I’m not quite done with Randwick yet!
The Art Deco Walk was a great introduction to the 20th century architecture of the area, and I discovered a lot more as I was walking round.
Here are some more.
I’m not quite done with Randwick yet!
The Art Deco Walk was a great introduction to the 20th century architecture of the area, and I discovered a lot more as I was walking round.
Here are some more.
After I’d spent more than an hour with Town Hall House, I wandered around briefly before deciding to call it a day.
First was the entrance to this building in Druitt Street, which was once, according to the real estate website, Australia Post’s central agency warehouse and also a gym operated by Madonna.
And I couldn’t help this photo of the Western Distributor coming off the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
I did come back into the city later in the week, to visit the Art Gallery of NSW.
I wrote about what I saw there on my travel blog.
While I was making my way back to the city, I saw this building from Hyde Park, which I later found out was 201 Elizabeth Street, a 38-storey building that is about to be redeveloped.
In the 1880s, this site was occupied by a five-story tobacco factory, which was demolished in the 1928 for a T&G Building designed by A&K Henderson. At 68 metres, it was the tallest building in Sydney at the time. That building was in turn demolished in 1975, with the current building completed in 1979. (Urbis, 2016)
Walking though the city I was surprised at how many of the older buildings were scaffolded and being redeveloped. I wondered how many of them were featured in the Sydney Modern and Sydney Inter-War walking tours and how many I wouldn’t have been able to see if I had gone looking for them.
One that wasn’t was the Commonwealth Bank building in Pitt Street and Martin Place. This is the building that the Commonwealth Bank used on its money boxes.
It was built in 1916 and was the first fully steel-framed structure in Sydney.
According to Sydney Inter-War, the building had a major addition from 1929-1933 along Pitt Street (not pictured) and again in 1965 along Martin Place, which can be seen at the back of the photo.
That was the end of my Sydney city adventures. I’m happy with what I saw on my two trips into the city, even if some of it was shrouded.
I’m never sure if Sydney actually is a more complicated city than Melbourne, but it seemed to be a lot harder to find buildings in the Sydney books than it had been in Melbourne. It might be that I’m geographically challenged. It’s been more than once I’ve headed off in the opposite direction to where I’m supposed to be going in Sydney, and I would have ended up on the tram back to Circular Quay if I hadn’t looked at the signs on the platform as the tram was arriving.
Sydney racetracks run backwards so maybe everything else there does too!
I suspect it’s more likely to be me though.
After my visit to Circular Quay and The Rocks, where I found some interesting places, but not what I’d set out to see, it was time to look for the one building that was on my if-I-don’t-see-this-the-whole-trip-will-be ruined list.
This was Town Hall House, which was designed in the 1970s to accommodate City of Sydney council staff that had outgrown the Town Hall and were spread around the CBD.
The first time I saw a photo of this building, it reminded me of another building that was very close to my heart.
In fact, an information sheet from the Australian Institute of Architects states of 10 Murray Street that Dirk Bolt’s “architectural language of cantilevered deep beams to support levels above was to be adopted for . . .Sydney Town Hall House”.
So it’s like 10 Murray Street’s cousin.
I was excited to finally see this place in person!
In hindsight, maybe the middle of a hot weekday wasn’t the best time to try and make photographs of a CBD building. But I did what I could and managed not to bump into anyone or get run over in traffic. So all up, it was a successful trip.
When I left off last time, I was walking off the Sydney Harbour Bridge, hoping the scaffolded building I could see (far left of the photo) wasn’t the AMP Building.
The little sandstone-looking building is the Fours Seasons Hotel, which I thought might have appeared in the Sydney Modern book. It doesn’t.
I couldn’t find out much about this building other than it was built in 1982.
Once you get off the bridge, there are a zillion lanes of traffic, and you can take the Cahill Walk back to Circular Quay through The Rocks.
Signs along the way tell about how the expressway was built and how much the area has changed.
