The award-winning development changing the way design is done in Sydney
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The award-winning development changing the way design is done in Sydney

Quay Quarter Lanes won the Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design in last week’s Australian Institute of Architects awards

By Robyn Willis
Mon, Nov 7, 2022 9:20amGrey Clock 3 min

I t’s 6pm on a weeknight and already, basement bar Apollonia on Young Street is full. Earlier in the day, queues snake along Loftus Lane as customers wait their turn to order lunch at Marrickville Pork Roll. It’s the same story at nearby Hinchcliff House, where it can take weeks to book a table at the busy restaurant.

While Quay Quarter Laneways at Sydney’s Circular Quay has picked up a number of awards, including the Lord Mayor’s Prize for Architecture and the Urban Design Award, it is perhaps the locals who offer the best measure of its success. For architect Shaun Carter, director of CarterWilliamson, it’s a delight to see so many people engaging with this part of the city.

“Before we started working on the laneway, it was scary,” he says. 

Made up of five buildings – two existing heritage buildings and three new – Quay Quarter Lanes, tucked in behind the historic Customs House is the result of an eight-year process involving five architectural studios. While Loftus Lane is the main through way for visitors, 9 Young Street by Studio Bright, 15 and 11 Young Street by SJB and 18 Loftus Street by Silvester Fuller are home to several floors of apartments, as well as roof gardens and terraces, balancing privacy with world class views of Circular Quay. Two of the new buildings will also have office, retail and hospitality spaces.

Hinchciff House, one of only two surviving woolstores at Circular Quay, became the focus for the studio of CarterWilliamson while Lippmann Partnership took on Gallipoli Memorial Club. 

Engaging five leading (but not large) Sydney architecture studios to collaborate on Quay Quarter Lanes, rather than one firm, is a marked departure from the way redevelopment has been done in Sydney. ASPECT Studios took responsibility for the landscape and urban design for both Quay Quarter Lanes and the adjacent Quay Quarter Tower. 

Co-ordinating architect and SJB director Adam Haddow says bringing in five studios to work across the 2,200sqm site allowed for greater attention to be given to even the smallest aspects of each building.

“The best architecture is about smallness and specificity,” Haddow says. “Each building had its own site foreman and architect leading it. When you can form a team of diverse thinkers who can work those issues out between boundaries, you get great results.”

Although the buildings are quite different, the expectation was that they would make room for each other to be their best selves. This required a lot of conversations between architectural practices.

“It was a bit like herding cats,” Haddow admits. “But if you leave a project in one set of hands, no matter how good those hands are, they are spread thinly. If you can get many hands doing small things there is ‘bigness’.” 

Carter says the collective met on site on a weekly basis to discuss progress of their work and how it would relate to the other buildings.

“It was like State of Origin where you have all the best players on the one team and they all had to play their part in the retelling of a Sydney block. But it only works if you have great players on the team,” Carter says. 

“We met every Thursday and everyone would be tired because of the level of commitment -which was outstanding – but it meant often we weren’t getting enough sleep.”

Drawing on the history of the site, the palette is varied and yet sympathetic, leaning into the texture and warmth of brick for the new buildings and reviving the beauty of the original sandstone for the existing buildings.

In some parts, new brickwork curves upwards, like it has been peeled back from the building. Other parts have arched ceilings finished in finely worked plaster.

“When we started having conversations we had six teams working on how to define ‘place’,” Haddow says. “ASPECT found references to the ‘pleasure grounds’ that they created near Customs House in the early 1800s where people used to come together.”

Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones was selected to design a number of artworks that have been integrated into the site, from ‘oyster shells’ embedded into mortar lines as a reference to Indigenous middens once found on this site, to ‘fish scales’ using green marble from the demolished lobby of 50 Bridge Street. 

“There was a strong narrative of people coming together on the site,” says Haddow. 

Tucked in behind the heritage protected Customs House, the development also needed to take site lines to Circular Quay and the harbour into account. Once again, the coordinated collaboration paid dividends.

“All the buildings look down on Customs House,” he says. “Ours was the tallest building at the back so we consolidated the aircon plant so that not every building has to have that ugly service part to it. All the rubbish is also collected in one spot.”

For Haddow, it’s also the rubbish that has been his measure of the success of this project.

“When people really live somewhere, they take care of it and look after it,” he says. “I noticed one evening that there was a guy walking along picking up rubbish and I thought ‘you live here’.”

Lucky guy.

See more stories like this in the first issue of Kanebridge Quarterly magazine here.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch

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Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.

When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.

“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.

With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.

Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lotsdealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.

“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”

Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.

Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.

“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.

A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.

A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”

At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.

Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.

“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.

While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.

The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.

“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.

There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.

Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.

Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.

Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”

Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”

Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.

“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.

Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.

Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.

While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.

“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.

It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.

“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.


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