A brand new library and plaza is planned for the very centre of Green Square. Collector of enviable titles Jess Scully – editor, festival director and sometime provocateur in the arts and creative industries – is public art curator for Stewart Hollenstein Architects, who are responsible for the Green Square Library and Plaza. We had a chat to Jess about her thoughts on libraries, public spaces and her plans for art in the new development.
The idea of a library as limited to a depository of books and a solemn place for study/procrastination are going the way of the Britannica. At their heart, libraries are about freedom, safe shared spaces and access to information – so the library of the future will still have books, but also become an important public place to be adapted and evolved by its community as it develops.
Scully is thrilled to be working on a site with such an ambitious vision. Two young architects Felicity Stewart and Matthias Hollenstein took a brief for a library building and turned it into a plaza, with the subterraneous library beneath. According to Jess, it’s a model for a completely new community space, “It blurs the line between play, work, learning, daytime and night time, formal and informal.”
“The nature of a library as a place is changing, it’s increasingly about sharing knowledge. Now libraries are places where people teach each other and learn together, make and do things and not just receive.” Scully will be searching for works both permanent and temporary – that reflect this.
Because the permanent work will not be put in place before the development is complete in 2018, Scully is creating a temporary activation that will start a conversation about the site.
This is a crucial aspect of the project, considering the unique nature of Green Square as a place that will see a mass of people with limited shared history together in one place. Ensuring people are involved in the development of the new area is essential – but the big challenge is that the site will be used by existing residents as well as a whole community of new residents and visitors that doesn’t yet exist! For this reason, Scully will be looking for a work that develops a narrative over time.
“We’re conscious that the adaptation of a space must be flexible and open, as well as giving people ways to hold on to history. With every aspect of it, you want to leave enough room for the imagination of the community. Art and events and programming have a massive role to play in that – leaving it unfinished for the future.
“The other thing that art does is mythmaking. Artists play a role by both drawing out stories from people and imposing new ideas and forms of expression onto a place.”
What’s in store
The project is a great opportunity for artists to be involved from the building stage. They will be given a brief with suggested locations and as always, be given license to identify others. Scully is excited about what the artists will come up with,
‘They might have a new media or technology response, like capturing activity of daily activity, what people are looking up or reading, for example. Or the work might take an entirely different approach. One of the biggest things has been coming to grips with the fact that it needs to have relevance now and in the future.”
Scully and the architects are drawing inspiration from a spectrum of international projects. The compositionally beautiful design of The Highline in New York, which is an antithesis to the big windy tunnels that plazas have been known to be, guided thinking around what a thoughtful public place might look like.
An artwork at Seattle Public Library, that documents what people are searching for – and has just passed the 10 year mark – was influential as a model for a potential artwork.
The Green Square library and plaza and the high-density residential community around it will be one of the first truly new models for urban living in Sydney. In Jess’ words: “We don’t yet have a culture for knowing how to live in a residential city – what we need to begin to do is experience and express and celebrate the benefits that come with this kind of lifestyle.
“There’s a tendency in Australia to say, ‘do we want to be like New York or London or Hong Kong’? But Green Square is not a copy of what is done elsewhere, but a new model in itself, with ‘Australian’ elements – it’s an active site, it’s outdoors, there’s a deliberate creative hub and a new way of approaching libraries.”
The City will request expressions of interest (EOI) from local and international artists in the coming months. Artists wishing to view the City’s request are encouraged to do so and should register at www.tenderlink.com/cityofsydney.