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"I feel awful": Renewal SA sent packing over Riverbank lighting plan

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The State Government’s proposed River Torrens feature lighting project risks making Adelaide’s most important vista look like “an overdecorated Christmas tree” – but also has “no wow-factor” or “appeal” – city councillors argued, during a series of tense exchanges with Renewal SA representatives last night.

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Councillors struggled to see the point of the project, warned that no-one would like it and complained about a lack of consultation after proponents presented design options for the southern riverbank lighting project at last night’s committee meeting.

Renewal SA’s Adelaide riverbank project manager James Finnis and engineer Nick Stokoe, from design consultancy Cundall Australia, presented three designs to councillors for the $500,000 project, which was due to begin construction early next year.

The council gave the project ‘in-principle’ support in September, but had asked for Renewal SA to come back with more design options.

Finnis said the lighting project, which would involve touch screens, sound elements, microphones, interactive sensors and information about Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, and match colour schemes with lighting on the Adelaide Oval and the river footbridge, was aimed at attracting visitors to the riverbank.

But councillors were unimpressed.

The three options presented to city councillors last night. Image: supplied.

“I regret that I’m sure that I am going to offend you,” said North Ward councillor Phil Martin.

“But I am absolutely underwhelmed by all that.

“There is every prospect that we’re going to end up with something that looks like an overdecorated Christmas tree.”

He added: “I withdraw any support.”

Lord Mayor Martin Haese said the designs were “reasonable” but “not great – it’s not, ‘oh well that’s stunning, we’ve got to have that’”.

He argued that the Riverbank was the most prominent image representing Adelaide and that any lighting feature there had to be both elegant and exciting.

“It does need to have a fairly strong wow factor and look like it belonged in the place,” he said.

“I’m not saying it’s bad and it’s all wrong, it’s got some merit … it just could be a wasted opportunity – I possibly would’ve expected more.

“I’m a little bit underwhelmed.”

Deputy Lord Mayor and former Adelaide Festival director Sandy Verschoor quizzed the proponents on why the council’s expert public art panel – the Public Art Round Table – had not been consulted on the plans, and why “actual, practising artists” had not been involved in the design.

Stokoe responded that specialist lighting designers had been engaged for the project.

South Ward councillor Priscilla Corbell performed a Google Images search on her mobile phone and showed it to the project proponents from across the room, suggesting that a lighting design inspired by reeds could involve water droplets.

“I actually just did a quick Google search, and (lighting designs can include) little water droplets and there’s all kinds of things you can do with spires and reeds and different things you can do on the ends,” she said, adding that she liked the “spires” design best.

“I know you all rolled your eyes when Priscilla showed you her phone, but some of the lighting, modern lighting that they’ve been doing in Paris and Zurich that she’s been showing you on her phone blows your mind,” remarked Area councillor Anne Moran.

“This (dramatic pause) does not.

“It looks like it’s been designed by engineers: it’s very male; it’s not pretty.”

She said she was sceptical the feature would activate the area.

“I’ve heard a lot about activation – you’d have to be pretty hard up to go down and press buttons on a screen.”

Central Ward councillor Megan Hender began her remarks warning: “You’re not going to like what I’ve got to say, because my option would be not to have anything at all.”

“The reason I say that is that this is the money shot,” she said.

“This is the postcard of Adelaide.

“Unless we’ve got something where we’re going ‘wow we want that’, then we shouldn’t do it.”

She told the meeting the designs were not “dramatic enough” and did not “add enough” to the precinct to warrant their installation.

Central Ward councillor David Slama said the project was not funded well enough to deliver a satisfactory outcome.

“For half a million dollars we’re not going to get some wow factor,” said Slama.

“(That) is not a lot of money to do something great on our biggest money shot.

“We’re paying peanuts; we’re going to get monkeys.”

Finnis and Stokoe did not respond to the criticisms directly but answered technical questions about the design.

Finnis told the chamber: “The design principles for each of the three options are to make sure it’s an inspirational design, fit for the Riverbank and Adelaide, a landmark proposal that it has interactive intent so that it’s new … (with) the ability to promote activity throughout the precinct, it’s high quality and that it’s a timeless design.”

“We chose very early on that this lighting (feature) would only consider a natural colour palette – not bright, distinctive, overbearing neons which you might see in other parts of the world.”

He said such a lighting installation “hasn’t been done anywhere in Australia on this scale and it really will draw people down to interact with it on a very local level”.

“This project goes beyond just lighting, it uses lighting as a tool (for people) to interact and to play (with).”

After the pair left the chamber, North Ward councillor Sue Clearihan lamented: “This is way too far down the track for us to be doing this to people who put a huge amount of work into it.”

“I feel terrible about that.

“We have got a public art team of experts in place that could offer really constructive guidance at the early stage.”

She said the Riverbank was an iconic location, and that the council’s input had been requested too late in the process.

“It’s gone so far down the track and we’ve not had any input.”

Riverbank Authority chairman Andrew McEvoy told InDaily this afternoon he was “extremely disappointed” with the council’s response to the proposal, but wanted to gather more information before responding in detail.

Councillors will reconsider the designs at a full council meeting next week.

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