Posts by William Feuerman:

Articles By: william feuerman

Billy is a “New Yorker”  via Los Angeles and San Francisco, who is currently living in Sydney, Australia. Billy has his own design practice, Office Feuerman, and is faculty at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). He received a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University and a Bachelors of Architecture from the California College of the Arts. He has taught in architecture programs at Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania and Pratt Institute.

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At first glance, the gleaming blue harbour with the view of the Sydney’s Harbour Bridge in the distance does not seem like an appropriate setting for a monorail, a form of public transportation reminiscent of Disneyland. But over time this odd piece of urban infrastructure grows on you, not for what it is or what does but the unique interfaces that it has with Sydney. But on June 30th, the Monorail will cease operation, begging the question: What will become of the infrastructure?

Since it was first proposed in 1984, the monorail has been a contentious piece of transport infrastructure. Its original incarnation was aimed to stitch together redevelopments in Darling Harbour with Chinatown and the Central Business District (CBD). However, after 24 years of operation, it has reached the end of its economically viable life. In March 2012, the New South Wales government purchased Metro Transport Sydney, consequently announcing that the Monorail would be removed. In a contrasting move, Sydney’s light rail line will revert to public ownership with what the state government is calling a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to fix public transport in the CBD.


Just outside my bedroom window a sliver of the Bourke Street Bicycle Route  passes by; a slice of Sydney’s network of cycleways which is continuing to grow, branching, meandering and extending throughout the city and beyond. When I first arrived in Sydney in October of 2010, construction was underway. As with any infrastructure project, it was a bit of a nuisance and lots of people complained but almost a year later it has transformed Bourke Street into a bustling promenade.

Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, the visionary behind the project, described the route in 2007 as “an early part of our ambitious Cycling Strategy to increase the cycling route network to almost 200 kilometers.”  Today this vision is becoming a reality and it seems to be popular, proven by a 60 percent increase in cycle numbers in inner Sydney alone between 2010 and 2011. The completion of the Bridge to Bridge Route between the Anzac and Sydney Harbour Bridges and the Bourke Street Bicycle Route is only a sampling of what is to come.

As with many urban infrastructure projects there is controversy. The New South Wales (NSW) Premier has now publicly stated that he has a different vision for the cycleways and who should control the continued development of the network. Certainly many car-centric citizens also oppose the bike lanes, a familiar problem in NYC where cars, pedestrians and cyclists are completely oblivious of one another.

While these new bicycle interventions can create a bit of confusion and frustration (I have nearly been bulldozed by a cyclist on more than one occasion and they can really disrupt traffic), time will allow the unfamiliar to become familiar. For now, the City of Sydney will have to continue spreading its public education campaign slogan proclaiming, “The road is there to share, remember bicycles are vehicles too.”    It’s the future and in order to make Sydney a global city, the development of a synthesized bicycle network is a step that needs to be taken.

Sydney has sampled from bicycle friendly cities around the world (such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam, long famous for their biking culture, or New York and Paris who have only more recently incorporated the bike into the urban environment) to create its own system that will hopefully, as planned, continue to evolve and grow as part of Sydney 2030, a vision to make Sydney a more sustainable city. The lanes are already reducing congestion on roads and public transportation, cutting emissions while improving public health by making people more active. The city has done a great job to help encourage the use of the network providing free cycling courses, hosting cycling events throughout the city, and even providing route maps for inner city paths including the Foodies Ride, the Inner West Art Ride and more.

So with questions brewing about the future of the bike lanes, I decided to take it upon myself to better understand one of the newest additions to Sydney’s street infrastructure and really see how it has transformed the neighborhoods with which it intersects. Stretching 4.3 kilometres from Woolloomooloo to Waterloo, the Bourke Street Bicycle Route (or the “Loo to Loo” as it is sometimes called) links Sydney’s crystal blue harbour to a newly developed urban residential village.

The newly paved cycleways provide riders with their own two-way dedicated lanes. At times these paths transform into pedestrian and bicycle shared pathways (pedestrians have the right of way) and other times vehicle and bicycle shared lanes (the cyclists have the right of way and are encouraged to take up the lane, causing a major annoyance for drivers; you can’t make everyone happy all the time).

Climbing steep hills, passing through industrial, commercial and residential neighborhoods, juxtaposing both garbage and glamour, the chic and seedy, the route stitches together snapshots of Sydney life. It alone has activated its surroundings, generating business, while changing the relationship between pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle.

