Gerald Matthews looks over the Riverbank Precinct developments and asks whether we have missed a crucial step in the area’s rejvenation.
What is it about the southern banks of river cities all over the world? It seems governments and developers alike are all drawn to them – from London to Melbourne, Brisbane to now Adelaide, they’re attracting huge attention and investment in the quest to rejuvenate cities.
Adelaide has a once–in–a–generation opportunity to make the Riverbank Precinct truly world class. I do, however, have fears that the order in which it is currently being pieced together is back–to–front or at least neglecting a few crucial steps.
Are we missing a crucial step in the Riverbank’s development?
The land north of North Terrace, which runs between the Morphett Street Bridge and King William Street, has inspired passionate debate for years. There are continuing arguments about what it is and whether it’s part of our park lands or whether it’s part of the city.
The key question that needs to be asked is: what should it be? So first, let’s have a look at how we have arrived at this point.
Firstly, we have Old Parliament House, which I don’t like but that’s largely because I am a contemporary architect. That aside, the building exists and I’d certainly prefer that it remain.
Adelaide Festival Centre is a key part of the Riverbank’s landscape
I’m a fan of the Adelaide Festival Centre. I think its white cubist forms counterpoint the city behind it nicely. The centre’s proposed upgrade and expansion is a positive step forwards.
Next we have the Casino, which has been flagged for an expansion for some time. Its neighbour, the Adelaide Convention Centre, is expanding and will hopefully be finished soon.
And finally, among all of this sits the enormous new office tower that the Walker Corporation has proposed and divided opinions with. The building will sit behind Old Parliament House, between the Casino and the Festival Plaza. I think most Adelaidians, who know the area well, are scratching their heads wondering how it will fit.
What will replace the now-demolished Festival Plaza artwork?
Now you may have noticed a trend – the current state of play for our Riverbank is that everything is either expanding or planning to expand. But there’s another piece of the puzzle we’re hearing very little about – the Adelaide Railway Station.
After decades out in the cold, trains are sparking interest for Adelaide again – a trend being felt around the country. For the first time we’re taking the idea of high– speed interstate rail seriously.
Our current Railway Station passes underneath the Riverbank Precinct and this is why the expansion of the Convention Centre has been significantly more complex and costly than it might have otherwise been.
Could a rail expansion be on the cards?
The truth is that planners have missed a crucial first step by overlooking the future of the Railway Station. It’s worth analysing this because without understanding why it happened and its consequences, we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes.
Here’s what I think should have happened, starting from some time around 2010. Cue the time machine.
A new railway station! Build a new modern station to the west of the Morphett Street Bridge so that it can accommodate the upcoming electrifi ed rail and the direct arrival of interstate high–speed passenger trains (slow versions of which currently arrive at Keswick).
Demolish the Riverside government office building on North Terrace and move those government departments into available commercial space in the CBD.
Expand the Convention Centre more substantially to the east (where the Riverside office building was) and west, as well as downwards into the former rail lines. This could include a second hotel next to the Morphett Street Bridge, above the Convention Centre expansion.
Create Parliamentary car parking beneath the InterContinental Hotel (where the former rail lines were). This would avoid the need to sell the development rights for the space behind Old Parliament House.
Now that the old railway station is vacant, the Casino can expand to fill the rest of the space in the old building, removing the need for an extension of the building. This could include an upward expansion in the form of a boutique hotel above the Casino.
Expand the Festival Centre now that it isn’t at risk of over–crowding. And just for good measure…
Build a new weir on the river near Port Road and continue the Torrens Lake through the western Parklands.
Gerald Matthews is the Managing Director of Matthews Architects matthewsarchitects.com.au
Header photo: John Gollings