Jean Nouvel’s One Central Park Lights Up the Dull Low-rise Neighborhoods in Sydney

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Jean Nouvel has consistently shown a fondness for vegetation, firmly asserting its place within the lingual arsenal of architecture. His firm belief in incorporating green living walls into buildings has never been more evident than in the One Central Park towers in Sydney. Situated in Sydney, Australia's Central Business District, these two towers are not only a striking entrance into the CBD from the West, but also an imposing landmark that lies at the city's bustling heart.

The development comprises of a sky garden, a pool, restaurants, 623 apartments, a shopping centre, a recreational podium and a private gymnasium pool for use by the residents who live in these apartments. The two towers include an 18 storey tower referred to as the One Central Park West and a 34 storey tower known as One Central Park East.

In collaboration with artist and botanist Patrick Blanc and Sydney-based architects PTW, Ateliers Jean Nouvel designed the two towers linking both of them with an expansive recreation podium and a shopping centre that is 3 stories high hence “Central.” Like a musical composition, the integration of the planters into the façades of the building, coupled with the cantilevered garden at the top which also features a cantilevered heliostat, the concept to marry technology, vegetation and aesthetics together bore fruits.

The cantilevered Sky garden begins from level 29 of the taller tower - One Central Park East - and is held in position by steel trusses that embed into the building. It is the most defining feature of the tower, yet it can only be experienced by the occupants of the penthouses at the very top levels – testament that some experiences don’t come cheap.

To access the Sky garden, Jean Nouvel designed a bridge encased in transparent red glass as the garden’s access from within the 29th floor.

It’s a cheeky welcome to the fact that you will be standing on top of a cantilevered garden somewhere 100 metres above the ground with an amazing view to the city including a terraced plunge pool, mobile sun-lounging benches and an outdoor kitchen.

Directly below the Sky garden is the heliostat system, on the 28th floor. The taller tower casts a very huge shadow onto it’s own site which has a 64,000 sq.m garden between the two towers. It also casts a shadow on parts of the 3 storey podium. This meant that there was need to find how to remove the shade into the large landscaped garden and the podium. The solution was a heliostat system that would reflect sunlight onto the shaded vertical walls and down to the main garden. The heliostat that is cantilevered at the top is only part of the whole feature. More mirrors were placed on top of the shorter tower and designed to use sensors which help them move in relation to the sun in order to facilitate the whole process. Sunlight strikes the heliostat system on top of the shorter tower, the heliostat reflects the light onto the cantilevered heliostat which in turn directs this light into the main garden below it. It’s a simple process but it works.

Lighting designer, Yann Kersale, created a masterpiece of his own with the heliostat. By incorporating a designed lighting system, at night the heliostat isn’t just moving mirrors but a lively artwork of lighting installations that move around in the sky just like fireworks. The heliostat therefore acts as a lit aesthetically-sound architectural feature during the night, viewable from miles away within the city.

The vertical gardens are contained in polyethylene planters which can span a whole 2 km length if lined up one next to the other. The whole development features 350 different species which have various changes across the year, with a total of 35,000 plants. You would think that asking plants to grow at 100 metres above the ground is so absurd especially in the sun-blasted city of Sydney, but it appears that the plants are blossoming and with the special care given to them some are even flowering.

With this special development that would probably have been just normal towers were it not for the vertical plants, heliostat, sky garden, and the main garden, Jean Nouvel managed to bring into proper use a site that was embattled in disputes for years after it was strongly misused and polluted by an old brewery for two centuries. This is only one of the buildings to be accommodated on the 14-acre disused site. However, when Norman Foster + Partners look at the master plan they created in collaboration with Ateliers Jean Nouvel, there will be some relief that 97,000 sqm of space both on land and above the ground was used well; that there is hope for the massive site that was such an eyesore to neighbourhoods for many years. It’s a good beginning. The citizens will know that they have a 64,000 sqm garden they can visit any time they want. It’s proof that sometimes the bad things happen so the good things can fall in place.

Step into another visionary creation by Jean Nouvel with a virtual tour of National Museum Of Qatar, a remarkable architectural wonder that exemplifies his groundbreaking style.

Project Information
Lead Architects: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Location: Sydney, Australia
Botanist: Patrick Blanc
Lighting Designer: Yann Kersale
Completed: 2014
GFA: 97,000 sq. m.
Photography: Ateliers Jean Nouvel, PTW

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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