The route begins (or ends) in Woolloomooloo, historically a lower-working class dockland district, recently gentrified into a new, exclusive waterfront neighborhood. Woolloomooloo is a nice place to spend a couple of hours exploring. The Finger Wharf, the largest timbered-piled building in the world, sits on the harbour’s edge looking at Navy ships to one side and the city’s Central Business District (CBD) to the other. I recommend eating an Aussie meat pie at the renowned Harry’s Cafe de Wheels (you can burn the calories on the bike).

Heading south on Bourke Street from Woolloomooloo the changing nature of the neighborhood begins to reveal itself. Pricey residences neighbor public housing as new businesses open. One such business is Sable & Argent, a “two-wheel lifestyle concept store”  complete with shop, bike service and café, strategically placed along the cycleway’s edge.

The bike path then passes William Street, one of Sydney’s major thoroughfares connecting the eastern suburbs to the CBD while acting as a filter to city tunnels and freeways (it also serves as a popular pick up point for prostitutes). The path then runs by one of my favorite eating spots, Miss Chu’s, a Vietnamese tuck shop/street food stand. “Queen of rice paper rolls,”  Miss Chu’s is designed for the modern eater on the go. Order at the window and either eat it at the low tables they have dispersed on the sidewalk or hop on your bike and take the food with you.

Legs will burn on the next part of the route as the bike begins to climb the steeply-sloped Darlinghurst streets. You will pass by charming multi-colored terrace houses, small parks, new cafes, and even a former Jail, remnants of Sydney’s convict past. As you reach Oxford Street, another of Sydney’s major thoroughfares, a small break may be necessary. It’s a good chance to take a quick look at the Darlinghurst Courthouse, see the current public art project in Taylor Square or stop at the weekend farmers market.

Crossing Oxford Street and Taylor Square you are introduced to Surry Hills, another neighborhood that has gone through major transformation in the last decade. As the route moves further away from Oxford Street, the scale and seediness of Bourke Street shifts dramatically.

As one traverses south, the street becomes narrower, with a periphery mixed with both large-scale residential and commercial spaces. You’ll pass the St Margaret’s residential development, a former maternity hospital transformed into a residential complex with a large public plaza that houses markets, cafes, restaurants and the Object Gallery, part of the Australian Centre for Design.

Further along, the tree-canopied street is aligned with beautifully renovated Victorian residences now selling for prices that would have never been anticipated. There are a lot of surrounding places and spaces to be explored along the edges of the bike path (including the intimate maze of laneways which hide a multiplicity of boutiques, restaurants and galleries such as the must-see Brett Whitely Studio).

In the midst of Surry Hills lies one of Sydney’s most famous bakeries, the Bourke Street Bakery.  Everything is made by hand and melts in your mouth, not to mention it’s a good spot to take a break and caffeinate. Following a little indulgence, the ride continues”¦

Only a little more to go; passing Cleveland Street the scale quickly shifts from small, to big, to small. As the path slopes up towards Waterloo, signs defining the end of the route and telling cyclists to dismount become a repetitive feature.

I must confess, I don’t ride a bike. It’s not that I don’t like to cycle it’s just that I don’t own a bicycle and I tend to choose walking over any other form of “transportation”  (it’s the New Yorker in me). To research, I walked from one edge of the route to the other. Even when having to dodge cyclists along the way, it is still an enjoyable and diverse collage of Sydney life. In a period of 90 minutes I managed to see swarms of jelly fish swimming in the city’s harbour, walk along tree-canopied streets lined with charming, colorful terrace houses, and stop at some of Sydney’s best known eateries. Not bad.

Maybe I will buy a bike. If I can get on my bike, then maybe all of Sydney can as well”¦

William Feuerman is a New Yorker (via Los Angeles and San Francisco) who is currently living in Sydney, Australia. He is the principal of Office Feuerman, a Sydney based design office, and is faculty at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). You can follow him on twitter @OfficeFeuerman.

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Manhattan has a river that clearly defines its edge. Paris has a highway, the Périphérique, which can be considered the division of city and suburb. Sydney itself is massive; one of the largest cities in its land size with over 300 suburbs. To the east lies the Pacific Ocean. Surrounding the Central Business District (CBD) are hundreds of village like neighborhoods which begin to expand in size over an area more than 4,500 square miles, reaching west towards a majestic mountain range which serves as the city’s boundary.

