We have retired an earlier version of this page, but if you are sufficiently interested, please download a hard copy of Shiro Architects’ Parramatta design excellence competition summary here.

As a startup then only 18 months in age, Shiro Architects joined an exclusive “design excellence” club.

If only a small number of architectural practices ever gets invited to participate in a significant design competition, it is a considerably smaller group that gets paid a handsome fee to do so.

Fewer still participate on the basis of “design excellence” for a major urban site under the sponsorship of its local metropolitan authority.

If the design a developer wishes to build exceeds local zoning criteria, local governments can initiate a design competition to ensure it nonetheless lives up to a required design standard.

We met the requirements to join that club. In early October, 2015, we participated in an invitation-only, paid design excellence competition hosted by Parramatta City Council.

The site in question was to become a 23-storey residential tower to be developed at 5-7 Parkes Street, Parramatta, by the well-established western Sydney developer, Dyldam.

As underdogs, we were third on the ticket to two other extremely well-established and well-known firms.

One of them was responsible for framing the brief and the masterplan on which the competition was based.

Ok, Shiro didn’t win. That honour went to the designer of the masterplan. Our other competitor failed even to achieve the required floor space ratio.

However, in a competition ultimately decided by a council jury, Shiro principal architect Hiromi Lauren once again proved her ability to get a better yield on built space than a majority of designers.

In her hands, against a design requirement for only 150 units, Shiro Architects’ submission comfortably exceeded the requirements of the brief by designing in 173 apartments on a challenging site.

It is a product of her Japanese architectural background that Hiromi is extremely skilled and disciplined with tight spaces.

Design excellence and the Parramatta Ring Road vision

Within Parramatta City Council’s vision for the city, the Parramatta Ring Road on which the Parkes Street site sits is intended to become a “distinct city entrance”.

Against this, we presented an imposing, modern residential building that met the expectations of its highly visible location.

Hiromi formerly worked as an associate at architects Harry Seidler and Associates for just under 20 years, in close proximity to Seidler himself. It is perhaps unsurprising that many of the lessons of his work influence this example of Shiro Architects’ building design.

Seidler was a pupil of the Bauhaus school, whose ideal is standardisation, and this attitude likewise informed our proposal, which came in two building forms.

The Parramatta Development Control Plan (DCP) demands that on a significant corner site a building’s shape should follow that of the corner. Thus, at the site’s western end, wrapping around the intersection of Parkes and Anderson Street, we introduced a slim, curved 23-storey tower.

We took as our example in meeting this requirement lessons in built geometry Hiromi learned from Seidler. In his work, the exploration of curvilinear forms is a well-established design principle. The theory of the Seidler geometry works almost perfectly on our tower’s curved configuration, giving it a uniform curvature.

Top floors project this curvature to allow greater spaces for more expensive units, while on the tower’s levels two to six, all floor plans are identical.

To the site’s east, its low-rise apartment block steps from seven to 10 to 12 storeys. Viewed from Jubilee Park and Parkes Street east, it is a taut, white geometric box somewhat in the mould of Le Corbusier.

Stepping up every three to four levels, with generous balconies to the park and external blade walls, the low-rise comprises two structures sandwiching the core to provide every apartment with cross-ventilation.

At every level, each apartment plan flip-flops on the apartment beneath to create chequer-board elevations to north and south sides, when viewed from the street and park.

It follows a sober, hard-lined aesthetic favoured by European rationalists from Walter Gropius to Le Corbusier. Each sought an architecture based on mass-produced materials and standardised forms.

From Parkes Street west, the tower and low-rise building are connected structurally, but not visually from the street.

Our design aimed to innovate within the site boundaries, providing an aesthetically distinctive and conceptually clear architecture, exploring alternative designs for ventilation, wind screening, light, solar access, assembly, planting and materials.

And we paid special attention to the general ensemble of streets and interaction with public places, such as a pedestrian arcade and parks.

Our building’s setbacks as it rose provided roof spaces for lush landscaping and outdoor-indoor living experiences for residents, entangling and softening the analytical clarity of the modern architecture itself.

Jury feedback

In this, our first significant competition, the honours may have gone to perhaps the best-established rival. We nonetheless received notable commendations.

Official jury comments:

“This [Shiro Architects’] proposal addresses the corner and Jubilee Park with two different geometries – a curved tower addressing the corner and a rectilinear stepped building addressing the park.
“The ground level is spatially exciting, with double storey heights and large retail floor areas … the strength of the sculptural response to the corner site is very impressive and distinctive amongst the entrants.”

Tom Copping, Senior Town Planner, Dyldam:
“Although Shiro was not successful on this occasion the Jury made a number of positive comments regarding the form and sculpture of your scheme which was distinctive from the other entrants and outside of the norm for a lot of the designs that we are seeing in Parramatta.”

Simon Parsons, Executive Director, PTW Architects:
“All competitors put in such strong submissions, yours was distinguished by its bold and sculptural approach to the site which was refreshing – Harry Seidler would have been proud of you!!”

Russell Olsson, Director, Olson & Associates Architects:
“All the competitors did well, as it was a constrained building envelope with a lot of floor space. Even with those constraints, your design had spatial volumes and articulated external forms. I hope your office gains more work, and I wish you all the best.”

Please download a hard copy of Shiro Architects’ Parramatta design excellence competition summary here.