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The architecture firm behind the world's tallest building has signalled it wants to develop Sydney's main rail corridor, as the state government fields global interest in a project to remake the central business district's southern edge.
Former federal Liberal MP Ross Cameron has also flagged a bid, after his plan to build more than 150 Chinese-made high rises along the corridor was rejected last year.
The government will later this year call for expressions of interest to develop underused rail land from Central Station to Eveleigh, including apartment and office towers and structures built over the rail line.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill marketing manager Jayme Gately, whose American architecture and engineering firm designed Dubai's Burj Khalifa building – the world's tallest – said it was interested in "potentially pursuing the project".
"We believe we could bring highly applicable expertise . . . we certainly understand the strategic approach and the necessary public process for a project such as this," she said. "We look forward to further understanding the project goals and objectives."
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed central London's Broadgate Tower – a 165-metre-high office block suspended over rail lines at Liverpool Street Station.
It is also devising the central Barangaroo masterplan.
The government has compared its rail corridor plan to Broadgate, La Grande Arche in Paris, Transbay terminal in San Francisco and New York's Manhattan West project.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Broadgate managing partner, Jeffrey McCarthy, said the London project encountered several challenges likely to arise in Sydney.
Vibrations from trains must be prevented from travelling to the buildings above through "base isolation". The method is used to protect buildings from earthquakes and can substantially add to a project's cost.
At Broadgate, the construction of columns at track level had to be co-ordinated with seven different rail companies while maintaining train services, Mr McCarthy said, adding that buildings and public space built above the tracks must be carefully integrated with the city below. But he said the problems "should not be viewed as a constraint" and that the government's plan would "stitch this part of Sydney together [and] unlock new economic growth".
The highly complex construction task has prompted industry forecasts that buildings of record heights – perhaps up to 90 storeys – may be required to cover developer costs, and that these must be pushed through despite community opposition.
A spokeswoman for Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said several overseas companies had contacted the government to discuss the concept.
The government development agency UrbanGrowth NSW will begin talks with Australian firms next month, followed by discussions with international developers.
The plan has echoes of a rejected proposal by Mr Cameron last year for at least 150 skyscrapers prefabricated in China and erected from Central Station to Strathfield, which he claimed would have financed the M4 East motorway.
Mr Cameron said "you don't need to be a rocket scientist to recognise the apparent overlap" between the two concepts, adding that his Chinese-backed consortium Aspire Sydney was "seriously considering" bidding for the project.
His revised proposal would not necessarily include Chinese labour and materials, he said, saying "the revenues in the project would allow an entirely Australian solution at higher cost".
However, his bid may retain plans for a new port at Blackwattle Bay and an overhead conveyor system to transport building materials.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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