Drive one hour out of the city center in any direction and you can be surrounded by native wildlife like kangaroos and wombats (which unfortunately are also often road kill), koalas, sleeping in trees, sheep running in herds. You could be swimming at secluded white sand beaches amidst dolphins, drinking wine in the various vineyard regions, or climbing sandstone plateaus in world heritage listed habitats.

90 minutes west of Sydney, bordering the Sydney metropolitan area, you reach the dramatic Blue Mountains. The region itself is recognized by UNESCO as providing “outstanding universal value”  because of its eucalypt habitats. Its dramatic sandstone peaks and valleys stretch across more than two million acres.

The name, as the visitor information explains, comes from the blue haze that covers the valley, produced by dripping eucalyptus oil. “The atmosphere is filled with finely dispersed droplets of oil from eucalyptus trees, which, in combination with dust particles and water vapor, scatter short-wave length rays of light which are predominantly blue in color.”  You can smell the eucalyptus as you ascend and descend the mountains (factoid: eucalyptus, native to Australia, was brought to California in the 1850s by Aussie Gold Rushers).

The Three Sisters, the Blue Mountain’s most visited attraction, is an awe inspiring site. Three dramatic rock formations have been transformed over time by different forces of weather (wind, rain,etc). The Three Sisters, standing around 3,000 plus feet above sea level, gets its name from an aboriginal dream legend, although there are two different stories that are believed. The first was a case of Romeo and Juliet, the second a story of a witchdoctor father protecting his daughters from a Bunyip, a frightening aboriginal mythical creature.

While I am not one to advocate for which is right or wrong, as somewhat of a romantic, I tend to lean towards the Shakespearean version. It’s a story of three sisters from the Katoomba tribe falling in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe. With tribal law forbidding intermarriage, the brothers decided to capture the sisters, resulting in battle. With the lives of the three sisters threatened, a witchdoctor turned them to stone for protection. Unfortunate circumstances led to the witchdoctor’s death and the spell was never reversed. To this day the three sisters stand tall and bold at the edge of a sweeping blue veiled valley, stranded in solitary confinement for an eternity.

Millions of visitors every year come to this site to see the Three Sisters and to explore the array of attractions that the Blue Mountains has to offer. Quaint hidden towns, such as Leura, where I stopped for a high tea, are just a turn off from the main highway. The scenery’s color resembles what I think of when I think of the American west-orangish, reddish, brown, sandstone except you can add to that the lushness and infinite continuity of the eucalyptus tree. One can explore the many surrounding bushwalks to experience a diverse mix of rainforest, canyons, tall forests and heathlands. As a foreigner, it is both a familiar and unfamiliar place.

For even more exposure to the wanders of the Blue Mountains you can go to Scenic World, a former coal mine turned amusement/scenic park. With several attractions designed around experiencing the Blue Mountain’s different environments. One can ride the Skyway, with its glass floor, hovering more than 2,300 feet above Katoomba Falls with views of the Three Sisters and the expanse of the Jamison Valley in the distance. One can ride the steepest incline railway in the world, a former track for transporting coal to Sydney, taking you through cliff side tunnels and down to an ancient rainforest (I have to admit, it’s a lot of fun).

And if you want to extend your Blue Mountain adventure by another day (which is well worth it) take an additional one-and-a-half-hour drive (along some dirt roads = make sure your tank is full of gasoline) to the Jenolan Caves, the oldest discovered system of open caves in the world. It’s extraordinarily beautiful. First the approach- a windy two lane road barely the width of one car meets an even narrower bridge that opens up to a massive rock with a road carved through it. At the end of the road the Edwardian style Jenolan Caves House (the only place to stay) appears isolated in a lush valley, surrounded by crystal-filled limestone mountains.

Discovered in 1838 by a convict bushranger, the caves themselves are still undergoing active exploration but many have been made accessible to the general public accommodating over 250,000 visitors a year. You can choose between the 11 tours, some more advanced than others. I went with the masses and joined the most popular tour of the Lucas Cave. Named after the man that pushed to have the caves preserved in the 1860’s, the tour takes you on a magical journey through a variety of chambers, some so narrow and short that you have to watch every step, others as tall as a sixteen storey building.

