The reshaping of ethnicity in Chinatown demanded a reconstruction of an imaginary past (Chinatown has been perceived for many years as an undesirable ethnic ghetto) and a unified cultural identity, which most of the ethnic Chinese in Australia would never have experienced. The use of antiquated ‘traditional Chinese’ symbols to represent the Chinese community — ceremonial archways, lions, lanterns and pagoda style shopfronts — reclaimed a common Chinese heritage that could instantly be identified as ‘Chinese’ by non-Chinese people. These reshaped images of Chinese ethnicity, especially the ceremonial archway, became a mnemonic for Chinatown: a unified, sterilised identity for the Chinese community reconstructed from an imaginary past that elided the complex heterogeneity of Chinese communities. Chinatown was transformed into a hyper-real product of postmodernity.
Nowadays, it is clear that the tourist function is beginning to outweigh other functions.”*
The recent conversion of the seating pagoda in Dixon Street to a tourist information kiosk gives it a contemporary interpretation. It is not a simulacrum, a reproduction of a Chinese image that has ceased to be representative of modern China, nor Chinese people living within a multicultural society. The design transforms the existing structure into a highly sophisticated enclosure embracing tourism iconography. The pagoda is transformed in a patterned red lantern by day which is illuminated by night.
It consists of 2 semi-circular light boxes that are clad with patterned, curved glass; the pattern was created by paper-cut artist Pamela Mei-Leng See with cultural reference to the Chinese community including flowers, fish and birds. The sliding semi-circle of glass screens opens to reveal a hot red interior containing a wall of shelving for brochures, pamphlets and tourist information. Sydney’s Chinatown boasts the ninth highest tourist visitation rate in Australia and this glowing lantern will become it’s red emblem.
* fragments from: ‘Negotiating Identity: Ethnicity, Tourism and Chinatown’. Anna-Lisa Mak
Location: Corner of Dixon and Golburn Streets, Sydney, NSW, Australia -33.877678, 151.203844
Lead consultant: Frost* Design: Joanna Mackenzie
Team: Lacoste+Stevenson: Thierry Lacoste, David Stevenson, Angela Rowson
Artist: Pamela Mei-Leng See
Electrical / Lighting Engineer: Lighting, Art & Science: Peter McLean
Structural Engineer: Simpson Design Associates: Andrew Simpson
BCA: Philip Chun: Philip Smillie
Access: Morris Goding: David Goding
Contractor: Growthbuilt: Lianna Augoustis, Mark De Luca
Façade/Screens/Doors: AGP: Warren Byrne
Screen: Axolotl group (Kris Torma)
Curved Glass: Bent and Curved Glass (Stephen Togher)
Photography/Images: Brett Boardman