Sydney’s Redfern, three kilometers south of the city centre, is an historic place where Australian non-Aboriginal presence dates from 1817. The Redfern locality has long been a centre of urban Aboriginal life; it is the site of “The Block,” an Aboriginal Housing Corporation administered area and the place of the 2004 Redfern Riots (sparked by the death of an Aboriginal teenager). Redfern has also been popular with migrants beginning with Syrians in the late 19th century and extending into European and Asian groups since then. Due to its proximity to the city Redfern today is being gentrified, but, within its 1.2 square kilometers, there are still “mean streets” and areas of public housing. In this place there is a paucity of public space, apart from the streets and Redfern Park.
Because they are intensively used and well known, some parts of the public “realm” are more public than others. The inimitable Redfern Park is one such. It is rather singular public open space, established for passive and active public use, at the heart of the suburb. From 1948 to 1987 the oval here was the home ground to the South Sydney Rabbitohs Football Club (National Rugby League) and the club’s premiership team still uses the oval for training and exhibition games. In addition their club building is right across the street. Prior to BVN Architecture’s Redfern Park redevelopment project the oval was opened only for programmed sporting events. Now the oval is accessible at all times, literally doubling the amount of safe, accessible public open space in this location. The macro narrative suggested by this project is that architecture can be a vehicle for the conduct of everyday life, particularly now that the whole space is truly public and well used.
Perhaps the central design imperative in achieving this has been the insightful cross-sectional design from Elizabeth Street to Chalmers Street. By lowering the playing field below the surrounding ground level, the oval has changed from an impenetrable above-ground building to a sunken land form with an on-grade perambulatory perimeter path. The oval is now used as a logical extension of the park, whilst limited entry sporting events can still be held by closing the dozen or so hinged metal gates situated across its northern edge.
There is a calm precision about this “groundwork” architectural project that is worthy. This weeding out and taking away process is one trait of good urban design and architecture. In this project we see the proceeds of a sensitive, well-crafted, quiet approach to architecture, which gives the impression that it has not been done for the architect’s own advantage but for that of the urban condition, or, more widely, the city itself. This project is then an instance of civil architecture – not just because it is in the public realm but because it has attributes that can convey civility. Consideration of what a “noisy” approach would have done to this place underlines the validity of this approach.
The same, restrained lack of architectural egoism is apparent in the grandstand – appropriately placed on the western side to be both across Chalmers Street from the South’s Club and a bulwark to the afternoon sun. It’s simple flat roof, raised up on an open grid of columns, allows views through from the club and implies an elongated, sheltering canopy when approached from the street.
Such design attributes however, do not conceal a certain awkwardness of the column/roof arrangement at each end of the roof: the cantilevers here are ruthlessly truncated and cut well short of what they would have been with a more accurate reflection of the structural back-span. At the northern end, especially, a longer cantilever would have probably covered the pathway below which it falls well short of doing at present.
BVN Architecture’s Redfern Park project, specifically in its treatment of function, structure (the cantilever aside) and materials, is an exercise in legitimacy: in such projects one finds a rather direct architectural expression, which may just be the real BVN “house style.”
 In its promotional material BVN says it does not have a house style.