The temperature dramatically drops as you enter the dark caves and descend into what feels like Chutes and Ladders (known in Australia as Snakes and Ladders). It’s totally surreal as you move through the varying environments that have been formed by the forces of nature.

Water drips form the range of stalactites hanging from above. Stalagmites rise from the floor due to the dripping of mineralized solutions and the deposition of calcium carbonate. When the formation is continuous from ceiling to ground it forms a column. It’s visually stunning. Like nothing I have ever seen before. The two hour tour takes you through the Cathedral Chamber, acclaimed for its acoustics and the location of monthly concerts, above streaming rivers hundreds of feet below you and past the Broken Column, apparently the “most photographed limestone formation at Jenolan.”  It is well worth the visit!

Three hours later and you can be home with a cocktail in hand, reminiscing about the flying ant plague you encountered (no joke, one of the most violating experiences of my life); the caves you climbed; some of the oldest land formations in the world you explored; and the amazing wildlife you saw. I think I now know what the Pet Shop Boys had in mind when they wrote the lyrics, “go west, life is peaceful there, go west, in the open air, go west, where the skies are blue, this is what we are going to do.”  Now I need to craft the next getaway”¦

William Feuerman is a New Yorker (via Los Angeles and San Francisco) who is currently living in Sydney, Australia. He is the principal of Office Feuerman, a Sydney based design office, and is faculty at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). You can follow him on twitter @OfficeFeuerman.

Photo of poster for the exhibition Convict Sydney at the Hyde Park Barracks

Most every nation has its legends of founders and pioneers, of promising shores and liberating revolutions. Australia, on the other hand, is a penal colony. Dating from the 1770s to the 1840s, its first arrivals and eldest grandfathers were at best, larrikins (Aussie slang, for a bloke who is always enjoying himself), and at worse, serious skeletons in the national attic. And yet, out of the ironic combination of easygoing pride and chip-on-shoulder shame that is part of the Australian character, the sandstone buildings of the penal colony era have become relics of Sydney’s convict past, sprinkled throughout today’s city, hiding in plain sight, strange and beautiful.

The former Darlinghurst Gaol, sandstone periphery wall

Cockatoo Island, sitting in the sparkling blue Sydney Harbour like some kind of stone boat, with some of the best uninterrupted views of the city and beyond, was once a penal settlement. Its flat dockyard, which had a reputation for the hard and strenuous labor that went on there, meets the steep vertical sandstone slope, which functioned as a bunker to the array of spaces immersed within, many once used as solitary confinement cells. Today, Cockatoo Island is a very different setting.

Cockatoo Island, approach

Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island, tunnels

Every morning, I pass by the former Darlinghurst Gaol (that is jail in my language) just a block from where I live, nestled in what is now considered a seedy-chic neighborhood just at the edge of the Central Business District (CBD) and bordering some of the priciest postcodes in Sydney (Hyde Park, Surry Hills, Paddington, Woolloomooloo). From above, the jail is radial in plan, buildings centered around what was a chapel. An imposing and impressive sandstone wall fortifies a collection of buildings.

The former Darlinghurst Gaol, entry gate

The entry gate, once the location of public hangings, sits across from ornate terrace houses, a new high-end residential development under construction, a fantastic café (Forbes and Burton) and is just a block from the bustling Oxford Street and Taylor Square, home to a variety of bars, shops and restaurants. The jail was turned over to the New South Wales Department of Education in the early 1920’s and today is open to the public operating as the National Art School. What an inspirational venue to study art! But even with the transformation of use, the ghost of Sydney’s convict past casts a shadow on the neighborhood.

Inside the   former Darlinghurst Gaol, now the National Art School

Inside the   former Darlinghurst Gaol, now the National Art School

Inside the   former Darlinghurst Gaol, now the National Art School

Every once in a while I imagine the convicts that built so many of the buildings that surround me and wonder what brought them to this majestic island continent. Was it the loaf of bread they stole? Pick-pocketing? Were they part of the 166,000 shipped to the other side of the planet? Of course my moving to Sydney was a choice, and flying Qantas direct from Sydney, which I think is rough, has nothing on the eight-month journey that the first foreign settlers had to make (a decision made for them, not by choice). In their mind, they were entering the cruelest penitentiary on earth, deserted territory more than 14,000 miles away from their homeland. It was equivalent to a death sentence.