Construction on the Cahill Expressway started in 1954, and it was built to divert through traffic away from the CBD. This road doesn’t sound like it has many fans. This article says it’s been described as “doggedly symmetrical, profoundly deadpan, severing the city from the water on a permanent basis, as well as “an eyesore, an unnecessary barrier between the city centre and the harbour foreshore and an inappropriate structure to have at the city’s point of entry”.
It says it is “extremely functional though rather ugly, and in a more environmentally and aesthetically conscious era would never have been allowed to be built”.
According to the signs, the construction took place across much of the “historic heart” of the city and resulted in many houses in The Rocks being demolished.
As you come off the walk, you can stand in the spot that was once Little Essex Street (and before that, Brown Bear Lane), which was demolished in 1954, and see what it would have looked like in 1902.
I made it back to Circular Quay and commenced my search for the AMP Building.
It was built in 1962, designed by Peddle Thorp and Walker. When it was completed, at 115 metres, it because Australia’s tallest building, breaking the height limit restrictions set in 1912. Sydney Modern says it used the precedent of Melbourne’s ICI House to do this. I’m not sure how that went down. Maybe it was “Melbourne broke their height limits so why can’t we, and we can make ours taller so we’ll win at tall buildings”.
I believe (at least in Melbourne’s case) it had something to do with the percentage of the area of the site the building was actually going to cover. So maybe that’s the precedent. For this building, a significant proportion of the site was to be public open space. It’s now a public transport space, which makes it congested and tricky to get around, but open space was the original intention.
I like my answer better.
According to the Cahill Expressway signs, the expressway “modernised the Circular Quay skyline, encouraging the construction of new skyscrapers”, and AMP house was obviously one of them.
As I had reluctantly suspected, it was indeed the scaffolded building.
This is what I saw when I got to 33 Alfred Street.
There’s boards underneath that provide some history of the building and explain what’s happening in the redevelopment (or, as they call it, re-sculpting).
Fortunately, the Tom Bass sculpture is still visible.
This sculpture depicts the goddess of Peace and Plenty, the male figure of Labour and a woman with a child. The AMP’s motto Amicus certus in re uncerta means “a certain friend in uncertain times”. This basic idea is a feature of other AMP buildings, including the one in Hobart.
According to Sydney Modern, the AMP Building is distinct because of its curved facade, “a feature which, along with its height, caused a surprising amount of controversy”.
It also had a roof-top observation deck that was closed when taller buildings came along.
Here’s what it used to look like, and what I’d been hoping to see.
Two out of two misses wasn’t a good start to the day!
I wandered around Circular Quay a bit longer and made the obligatory bridge photo.
I noticed markers on the ground denoting the line of the foreshore prior to settlement and development of the area, reminding me that in the context of this place and its original inhabitants, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, what I was looking at was a minuscule faction of its history.
I could try and visualise what the AMP building might have looked like. It seems so small now. It’s hard to imagine it was once the tallest building here.
As I was deciding what to do next, I came across another Tom Bass sculpture on the side of a building, best seen from the adjacent set of steps.
Sydney Modern tells me this was originally on the side of the ICI building that was previously on the site.
Smaller than Melbourne’s ICI building, this was a glass curtain wall building designed by Bates Smart & McCutcheon (who also designed the one in Melbourne), constructed in 1957 and demolished in 1996.
Here’s a picture of the statue in situ. Information on Sydney’s ICI house seems to be a bit lacking because almost every search comes up with the Melbourne building. But here’s an archive photo of it being built.
By now I’d seen enough of Circular Quay and wondered if I wanted to find some more of the buildings in Sydney Modern and its partner, Sydney Inter-War 1915-1940. While I’d covered the Melbourne Mid-Century Modern tour in two days, these two tours were more logistically difficult.
For a start, I don’t know Sydney as well as I know Melbourne and have been known more than once to head off in the opposite direction to where I’m supposed to be. I’m not sure why, but Sydney has this disorienting affect on me. It’s probably something to do with how their horse races run the wrong way.
