I’ve yet to learn of any friend of mine who likes what is slowly emerging as one of Sydney’s most arresting buildings. After the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge the rising Crown casino on the waterfront at Barangaroo, is unarguably peerless as the most dominant building in Sydney. Nearing completion, it is unavoidable from many vantage points of Sydney’s city views.
The Crown casino plans to allow only “VIP” customers in, have minimum bets and has no plans for gaming machines, the gambling method along with on-line, responsible for bleeding the assets of most who are harmed by gambling. There’s no guarantee that gaming machine licenses won’t be sought and approved down the track.
When I ask my friends their opinion of the tower, I’m almost always instantly regaled with venomous, splenetic bile about what an utterly vile excrescence it is. It’s disgusting. It’s vulgar. It’s James Packer’s pecker, isn’t it! It’s funded by the misery and on-going ruination of countless families from Packer’s gambling empire. How could anyone with a shred of decency in them see it as anything but just awful? Is it unavoidably “ugly because its purpose is ugly”?
My question back is to ask whether their assessment of the building would be any different if the building was a public building, funded by government to house (say) various government departments, or cultural collections like art, historical and anthropological exhibits. Or would they feel any different if it was owned by major company earning money from something very important like renewable energy, electric vehicles like Tesla, affordable housing, or fair trade agricultural products?
Can – and should we – separate the origins of the money which is funding a building, a stadium etc, or the politics of an artist or performer from our appreciation of their works? Or once we know about any nefarious connections in the designer, the source of the capital that created something, or the uses to which something will be put, should that cruel any gut aesthetic appreciation of a building?
Debates like this have often occurred about music, art, and literature. Wagner’s music was used by the Nazis. So does that make it “fascist music” and ruin it for all of us? Rock guitarist Ted Nugent is a Trump fan and frothing gun rights activist. A long time ago I used to like his Stranglehold anthem, but today can’t separate it from his vile politics. It’s gone from my rock Spotify playlist. As I teenager I learned by heart several of Barry Humphries’ Sandy Stone monologues. Lines like “a man doesn’t want a couple of kiddies walking half the beach through his car and scratching a brand new pair of seat protectors” were quite brilliant satirical observations of friends’ families in my early life. I also found Les Patterson hilarious and for years had a life-size cardboard figure of him in my office, souvenired from a Toyota Avalon promotion. But when I learned of his contempt for the Human Rights Commission, much of this soured.
So my personal reactions have been mixed, from ambivalence to disappointment to turning the page.