To give it a bit of context, it was January 26, 1788 (Jan 26 is now Australia Day), as the first British settlers were arriving, that New South Wales was established as a penal colony (I will save stories about the local indigenous population for another time). British jails were overcrowded and penal codes became stricter because of an increase in crimes. This newly found land was the perfect solution to a maximization of space. But unlike most prisons built like fortifications with guard’s surveillance as the design priority, this newly proclaimed land was itself the prison.

Mural in the exhibit Convict Sydney at the Hyde Park Barracks

Close-up of mural showing early convicts

Those convicts arriving on fleets, mostly guilty of petty crimes punishable by death, had a surprising amount of personal freedoms. They first had to construct their dwellings (typically made from trees) and then tend to their work duties for Governor Arthur Philip (founder of the settlement that is now the city of Sydney) which included work in quarries chiseling the amazing sandstone blocks used in many early buildings and constructing the city’s infrastructure. It doesn’t sound too bad for what was considered a maximum security prison (Tasmania, aka “Australia’s Australia” , being the most maximum). Rather than being another body in a British jail these new settlers were made useful, working almost a nine-to-five job, hunting for their own food and constructing the foundation for the city of Sydney.

Fast forward to 1814 when a 37 year-old-man named Francis Greenway arrived in the southern hemisphere. Greenway, an architect from Bristol, England was found guilty of forging financial documents and was sentenced to death. After 14 years, the sentence was changed to transport to Australia.

Greenway arrived and soon after was working directly under the reigning Governor, Lachlan Macquarie (who had an inside tip and recommendation from the now retired Admiral Arthur Phillip, back in England). Greenway’s first significant commission was the Macquarie Lighthouse, Australia’s first lighthouse. The success of this project led to Greenway’s emancipation and later proclamation as Government Architect, the second most important post after governor on the published “Hierarchy of Status and Skills”  list. With Macquarie’s vision of creating a more notable colonial town, Greenway’s commissions ranged widely, from lighthouses to obelisks; churches to stables; barracks and prisons to private dwellings. Greenway would become Australia’s first architect (he was even featured on the Australian ten dollar bill from 1966 to 1994).

Macquarie Lighthouse (replica rebuilt in 1883)

Macquarie Lighthouse (replica rebuilt in 1883)

Under Macquarie’s vision, the open land could no longer serve as a home for the convict. Hyde Park Barracks (completed in 1819), one of Greenway’s most significant buildings, was constructed to create greater control over the convicts. Located below Hyde Park at the top end of Macquarie Street, on prime real estate, this monumental three-story brown brick building sits proudly in its open site, the complex wrapped by a familiar sandstone wall.

Hyde Park Barracks

View of CBD   and another Greenway masterpiece, St. James’ Church, from Hyde Park Barracks

Hyde Park Barracks was a building that represented a penal colony transforming into a prosperous new society. Strolling though, you can easily imagine convict work gangs returning to the barracks at the end of a hard day of work, being searched at the gates, confined to the complex in the evenings and sleeping in crowded living quarters filled with hammocks so dense that there was barely any room to move.

Living quarters, Hyde Park Barracks

Today, Hyde Park Barracks, restored and a world heritage site operating as a museum, is run by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. The building itself is a museum, with traces of its convict past scattered throughout. Peeled back layers of paint on the wall show how the space has been restored. A singular brick removed from a wall becomes a peep-hole into the dense living quarters. The wood trusses and ceiling composed against the heavy white painted brick walls produces both function and elegance. A detailed description of the building can be found here.

A peep-hole into the living quarters, Hyde Park Barracks

Layers of paint reveal the restoration, Hyde Park Barracks

White painted brick and timber, Hyde Park Barracks

Convict Sydney,”  a must-see exhibition at the Hyde Park Barracks until December 2015, further exposes the lives of some of the 50,000 convicts that passed through the barracks. It’s the perfect venue to discover, explore and learn about Australia’s penal history and the forces that shaped Sydney into what it is today. It inspired me to want to learn more about this unique history (and I am just beginning to scratch the surface).

Convict Sydney at the Hyde Park Barracks

Convict Sydney at the Hyde Park Barracks

Convict Sydney at the Hyde Park Barracks

Greenway, although removed from his post as Government architect after only a few years, and many other convicts played a significant role in the shaping of today’s Sydney. Transportation of convicts to New South Wales was abolished in 1840, and in 1842 Sydney was declared a city. Fragments of this past scattered throughout the city are reminders of the convict roots of a new nation. Once a continent-sized prison, it’s today what many people think of, thanks to its civil liberties and live-and-let-live social attitudes-one of the most free places on earth.

