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Sydney’s Phallic Icon

Whether designed intentionally or subconsciously on the part of the architect, buildings which resemble the human penis have been a constant source of both serious academic study as well as ridicule for architectural theorists, students of architecture and the tourist alike.

Widely documented and one of the truly eccentric facts taught in the lecture halls of architecture schools is the fascination and explicit representation of the human male genitalia in the architectural fantasies of French enlightenment architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux. An affront to the public sensibilities of the time but more of an amusement today, Ledoux’s Okiema, House of Pleasure’s phallic shaped plan is ingrained in minds of every architecture student. Despite its visuals, Ledoux’s fantasy is less comedic, pornographic or degenerate than first appears. To the contrary, his vision for a state administrated brothel to reform the underground and unhygienic business of prostitution aspires to the highest ideals of the enlightenment period.

In the postmodern age, the intrusion of external disciplines such as psychology, sociology and political theory into the architectural domain have influenced architecture criticism, giving rise to new interpretations of the phallic form. The race to build ever taller skyscrapers is seen by some as display of misogynistic power and by association an unrestrained capitalistic order- a competition to show who has the biggest willy.

With the scheduled grand opening in December 2020, the biggest willy in Sydney and latest phallic icon to grace the world of architecture will be Crown Towers, Barangaroo. Commissioned by James Packer and designed by WilkinsonEyre when fully erected the building will stand 271.3 m tall, dominating the skyline, surpassing its next nearest rival the Chifley Tower at only a mere 244 m and above the CBD height limit of 235 meters imposed by the City of Sydney.

In the critique of any piece of architecture one of the first questions to be asked is why such a form? In the case of Crown Towers why so overtly phallic even when compared to the typology of skyscrapers – an undisputedly phallic architectural expression. The slight outward curvature of the structure and enlarged podium base makes the association unmistakable.

Perhaps clues to this question can be found in its function, like in many religious architectural forms. In its submission for approval the original vision was for a VIP high roller casino and exclusive 6 star hotel aimed at attracting Chinese tourists. Phallic representation were used in many cultures to honour deities. In Chinese folk tradition Caishen is regarded as the God of wealth and is worshipped in the hope of bringing prosperity. Like gothic spires that reach to the heavens, could Crown Towers be homage to  this god of wealth that will lure the hordes of Chinese in the hope of striking it rich? It appears unlikely as the Chinese clientele would most likely come out bankrupted rather than abound in prosperity after a visit.

Could Crown Towers be part of James Packer enlightened agenda intended to reform Sydney’s gambling industry and discourage punters from the scourge of suburban pokies to a more respectable institution? This high minded social explanation of Packer’s intent holds some credibility. There is however a disassociation with gambling reform and the phallic form, unlike in the case of Ledoux’s brothel – though the adjoining 6 star hotel would presumably simulate the high-end escort industry in Barangaroo.

The intentions of James Packer and the commissioning of such a phallic ‘icon’ may need to be unpacked through the more rigorous study of psychoanalysis.

Sigmund Freud the father of psychoanalysis posits that  psychological trauma especially in childhood leads to conflict between the three parts of the human psyche id, ego and super-ego, possibility manifesting itself through the actions of a person. It is known on public record that that James Packer had a tumultuous relationship with his father, the notorious Kerry Packer, especially after the business failure of OneTel[1]. Is the commissioning of such an overt phallic icon an unconscious yet public assertion of dominance, by a man forever haunted by the shadow cast by his father?

To speculate and judge the merits of architectural form on the psychological trauma of James Packer , especially when his influence on the ultimate designer, WilkinsonEyre is not known would just be juvenile ad hominem and an affront to the integrity of serious architectural criticism.

Although its form is undeniably phallic, the tabloidistic amusement it generates for the public would be quickly lost when they find out how anathema the entire project is to their [the public’s] interest.

For a building commanding such a prominent position and ultimately constructed on former public land its architectural merit must be evaluated through its contribution or lack therefore to the public realm.

The site and its historic significance on which this phallic icon protrudes like a priapistic episode cannot be understated. Barangaroo was home to the Indigenous Cadigal people for at least 14,000 years before colonisation[2]. Not only of great importance to traditional owners, but the 22 hectare former shipping yard site adjacent to Sydney’s commercial heart and historic rocks district played an integral role in Australia’s industrialization. It should be considered part of our proud industrial heritage, yet the only thing this monolith responds to is the sight of dirty money.

