Sydney-based architect Professor Ken Maher AO LFAIA FAILA has too many awards and credits to list and a vision that spans beyond the idea of architecture as ego. In Ken’s hands, architecture is a device to drive a city forward, connect a population and facilitate positive change.
“When I think about sustainable cities, words like equity, engagement, and environment are top of mind,” says Ken, Fellow at international award-winning architecture studio Hassell and a recently appointed Oﬃcer of the Order of Australia (AO).
“Sustainability is not just about the environment. That’s still critical, of course, but equity in our society is also really important.”
Ken is interested in every aspect of architecture, yet he sees its most critical contribution as the beneﬁts it brings for the greater community.
“Architecture has an important function to serve in facilitating our lives. It helps shape the physical world and has the potential to inspire. It can create experiences in a city and really lift spirits. It is often seen as a private luxury, but I think that we’re getting to understand more and more about its impact on a public level and on the city as a whole,” he says.
Creating a global city
“One of the great things about our country is we have had a huge inﬂux of people from other places, which has really enriched our communities. We need to continue to attract this global talent, and the physical quality of life in our cities plays a big part in helping us do this. It’s important to ensure that there are high levels of amenity and that people can engage well with the city and live comfortably,” Ken says.
Ken is helping NSW stay true to this ideal through his involvement on the NSW State Design Review Panel - a new panel that advises on design quality as part of the development approval process. For the past 10 years, Ken has also been the Chair of the City of Sydney’s Design Advisory Panel.
“We need to make sure we’ve got good people involved, we need to make sure we’re really putting forward proposals that do have design quality. And I say design in its broader sense, it’s not just as an aesthetic judgement. It’s about how design can enrich our city’s identity and help the public engage with the urban environment, while providing public amenities that are ﬁt-for-purpose.”
This focus on design and engagement is particularly evident in Ken’s work on the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney). Hassell and Populous were joint venture partners in the design of the whole site, which includes the surrounding area, with Hassell taking the role as landscape architects as well. The project recently won the prestigious Lloyd Rees Award for Urban Design in the NSW Architecture Awards.
“As a global, multicultural city, we need to be able to compete at the international level to bring events to Sydney. With ICC Sydney we wanted to provide a distinctive experience for people visiting our city – as well as those living here – and that inﬂuenced the design of the Centre, with its seamless connections to its surrounds, and expanded public green space.” Ken says.
“We also want to showcase our city to people attending events there, so it was important to maximise the openness and animation of the venues and give those inside the opportunity to look back over the city and out over the harbour.
Having this transparency also provided plenty of natural light in breakout spaces and other communal areas, something you often don’t get in convention centres. The project celebrates our climate and our landscape,” Ken says.
ICC Sydney and associated public space has given Sydney a world-class venue in which to host some of the world’s biggest business events – and as a BESydney Global Ambassador Ken understands the value of these events to the city.
“These events make such a huge economic and social impact, and I’m delighted that I can play a role in helping win them. I also appreciate that BESydney has a wide focus that brings in the value of the city as a whole as part of an event’s experience. I think everyone wins in this way,” he says.
Enriching and conserving
Ken has always had a strong interest in history, which is one of the reasons (amongst being told he was good at drawing and maths) that he chose architecture as his ﬁeld of study. This is evident in his soft spot for the historic architecture of Sydney. He cites The Rocks, The Mint, Hyde Park Barracks and the Sydney Opera House as some of his favourite examples of architecture in Sydney.
There are also newer precincts in the city that Ken sees as shining examples of the use of architecture in creating public engagement. He cites Central Park in Sydney’s inner city suburb of Chippendale, and the emergence of Green Square in Sydney’s inner east, as two examples.
“We’ve got lots to celebrate and lots to enrich and conserve, and plenty of opportunity now with these new places in the city,” he says.
Ken sees Sydney as a maturing city, one that is increasingly looking outwards while strengthening its own identity both locally and overseas.
“I think Sydney is a great place to live. A place that draws people in. The city will grow, and is growing, and I think we can nurture that growth and conserve the natural environment, to ensure that the great qualities of the city are maintained. That will grow our economy and grow our vitality – and better the lives of all of us here who are part of it.”
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