William Feuerman is a New Yorker (via Los Angeles and San Francisco) who is currently living in Sydney, Australia. He is the principal of Office Feuerman, a Sydney based design office, and is faculty at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). You can follow him on twitter @OfficeFeuerman.

It’s December and in Australia that means summer holidays, something I still find difficult to grasp as a native of the northern hemisphere. One of the benefits of teaching at a university is that “school’s out for summer.”  But before everyone hits the beach, we must first celebrate and reflect on the work that has been done over the past year.

Architecture programs around Sydney have recently held events to showcase the talents of their best students. In architecture school, it is a rite of passage to exhibit your work. Late nights with little or no sleep become the norm. So much strategic thought and energy goes into every single line drawn on a page. Often much of that hard work can go unnoticed so these venues become a way to showcase the dedication and sophistication of the next generation of architects and their committed teachers.

INDEX 2011, 50 Kensington Street. Curator: Frank Minnaert

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) School of Architecture, where I am on the faculty, has hosted its end of year exhibition, INDEX, for the past couple of years. Celebrating the work of students and faculty across all five years of architecture, from first year bachelors to graduating masters students, the show itself has become a substantial event for the city of Sydney and specifically the architectural community. It is a venue for critical discussion and debate on issues of contemporary architecture and urbanism; a way to start a conversation with the community about the state of architecture today.

INDEX 2011, Kensington Street

INDEX 2011, 50 Kensington Street Gallery. Curator: Dave Pigram

Occupying a network of laneways lined with abandoned terrace houses and peripheral industrial style buildings, Anthony Burke, Head of School, and Tarsha Finney, INDEX Director, along with six curators, created a spectacle of architecture. The event was lively and energetic, attracting thousands, with an abundance of canapés and drinks, a sausage stand, live music, dancing and site-specific-custom street furniture (designed and constructed by the first year students). From the architecture aficionado to the curious passerby lured in by the crowds of people and sounds of music in the distance, the laneways were bursting with Sydneysiders engaging in architectural thinking.

INDEX 2011, Kensington Street

INDEX 2011, Kensington Street

Four industrial spaces along Kensington Street, at the edge of the Jean Nouvel designed Central Park Development (currently under construction), became a backdrop for the work. Each curator produced a distinctive environment. The Kensington Street Warehouse included custom designed tables positioned at different vantage points providing strategic viewing for drawings and models. The more intimate Kensington Gallery paid homage to John Soane, wallpapered with a mix of printed canvases composed against the raw industrial space.

INDEX 2011, 50 Kensington Street Gallery. Curator: Dave Pigram

INDEX 2011, Queen Street Studio. Curator: Nicole Gardner

INDEX 2011, Assemblage Space. Curator: Dave Pigram/Damien Butler

INDEX 2011, 50 Kensington Street. Curator: Frank Minnaert

The work represented a diverse range of critical thinking and speculation on architecture and the city. This included large-scale models of islands depicting possible futures in a drowned world next to proposals responding to the solar decathlon brief. There was work that used computational techniques along with new technologies in precast concrete. From urban agendas to research to fabrication and lots of making, INDEX 2011 exploited the city as a stage to engage architecture in a larger conversation. For one night the students and faculty were the center of attention, as the multiplicity of work was celebrated in Sydney’s streets.

Now off to the beach”¦

INDEX 2011, Kensington Street

William Feuerman is a New Yorker (via Los Angeles and San Francisco) who is currently living in Sydney, Australia. He is the principal of Office Feuerman, a Sydney based design office, and is faculty at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). You can follow him on twitter @OfficeFeuerman.

I always describe Sydney as an Urban Paradise. It is certainly an active “urban”  environment with its pristine Central Business District and unique village-scale neighborhoods. The “paradise”  is the natural landscape, which does not seem to get old. Nestled between a harbour and the coast line, the city weaves around bays, beaches and national parks. But the more Sydney exposure I have, the more I begin to wonder whether “Urban Jungle”  is a better characterization.

