'Magical' Sydney site takes out prestigious architectural award
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‘Magical’ Sydney site takes out prestigious architectural award

The indigenous-led design was among more than 80 winners at the NSW Australian Institute of Architects awards

By Robyn Willis
Tue, Jul 2, 2024 8:29amGrey Clock 4 min

Shannon Foster talks a lot about the magic of place.

A D’harawal eora Knowledge Keeper, Dr Foster and her partner Wugulora woman Jo Paterson at Sydney-based indigenous design consultancy Bangawarra believe that when we truly engage with the environment and its traditional custodians, something special occurs.

Last week, something special did happen.

Foster and Paterson were awarded the NSW Australian Institute of Architects NSW Medallion for Sydney’s north head viewing platforms, which they designed in collaboration with fellow recipients, Sydney architectural firm CHOFRI. 

Dr Foster is still trying to process the win.

“You see all these amazing projects, these big elaborate buildings worth millions of dollars and they award this to our project,” she says. “I didn’t even know there was a NSW Medallion.”

The project, which provides space to contemplate views of the endless Pacific Ocean in one direction and the celebrated Sydney Harbour in the other, is shaped by the bandicoots that inhabit the local area, as well as the unique position the locations hold in indigenous communities. Dr Foster says the site, known as Car-rang gel by local indigenous people, has been used to celebrate Gawura, the whale and Car-rang, the pelican, for centuries, and is a popular spot for whale watching.

The North Head Viewing Platforms are a popular spot for whale watching. Image: Clinton Weaver

“We wanted to put a fire circle in the middle of each lookout because it’s a circular space and you can see the smoke (from long distances) and fire circles are used for important events like initiation ceremonies, but it’s up to National Parks and Wildlife Service (who manage the site). 

“It’s a stunning place and when you visit, you get the full understanding of the scale. We are creating these spots where something magical can happen.”

Parramatta Aquatic Centre, designed by Grimshaw and Andrew Burges Architects with McGregor Coxall won the Sulman Prize.

The project was among 82 winners announced at the state awards held in Sydney over the weekend. Other winners included Grimshaw and Andrew Burges Architects with McGregor Coxall, who were awarded the prestigious Sulman Medal for Parramatta Aquatic Centre, Studio Bright, who won the Wilkinson Award for Maitland Bay House, Bates Smart, who won the Aaron Bolot Award for their multi-residential project, Iglu Mascot, SJB, who won the Premier’s Prize for the Nightingale Project and Candalepas Associates, who were awarded The Greenway Award for The Porter House Hotel.

Studio Bright won the Wilkinson Award for Maitland Bay House. Image: Rory Gardiner

The North Head Viewing Platforms also took out the Robert Woodward Award for Small Project Architecture.

While Dr Foster is thrilled to have received the award for the work Bangawarra did alongside CHOFRI, which was largely managed through COVID lockdowns, she says Indigenous voices were still under-represented in awards for the built environment.

“Our project, other than one at Redfern Station (by Nguluway DesignInc), was the only one with an Indigenous collaborator,” she says. “There is a startling lack of meaningful collaboration with Country. 

“I was quite shocked there was not much of an Aboriginal presence at the awards.”

She says acknowledging Australia’s Indigenous past and laying down connection for the future is about more than choosing a few native plants for the perimeter of the site.

The shape of the North Head Viewing Platforms take their cues from the bandicoots that frequent the area. Image: Clinton Weaver

“We always asked ourselves: how can we do this really well and make sure these stories are told? Every aspect of the built form can be informed by Country,” she says.

In announcing the award, the AIA jury said designing with, and for, Country honoured First Nations perspectives and values.

“At its core, this project is about fostering relationships with Country that are reciprocal and respectful,” the jury said. “It involves engaging with Indigenous knowledge and recognises that Country is not merely a backdrop for human activities but a living entity with its own agency and significance.

“Both the southmost platform, Burragula (the time of sunset), and the northern viewing platform, Yiningma (a cliff edge) understands its responsibilities to engage meaningfully; creating poetic, generous ways to share stories and opportunities for learning, and create a truly meaningful connection with Country.”

While the viewing platforms may appear to sit modestly in the landscape, Dr Foster says they reveal their charms to those who take the time to contemplate.

“When you stand in that space, the acoustics are extraordinary — the sound reverberates and circles back to you. It’s incredible,” she says. 

“Country is amazing and if you hold space, you get magic.”



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The roughly 5-acre property—which is in a gated community and spans a massive 38,000 square feet—includes an indoor sports court with an adjacent gym and games room, according to the listing with Santiago Arana of the Agency. The firm declined to comment.

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Built in 2000, the house has 12 bedrooms and a whopping 24 bathrooms. The resort-sized property has the amenities to match, including a V-shaped pool with views over the surrounding hills, a detached two-bedroom guardhouse and a 5,000-square-foot guest penthouse, according to the listing.

Listing images of the house show that Lopez and Affleck have spent the past year warming up what were fairly white-washed interiors when they purchased the home. There’s now a rich, green-painted dining room, hardwood floors and carpeted over cold, polished-stone flooring.

The couple, who got married in 2022 after reuniting some 20 years after they called off their engagement in the early 2000s, purchased the megamansion following a house hunt that went on for several months, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

Representatives for Lopez, 54, and Affleck, 51, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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