And there are two tours that overlap in a lot of places and Sydney’s big and I can never find anything . . . and I only went into the CBD for one thing, and I hadn’t seen it yet.
It was time to find what I’d come to see!
On my recent Sydney trip, along with the Randwick Art Deco Walk brochure and the Brutalist Sydney Map, I had with me the Footpath Guides Sydney Architectural Walking Guides. I have their Melbourne Mid Century 1950-1970 book and on one of my Melbourne trips I followed the route suggested in that book and photographed all 25 buildings. This had involved a couple of early morning starts staying in Melbourne CBD.
I decided I wasn’t going to do the full walks set out in either the Sydney Inter-war (1915-1940) or Sydney Modern (1950-1990) books but would pick out places that interested me. There was only one building that was on my “I must see this or the whole trip is ruined” list. I was going to find the others if I got the chance because I’d planned to spend most of the week in and around Randwick rather than in the CBD.
The Sydney Modern book mentioned the Sirius apartment building and the AMP building, both of which were around the Circular Quay area. I’d heard of both of them, so I made that my first stop on my CBD day. Circular Quay is a convenient light rail ride from either Randwick or Kensington so I had no trouble getting there.
The first structure that caught my eye (apart from the gargantuan cruise ship) was the Museum of Contemporary Art.
It was previously the Maritime Services Board building and replaced a much older building. It was planned in 1939 but was delayed because of shortages of labour and materials during the war. Work restarted in 1946 but further delays meant it wasn’t completed until 1952, by which time its design as considered somewhat dated.
The entrances are framed with pink Rob Roy granite, which came from quarries in Sodwalls, near Lithgow. The carved sandstone decorations under the clock tower (you can’t see them here) include a ship’s propeller, wheel and anchor signifying respectively the “driving force, guiding force and stability” of the Maritime Services Board.
Also, what visit to Circular Quay would be complete without a photo of the Sydney Opera House?
I wasn’t there to see either of those structures! Circular Quay was packed with unmasked people and I didn’t want to stay there, so my search for Sirius began. It’s on Cumberland Street, which would be easy for anyone who isn’t as geographically challenged as I am to get to from Circular Quay.
According to Sydney Modern, the NSW Housing Commission built the Sirius apartment complex over the period 1975-1980 to re-house public tenants who were displaced during redevelopment of The Rocks. It included a total of 79 apartments of various sizes, and catered for 250 aged and family residents.
Its architect was Tao Gofers, who was a Housing Commission architect at the time. He originally wanted to paint it white, but they ran out of money so (I think, thankfully) that never happened.
A “rare and fine example” of Brutalist architecture (according to the NSW Heritage Council), Sirius looked like this:
I knew it was in danger.
If I hadn’t already known, the bomb symbol next to the words “UNDER THREAT Demolition is imminent” in Sydney Modern (published in 2017) was difficult to miss.
The NSW government had announced in 2014 it would be selling the site to be redeveloped into luxury apartments. I hadn’t followed the story very closely but this was obviously very distressing for the residents of the complex, along with the broader community. They formed the Save Our Sirius Foundation to fight to save the complex.
In 2016 the NSW Heritage Minister refused to have Sirius listed as a heritage site, apparently because its heritage value was outweighed by its financial value to the government. The NSW Land & Environment Court didn’t agree.
By the end of 2017, however, Myra Demetriou was the only resident left at Sirius, and she moved out in February 2018 after the government finally put the complex up for sale. Myra passed away in 2021.
I’d heard there were plans to redevelop it into fancy boutique apartments rather than demolishing it but I hadn’t realised the work was actually underway until I (eventually) got there.
That was disappointing, and I’m sad I never got to see it as it was.
Because I’d taken the long way round, by the time I found Sirius, I’d walked under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Continuing along Cumberland Street, past the bridge climb office, I found a random lift that went up to the bridge itself. I didn’t know you could walk on the bridge, so I went up to have a look.
