge, the perforated, shimmering and changing metallic skin will be set in front of a coloured background, glimpsed through the façade during the day, and shining colour vividly through the screen when lit up at night.
The inspiration taken from the Lane Cove River gorge will inform the design of the Centre’s interior, which will focus on an interior landscaped gorge. Journeys through this space will be illuminated by dappled light filtered through a raised parasol roof, creating a constantly changing play of natural light. A perforated screen element will shield the Centre’s interior from the western sun, while biophilic design elements – such as green walls, suspended planting and water features – will help naturalise the interior, forming an oasis-style microclimate. More than simply a retail destination, the Centre will become a place to meet, socialise and play.
Increased leisure and entertainment tenancies will prompt a more exciting night-time economy, with an appeal to the local student population, as well as neighbouring residences. And the hero attraction will be the redesigned Olympic sized ice rink.
The design for the new rink plays off the atmospheric landscape references informing the redesign - is conceived of as an ethereal cloud suspended over the solid architectural forms. Clad with a perforated, reflective panel, the rink will float over the tree canopy of Macquarie Park, evoking a cloud rolling in over the headlands of Sydney’s Harbour. A digital screen fronting the plaza will mark the entry to the rink, displaying interactive art reflecting its presence and purpose. An iconic facility that is already a source of such community pride to local residents will become a visual icon and a landmark in the community.
With the whole precinct employing environmentally sustainable design strategies that will secure it a 5 Green Star rating, the end result will be a recognisable, memorable landmark, one that becomes the jewel in the crown for local retail and entertainment.
The design was a truly collaborative process with all participants making significant contributions within an inclusive workshop process.