A view of the design for library garden that was part of Felicity Stewart and Matthias Hollenstein’s winning bid for the Green Square project.
Two little-known architects in their 20s have trumped some of the world’s top architecture firms in a competition to build the centrepiece of the $8 billion Green Square urban renewal project in Sydney’s south.
The biggest jobs Felicity Stewart and Matthias Hollenstein had previously overseen were a Potts Point shop fit-out and an arts studio in the Southern Highlands. But by winning City of Sydney Council’s design competition for the $40 million library and plaza at Green Square, their fledgling firm Stewart Hollenstein will oversee a major project for the next five years.
“It’s amazing to have won, knowing we were competing against some firms we respect so highly,” Hollenstein tells BRW. “It’s certainly a turning point. It’s a very rare thing to win a design competition as an outsider. Usually you go through an established firm working on their project.”
Architects from 29 countries submitted 167 entries to the competition, which masked the name of the firm from the judges. This meant applicants were judged purely on their design, and not on their clout.
A jury of leading Australian and international architects, including renowned architect Glenn Murcutt, unanimously chose the Stewart Hollenstein design, which involves a below-ground library connecting with the plaza to maximise public space. Theirs was the only design that didn’t focus on above-ground buildings.
It includes an amphitheatre, a sunken storytelling garden and music rooms for residents, many living in apartments, to practice instruments without irritating their neighbours.
“It’s a piece of public space that’s under extreme pressure to create a high amenity space,” Hollenstein says. “You have limited sun, tall buildings around it. It’s not as easy as Bondi Beach or Circular Quay where you have this amazing outlook.”
Hollenstein and Stewart have run their firm part-time since 2010, each completing major jobs with their main employers. Hollenstein works for the NSW Government Architect, and Stewart with major architecture firm Hassell. But both are planning to transition into full-time work with their own firm and seek other major projects.
“Winning this competition says we have something to contribute to public buildings and public space; it’s a validation of our approach,” Hollenstein says.
He hopes more government building projects will seek participants through blind competitions. “I think that's a really special thing at a time when most major urban renewal schemes in Australia are clouded in a lot of secrecy,” he says. “Those processes may not have proven to have provided innovative, high quality outcomes. For City of Sydney to have taken this step, I think they deserve full credit.”