A Huntsman Spider, harmless but frightening looking

With the “jungle”  comes spiders, lizards, snakes, bizarre insects and an exotic array of both native and foreign bird species. In addition, some of the native mammals, including possums, echidnas, bandicoots, wombats and kangaroos roam the edges of the metropolitan areas. Just to dispel the myth, kangaroos are NOT hopping through the city and no one has a kangaroo as a pet.

Rainbow Lorikeets

Any New Yorker is used to squirming as rats run across the subway tracks, avoiding flocks of pigeons, and watching Central Park’s manic squirrels; they don’t call it a “concrete jungle”  for nothing. But with a mix of urban, paradise, and jungle, Sydney presents a distinctive condition that makes you realize that you are at the ends of the world.

Cockatoos in the city

A walk through Sydney’s Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens is full of surprises, revealing the diversity of wildlife in Sydney. The garden is positioned adjacent to Bennalong Point, the location of one of the world’s most identifiable buildings, Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House. The garden is a perfect backdrop for this icon.

Royal Botanic Gardens and Sydney Opera House from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair

At its western edge, the garden is straddled by the city’s Central Business District. The southeast edge connects to the Domain Trust, another city park and cultural district. This is the site of Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, a bench carved out of sandstone which was constructed in the early 1800’s for the wife of the New South Wales Governor (Mrs Macquarie) who founded the Botanical Gardens. Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair is a popular destination, providing panoramic views of Sydney’s magnificent harbour.

Royal Botanic Gardens from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair

The Botanic Gardens and its periphery is one of the most visually spectacular spaces in the city (maybe even the world) and only a quick escape from the urban bustle just blocks away. The garden itself is the oldest in Australia and contains flora and fauna from Australia and the South Pacific. With almost 9,000 plant types (download list here!), one can explore the varied environments or follow the recommendations from the visitor guide to “walk on the grass, smell the flowers, hug the trees and picnic on the lawns.” 

Royal Botanic Garden

Royal Botanic Garden

Meandering through the different spaces, one might confront a flock of cockatoos or be eyed by a group of magpies (they are not very nice birds). Ibis’ (which have become a pest in the city) pick through trash cans with their peculiar beaks as ducks bathe in the ponds.


The most surprising though, is the “Rare and Threatened Plants Garden,”  home to a colony of over 20,000 fruit bats. These native, grey-headed, flying-foxes live happily in the palm grove. As one walks along the Grove’s designated pathways, bats hang like ornaments in the trees above, sleeping the day away. Several have insomnia, waking up, screeching, disturbed with flapping wings (with a wing span that can exceed 1 meter). There is a distinct scent in the air and bat droppings all over the pavement. It is both fascinating and grotesque.

Grey-headed, flying-foxes, hanging from the garden’s trees

But while the bats remain a photo stop for tourists, the Royal Botanic Gardens is extremely vocal about the destruction that the bats are causing to the plant collection. Signs explain that while the bats are “important for pollinating and spreading seed of native vegetation, in the gardens, they defoliate and kill the trees… in time the Palm Grove and surrounding gardens will be destroyed and the flying-foxes will need to find a new home.” 

The problem was originally created by the extensive planting of fig, eucalyptus and gum trees that have become the favorite food for bats. Sydney has become the bats best feeding ground.

Currently, the Botanic Gardens is working to relocate the bats outside of this heritage site using noise disturbance, although plans have been postponed. The attempt by the Botanic Gardens to move the bats presents much controversy. For starters, flying-foxes are threatening extinction in the next century.

An opposing argument is that the city needs to be shared. In April, a unique event was held, “The Bat Human Project”  presented by the Remnant Emergency ArtLab. The project looked to better understand the bat-human relationship. The event brought together various voices — artists, scientists, urban planners, flying-fox carers ”” to generate a greater understanding of the flying-fox’s relationship to human environments.

Grey-headed, flying-fox at the  the Botanic Garden

While the discussion continues to stew, no matter which side of the debate you support there is no doubt that the bats add individuality to Sydney. Every evening at sunset, this colony of flying-foxes cross the city skyline. A swarm of bats, thousands of them, fly overhead, traveling from the Botanic Gardens to their evening playground, Centennial Park. It is a sight not to miss, an awe-inspiring experience. It is a moment of pause where you realize you are in a different place. A city, a jungle, paradise”¦ After all, it is the little things that make a difference.

Grey-headed, flying-fox,   feeding time

Bats at sunset over Sydney’s CBD