Central Park: reaching new residential heights

Sydney’s A$2bn Central Park has been named the best tall building in the world, an exemplar for modern, sustainable living. David Hatcher went Down Under to see how it reaches new heights

Central Park, the predominantly residential A$2bn development in the Chippendale district south of Sydney city centre, was designed with environmental sustainability at its core. A 100m vertical sky garden and distinctive heliostat are perhaps the most visible evidence of this ambition.

Delve deeper and you will find a low-carbon natural gas power plant that supplies Central Park from four storeys underground. There is also the largest residential water-recycling plant in the world.

These and many other features have made Central Park one of the most celebrated developments of recent years. It is heralded as an exemplar for modern living in a city that struggles with affordability, space and social integration.

But is it just a glorified sustainability tick-box exercise with a few bells and whistles for show? Or has this project, developed jointly by Frasers Property Australia and Sekisui House Australia, truly pushed the boundaries of urban living?

Green machine

At the heart of the scheme is One Central Park – the first building completed, in 2013. A year later, it was hailed as the best tall building in the world by the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, and last year it was crowned the world’s best innovative green building at the 2015 MIPIM Awards.

Overlooking the dense metropolis to Sydney’s north, the Jean Nouvel-designed One Central Park is a striking piece of modern architecture that can be spotted from a long distance away.

The cascading greenery that twins up and down the building and along each level makes the whole structure less aggressive on the eye than other rigid developments of its era. Comprising 7km of planter boxes, the vertical garden, masterminded by French artistic botanist Patrick Blanc, is the highest in the world.

The 384ft tall building also boasts a peacocking heliostat which, from some angles, appears to float in the sky. In the middle of a summer’s day, when Sydneysiders are keen to get out of the sun, it might not seem to serve much of a purpose. But in the early mornings and late afternoons, it’s a different story. Mirrors on the building’s lower roof reflect sunlight onto the heliostat, which then reflects it onto the ground below, eliminating the shadows that the building would normally cast. And its usefulness doesn’t stop there.

It also acts as a solar panel to power various elements of the building, contributing to its six-green-star rating, and at night its 2,500 coloured LED lights illuminate to form a pattern on the underside of the platform that changes according to the seasons.

Turnaround and turnover

So far, so sustainable, but how successful is Central Park for the people who use it?

The development is on a site that was once the home of Carlton & United Breweries. It was bought by Frasers for A$208m in 2007, when it was known as a “no-go” area for the public. The turnaround in the area’s fortunes is impressive. It now boasts inclusive spaces abuzz with students from the equally inspiring Frank Gehry-designed University of Technology opposite.

Central Park is the brainchild of the irrepressibly energetic and enthusiastic Dr Stanley Quek (right), Frasers’ chairman in Australia. Obsessed with efficiency and best use of space, the Singaporean GP-turned-property developer has paid particular attention to getting the most out of the building.

Prices for a one-bedroom, 581 sq ft apartment start at A$990,000, and at those cost levels, Quek is under pressure to deliver desirability in a small area, so a lot of glass and mirrors run throughout the development to maximise the amount of perceived space. But even more thought has gone into small details that can make a big difference.

“The units are smaller, so the prices are more affordable,” says Quek, scurrying around the show home. “You have smaller kitchens, but you can get everything in here. Instead of a microwave and an oven, we have a microwave and oven combined. Instead of a big dishwasher, we have a small drawer dishwasher. These are the simple things that help.”

Quek says the market is willing to pay high prices for smaller apartments partly due to a change in behaviour by the youthful demographic that aspires to live at Central Park. 

“You have an outdoor eating district that I designed and the weather is good for it. It’s a lifestyle,” he says. 

“People don’t want to eat in smaller [apartments] and cook. No one has big kitchens any more, other than families with young children”

Almost all the apartments have been sold. About half went to overseas buyers and the other half are domestic, but most of the working population are priced out. Frasers capped the price point of the apartments at A$2.5m to A$3m, having taken the view that buyers prepared to pay more are likely to be drawn to traditional high-end areas of Sydney, such as Darling Point.

Taking account of the evolution of family lives, Frasers has included 354 two-bedroom “dual-key” flats that have separate front doors, accessed by a small shared porch. “If a young couple wants to buy, they can then rent the other half out and this can pay their mortgage,” says Quek. “Maybe later they earn more money, have a kid and they can take it back. Perhaps in later life they want their parents to move back in.”

No residential development will ever be perfect and in cities as desirable as Sydney, there will always be problems of affordability and lack of space. But Central Park has created a feeling of community and practicality, from which other future projects could learn.

A resident’s view

Graham, 60, finance recruitment consultant

I lived in Potts Point, the eastern part of the city, until 18 months ago. It’s about a similar distance from the CBD to here. I lived there 13 years and I needed a change.

I did some reconnaissance, but this was always on my radar. Every time I went out this way, you would see the building going up and up, the shape and the form, and the unique architecture, which is just sublime.

I paid A$1.5m for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom [apartment] that is just slightly smaller than the place in Potts Point that I sold for A$2.5m. As well as the apartment, it’s about the environment and what Central Park represents.

It’s vibrant and I’m here as a lifestyle choice. There are more art galleries in Chippendale than anywhere else in Sydney and I’m an art fiend and collect sculpture.

Being 60, I probably bring the average age up a bit, but with everyone in their 20s and 30s generally, it’s a good feeling being around here.

Public art

In the new 69,000 sq ft green space at the centre of Central Park sits a A$1m art piece called Halo.

Designed by Jennifer Turpin and Michaelie Crawford, the wind-activated kinetic sculpture comprises a grey metal arm revolving around a seemingly gravity-defying 12-metre-wide gold ring that hangs 13 metres up in the air.

The entire weight of the carbon-fibre ring and arm rests on a ceramic bearing the size of a small marble.

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