The bridge construction started in 1924 and was completed in 1932. I found the bridge plaque, which mentions the firm Dorman Long and Company, who were the contractors for design and construction. My great grandfather worked for that company in the 1920s and my mother says he was involved in the bridge design. I have no reason to disbelieve this. He was a structural engineer who specialised in bridges. He moved to Tasmania in 1925, so his involvement must have been only at the very early stages. (Or he wasn’t involved at all and it’s just a family urban legend!)
I decided not to take the lift to the top of the pylon. The view was pretty good from where I was.
I didn’t want to go all the way across the bridge because I had other things to see. I’d been able to see a scaffold-clad building from the bridge and desperately hoped it wasn’t the AMP building which was also on my list to see . . .
I found this cool building on the way back. I have no idea what it is.
Coming off the bridge back down to The Rocks is the Cahill Walk, which accompanies the Cahill Expressway. I wondered if I was going to find myself in this Jeffrey Smart painting, but that’s further around the expressway.
I could see just one part of Siruis that hadn’t been covered over by the redevelopment work.
The lone block made me think of Myra’s story, and what it might have been like for her to be the last person living in the complex.
There was a cool view of the skyline.
Postscript for Sirius: I was at the Art Gallery of NSW later in the week and found a book about the struggle to save Sirius in the bookshop. It tells the history of the complex, from the Green Bans placed on The Rocks in the 1970s until the 2017 court ruling.
Some final images to wrap up my week wandering around University of NSW.
My first afternoon wander around UNSW led me to this magnificent structure.
It was all (painted) concrete and brick and my phone wasn’t wide enough to make any photos of the whole building. So I wandered round trying to find out what it was.
Turns out it’s the home of the School of the Built Environment. I couldn’t find out exactly when it was constructed but the UNSW Archives refer to the “Architecture Building” as having been built in the period 1965-1969, so I’m going to guess this is the same building.
Obviously, I had to go back when I had the camera.
Squarehouse is located right next to the Roundhouse, which is one of UNSW’s classic buildings.
The Roundhouse was designed by the NSW Government Architect and Edwards Madigan, Torzillo & Briggs Architects, who also worked on the High Court and National Gallery in Canberra.
The Roundhouse was built in 1961 and was Sydney’s first circular building. It was refurbished in 2015-17.
I couldn’t help wondering as I wandered around whether I was going to stumble on the Archhouse to complete the series. If it’s there, I didn’t find it.
When I planned the Sydney trip, knowing I’d be based in Randwick rather than in the city, I started looking around for places to explore. University of NSW stood out on the map as being (a) very close to where I’d be staying and (b) very big. It was an obvious candidate.
On our first day, when everyone else wanted to stay back at the hotel to rest after the flight and stay out of the heat, I decided to go out and have a look around. I headed up the road towards High Street.
High Street stretches from the junction of Avoca Street and Belmore Road in Randwick to Anzac Parade in Kensington. The first third of the block, until Botany Street, is taken up by the Prince of Wales Hospital. The rest of it is UNSW territory on one side and Randwock Racecourse on the other.
The first part of that block is filled with the medical faculty buildings, after which is a large open space where the Sir John Clancy Auditorium sits. And the building that first caught my eye as I was walking past.
Also, very difficult to photograph.
It was the first place I came back to the next morning with my camera to try . . .
I couldn’t find much about the Chancellery on UNSW’s website, other than it appears to have been built over 1965-66.
They have some great images of it from Max Dupain, who was UNSW’s main photographer over the period 1959-1970, in their archive. Many of these, along with photographs by historian Isadore Brodsky, document this building’s construction.
I found some cool steps around the side with some unpainted concrete.
It was a great start to my exploration of the campus.
One of the references I took with me on my recent trip to Sydney was the Brutalist Sydney map. It covers a massive area of Sydney from Penrith to Pennant Hills and Circular Quay to Sutherland. This is way more ground than I was intending to cover in the week I was there, when my main plan was to explore Randwick.