Like the significance of the site, the public must be reminded of the idealism inherent at the outset of Barangaroo redevelopment plans . Bob Carr proudly announced in 2005 that [the project is a] “historic opportunity to return a substantial part of Sydney’s foreshore back to the people[3]” At the heart of this  commitment to the public good was the reservation of at least 50% of the site to public parkland and instatement of a foreshore walk.

The pace and depth of decline from these lofty civic minded ideals is only matched by the speed and height Packer’s phallus would rise . It is ironic that for a project with the main intention of giving back public access to the harbour foreshore, an exclusive tower aimed at a select overseas clientele, with restricted public access, would become the main ‘icon’ of the redevelopment.

While size would normally be a positive when talking about such things, its performance, in relation to overshadowing of the surrounding context and its stimulation of delight among the public, is subpar to say the least. In Hill Thalis winning entry a maximum height limit of 92 m was proposed, tapering down towards the northern end of Barangaroo to respond to the human scale and fine urban grain of the Rocks district [4].

Although located at North Barangaroo, the tower’s massing continues the ascending height pattern and disregards any sense of scale. Like an erection fuelled by Viagra, Packer’s phallus swelled from the modest 34,560 sqm under the initial concept plans to 77,500sqm and 271.3 meters in height, resulting in serious long term dysfunction to the surrounding area[5].

This artificial swelling has caused adverse effects including constricted circulation of the pedestrian arteries, at the base, a likely root cause of its permanent priapism. Instead of the promised foreshore promenade 30 m in width, a pathway barely wide enough for two passing bicycles will be left at the ground level, no doubt after  being encroached by the alfresco dining arrangements of faux celebrity run restaurant chains.

Ultimately when taking performance enhancing steroids short term gains come at the expense of long term consequences. The shrivelling commitment to public spaces is one such trade off.  In a subtle modification approved by the  Planning Assessment Commission in 2014,  the requirement for the delivery of a ‘minimum’ of 12,000 sqm of community uses was changed to a ‘maximum’[6].

Another, rare but serious side effect caused by Viagra ingestion is anterior ischemic optic neuropathy or peripheral vision loss. This symptom is particularly rare considering the oversight and regulatory controls one would expect from the planning regime of a developed global city such as Sydney. Although uncommon, precedent cases have occurred, such as the erection of the Shard in London. Normally the gravity of these cases only result as a consequence of continuously ignoring professional advice.

Peripheral vision loss was initially noticed in the sight lines looking towards Millers Point from Balmain East and Darling Island. However the extent of which Packer has overdosed on Viagra to artificially enlarge his phallus has caused substantial and irreversible vision loss for Sydney.  As it swelled higher the truly iconic sight of the Sydney skyline, framed by the Harbour Bridge and with the majestic Sydney Opera House in the foreground, as one approaches on the Manly ferry has been all but compromised.

While too egotistical even for the Emerald City, Sydney’s new phallic icon would fit comfortably into a monotonous skyline depicted in Rem Koolhaas famous collage, Dubai Renaissance. There, it would blend unobtrusively into a contextless desert filled with other towering architectural edifices of glass and steel, designed with random curves and angles, all claiming the mantle of the iconic.


[1] Kitne, Damon, “‘I am going broke’” The Australian, October 6, 2018, packers-breakdown/news-story/c837f9323e436a58c3dc6fb94f6ecdf3

[2] Jabour, Bridie, “The rise and rise of Barangaroo: how a monster development on Sydney harbour just kept on getting bigger”, The Guardian, 30 September 2015,

[3] Jabour, Bridie, “The rise and rise of Barangaroo: how a monster development on Sydney harbour just kept on getting bigger”, The Guardian, 30 September 2015,

[4] NSW Government Department of Planning & Environment, ASSESSMENT REPORT: Crown Sydney Hotel Resort Barangaroo South (SSD 6957), no author, Sydney, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, 2016. Online, https:// (9 June 2020)

[5] Drew, Philip, “The rise and rise of Barangaroo”, Architecture Australia, 22 September 2015,

[6] NSW Government Department of Planning & Environment, ASSESSMENT REPORT: Crown Sydney Hotel Resort Barangaroo South (SSD 6957), no author, Sydney, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, 2016. Online. (9 June 2020)