Public Sydney: An AMAZING book!

June 18, 2015 | 1 Comment


This week a big box arrived at my door containing a copy of a book that I only recently discovered.

Public Sydney: Drawing the City by Philip Thalis and Peter John Cantrill.

The other week, this sketch led me to google a certain UNSW lecturer which lead me to this interesting panel discussion. One of the speakers was introduced as the author of this book…and well I knew then that I just had to buy it! It was published about 2 years ago but I have never come across it before. Here it is next to my current A5 landscape sketchbook…ah! It is a long time since I treated myself to a big (expensive) architecture book!

This is not a full review, but just a sneak peak at a book that has already changed the way I think about Sydney. The subtitle “Drawing the City” has nothing to with sketching, instead it is architectural drawings. Detailed plans, elevation and sections. You can see more images from the book here.

Note: This blog post is more about architecture/urban planning, than it is about sketching.


There are many amazing plan/maps like this one, showing a map of Sydney with the ground floor plan of the public buildings. I can’t express in words how much just a cursory glance at the book has changed my perception of the city I have lived in all my life. There are detailed articles and more drawings for about 60 major public buildings.


Right at the end of the book there are a few comparative pages, showing either plans or sections of a number of buildings. It is illuminating to see how large the Sydney Opera House is compared to  other buildings in the city – something I have never considered. I always think of the SOH in isolation from the city!

I could go on and on about what the book contains, and hope that after I have read it cover to cover, I will do a full review!

But in the meantime, I have already had a number of thoughts.

Although I LOVE Sydney I often complain about what it doesn’t have:
– It doesn’t have a central public urban space – there is no heart to the city.
– Many of the great places are harbour focused and not connected to the city.
– The footpaths(sidewalks) are narrow and crowded, making it hard to sketch!
– There are not enough fancy buildings to sketch – I find Melbourne’s architecture more fun to draw.
– No clear pedestrian routes through the city  – once again, comparing with Melbourne’s laneways and its wonderful grid. But hey? Even though I love city grids, why do we have to have a grid?
The harbour is our showpiece, but I often think that as a city, Sydney isn’t as interesting as many other places I have visited. This book is making me think more positively about my city!

My obsession with Sydney Opera House….
isn’t so much about sketching an icon. This book, and the interview below, has made me realise how much SOH sums up so much of what is Sydney. Fred Lynch wrote a great article last week about sketching the famous sights. While the postcard images can be cliched, I am interested in what extent are they descriptive of the life of the city. Are the icons just a tourist attraction ofrare they important to the locals? There is no doubt that the SOH, Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge play a HUGE part in big events for Sydneysiders…in fact in many instances they have generated the events.

Understanding the city, not just painting shapes:
Looking at this book has reminded me how much I love orthographic projections (plans, elevations, sections) because they help me to understand. I know that I have been sketching more spaces, perspective views etc lately and getting away from drawing ‘straight-on’ elevational sketches of buildings but even though I might be becoming more of a painter, more interested in recording the drama of light, at heart I am still an architect. I want to understand what I am draw. The technical drawings in this book will help me do that and have been a good reminder of the architectural way my brain works. I realised that I have missed looking at orthographic projections – well perhaps not so much marking up uncoordinated mechanical drawings –  as that was the core of my job as an architect.

I have had a number of other thoughts about Sydney(as a result of simply browsing this book) but I am keeping them up my sleeve until they appear in sketch form!

Ok… that is enough for now. BTW I bought my copy from Booktopia but I also saw this week it on the shelf at Dymocks in the city.

Here is the video of the authors speaking at the book launch.


Public Sydney – Peter John Cantrill and Philip Thalis with Fenella Kernebone from Sydney Living Museums on Vimeo.

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