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Former Sydney Harbour submarine base to be redeveloped as public space

Former Sydney Harbour submarine base to be redeveloped as public space
August 8, 2017

The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has released a proposal for the transformation of HMAS Platypus, the former submarine base in North Sydney, allowing access to an area of Sydney’s foreshore not publicly accessible in more than 140 years.

Architects Lahznimmo and landscape architects Aspect Studios have completed a concept for a $23.8 million project to transform the site that would see existing and newly created entrances to the site converge on a new public plaza dubbed ‘Arrival Square’, which will also include a new restaurant.

Currently open for public consultation, the architects and landscape architects explain in a design statement that “all architectural injections into the site aim to be non-invasive and ‘touch the site lightly,’ retaining both the existing industrial language and ecological ecosystems found on the site.”

Located in Neutral Bay, in the north of Sydney Harbour, HMAS Platypus has been closed to the public for more than 140 years. Established as a gasworks in 1875 by the NSW Government, the site was acquired by the Federal Government in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and converted for use as a torpedo factory and service facility for naval vessels. In 1967 the site was commissioned as a naval base, becoming home to Australia’s newly acquired fleet of six Oberon-class submarines.

In 2015 then Federal Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, Jamie Briggs, announced that the Federal Government would fund the Trust to open the site to the public, following the completion of a six-year-long decontamination and remediation of the site.

The site comprises buildings on two distinct levels: the larger, sea-level space contains the former submarine school and a naval workshop, which sit parallel to the submarine wharf, and a smaller office building to the south; a smaller, upper level holds a coal store building and a car park.

The plan also proposes the re-use the large, former Royal Australian Navy Torpedo Maintenance Establishment (RANTME) factory building, which occupies the south-eastern edge of the site, by setting back the sides of the building and opening it up.

It is envisaged that the building could be used for a studios, workshops, exhibitions, performance space or fitness facilities.

Space will be made for Arrival Square by demolishing a three-storey office building between the submarine school and the RANTME factory building. Currently underway, the office is the only structure on the site that the architects propose to remove.

The most significant additions to the HMAS Platypus site is a proposed ‘clip-on’ staircase and a free-standing elevator tower that will ‘cling to the landscape’ and negotiate the upper and lower levels of the site. The base of the elevator tower would connect with an existing sandstone tunnel that terminates at the proposed Arrival Square.

The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust was established in 1998 to manage Federally owned land around Sydney Harbour that had formerly been used for defence purposes. While the sites were initially planned to be sold for commercial redevelopment, community backlash resulted in the Federal Government’s decision to establish the trust, which has a mandate to open the sites up for public use and manages sites including Cockatoo Island, the Macquarie Lightstation and Woolwich Dock.

The trust is inviting the public to provide feedback on the proposal, with submissions closing on 16th August.

Submissions should be made by email to consulttrust@harbourtrust.gov.au

Click here to visit the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust website.

Images: An Oberon-class submarine alongside HMAS Platypus (top, courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy), the plan for the site by architects Lahznimmo and landscape architects Aspect Studios (middle) and the office building (ringed) that will be demolished to create a new landscaped open space and improved views to and from the site (below).

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