The map was developed by Glenn Harper of @brutalist_project_sydney, who writes
At a point where many Brutalist buildings within Sydney are either being ‘disfigured’ or demolished, this map reveals an incredible and inspiring range of late modern projects that contribute to a functioning and modern-day city. Many of these buildings while being listed as significant on various heritage lists, have limited owner support due in part to a shift in socio-political thinking especially away from government led design and government owned projects. For many of these buildings, their current failing is they once symbolised government investment and a desire for civic inclusiveness. Given this current political climate and the pressure for ongoing development, the Brutalist buildings of Sydney indeed require our attention as we will never be able to match this level of craftsmanship again.Glenn Harper, Brutalist Sydney
Not being familiar with Sydney architecture, I don’t know how many of these buildings might be in this situation. There is one that I’m very aware of, which I’ll talk about in a later post, but I’m sure there are many many others. I don’t even know if all the buildings on the map even still exist, given it was published in 2017. I’m sure many of them will have been “modernised”.
Glenn describes how, as these buildings were design and constructed, many of them through the NSW Government Architect and architects of the NSW Public Works Department, there was a need for “access to high quality concrete, artistry which combined a variety of concrete or brick textures, and appropriate engineering advice and structural detailing to convey ‘memorable form’.”
As I was sitting in my hotel room in Randwick staying out of the heat, and wondering what buildings to visit next, I noticed there were two University of NSW buildings listed that had somehow escaped my attention on my previous visits.
The first was one I must have walked past and not noticed. This is Sir John Clancy Auditorium, designed by Fowell Mansfield Jarvis and Macluran, with M S Holmood as project architect. It was built in 1971.
Its original sculptural form was “overshadowed by later developments” around it, and it was refurbished in 2019, with new canopies added, including this new, very visible glass entrance. So it looks significantly different to its original design (which you can see at the UNSW website – look for the top picture, Kensington Campus 1970s on the time line).
They also seem to have this thing at UNSW for painting concrete.
Substantial alterations plus paint equals I totally missed this on my earlier visits.
The second UNSW building to feature on the map is Goldstein Hall. It was designed by the NSW Government Architect (at the time, Dr Edward Herbert Farmer), with Peter Hall as project architect and built 1962-1964.
This building (some sources say the dining room) won the Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter) Sulman Medal in 1966.
Note the paint. I say no more.
Goldstein Hall is a residential college and you can see some early photos of it from the 1960s here. It sounds like the building was updated in 2012-13 and the dining room has also been upgraded.
The redesign project by TKD Architects also “saw the revitalisation of the original 1964 Bert Flugelman sculpture courtyard, a vibrant outdoor space within the expanded residential college”.
Completely random fun fact, Bert Flugelman also created the Spheres (aka Mall’s Balls) sculpture in Rundle Mall in Adelaide and the Cones in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery in Canberra. This UNSW sculpture from 1964 was one of his early pieces.
University of NSW was officially founded in 1949, but can trace its origins back to the Sydney Mechanics Institute in 1843 and the Sydney Technical College. It was originally known as NSW University of Technology.
Its main campus is in Kensington, where it takes up the entire block between Anzac Parade and the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick.
UNSW archives tell me that when the university was founded, classes were still being held at the Sydney Technical College buildings in Ultimo. The administration moved to the Kensington site in 1952 and some teaching commenced there in 1953, but it continued at Ultimo until the late 1960s.
From what I’ve read, it sounds like a lot of the early buildings have now been replaced, and the campus has been expanded considerably. But there was still a lot of the mid-20th Century architecture that I’m fond of to explore.
Here’s some random buildings that caught my eye.
The Fig Tree Theatre (below) is one of the oldest buildings on the campus. It’s located on the lower part of the campus, which was originally the Kensington Racecourse. The site housed a military camp during the Boer War and World Wars I and II and later, a migrant hostel.
The theatre was built in 1948 as a recreation hall for the migrant hostel. NIDA used it as a theatre between 1963 and 1987, and it’s now a performance space for the university and the wider community.