arts and design

'This isn’t what I had in mind': NSW treasurer regrets Sydney surf club upgrade he funded


A Sydney surf lifesaving club’s futuristic refurbishment has been mocked by the New South Wales treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, who provided almost $3m in funding for the upgrade, as locals complain the historic building now “looks like a massive microwave”.

However the surf club has hit back at Perrottet, pointing out they only commissioned the redesign after receiving state government grants they did not directly apply for.

As the work on the Coogee Surf Life Saving club nears completion, some beachgoers accustomed to the iconic pastel yellow building have found the modern new facade so jarring they have established an online petition demanding the original architecture be restored.

The designers of the avant-garde function space were careful to retain one important feature for swimmers at the club – a clock face.

However, the clock has led frustrated locals to compare the rectangular facade to a microwave.

A Randwick city council spokesman told Guardian Australia the new design did not go to public consultation as the surf lifesaving club initially engaged architects to draw up the plans in 2017, before the council joined the project two years later.

He acknowledged the council had received some negative feedback from members of the public about the new design, but said there had also been a positive response.

In a 2019 statement, the council notes the building is not heritage listed, and that the upgrades included repairs the building required after storm damage several years earlier.

Coogee surf club did not make Perrottet’s hit list of iconic Sydney buildings he would like to bulldoze, which he revealed this week.

But he told Guardian Australia he was dismayed to see the “eyesore” that his government had funded.

“In the lead-up to the 2017 budget I stood inside that stunning clubhouse and announced new funding to upgrade it and make it more accessible. This isn’t what I had in mind.”

“It’s possible I said the old clubhouse was good enough to frame, but I didn’t mean literally.”

Perrottet said Sydney’s historic surf clubs “are part of our city’s identity” that are “as recognisable as zinc on the nose and red and yellow caps on our lifesavers”.

“We have to stop turning icons into eyesores. Buildings like this occupy public spaces that belong to everyone. That’s why beauty in architecture is so important.

“The buildings we build should complement the beauty of their surroundings. Our city deserves better and we must do better.”

Coogee Surf Life Saving Club president Todd Mison told Guardian Australia he “loves” the building’s new appearance.

Responding to Perrottet’s criticism, he noted the club did not apply for any government grants but that they came as a nice surprise.

“I can only go on what I’ve heard, but I stand outside that club literally everyday and the feedback is predominantly positive from both club members and passersby.

“I think the way they’ve blended the old downstairs portico, which has been left in situ, with the contemporary, is amazing.”

Mison said the first clubhouse was originally built in its current space in 1910. He said that the base level of the building that exists today was built in the 1930s, and that after a second storey was added in the 1950s, the look of the building had not changed until the current upgrade.

Mike Harris, a landscape architecture academic at the University of New South Wales, said that because of the historical upgrades, he struggled to label the building as a specific architectural style like art deco or neoclassical.

“The (redesign) doesn’t look impressive, even for a modernist apologist like myself,” he said. “But if the original ever had any architectural merit it has been modified beyond recognition – a not uncommon incremental process over 100 years.”

Coogee local Marty Doyle goes to the beach every day, and was taken aback when he first noticed the new facade in October.

“I reckon it’s gross,” he told Guardian Australia. “It’s tasteless and super boring … it looks like a massive microwave.”

Doyle, a musical professional who has lived in Coogee for four years, took a photo of the facade and posted it to his social media account.

“I was overwhelmed by how many people responded with the spew face emoji, so I don’t think I’m alone,” he said.

Doyle said he felt the surf lifesaving club represented the suburb’s identity, and that the refurbishment exposed Sydney’s problem with “letting its buildings age gracefully”.

“Sydney’s always had a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to culture, but one of the things we’ve always been able to win a debate over is our beaches.

“When you’re looking at the beautiful pastel colours around Bondi and Coogee, that’s our version of Positano and the Amalfi Coast. Imagine if the coastline in Italy was replaced with aluminium frames, nobody would want to go,” Doyle said.

The upgraded Coogee Surf Life Saving club officially opens on 13 December.



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