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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently spent a week in Randwick, NSW. I’d never been there before but discovered, thanks to Randwick City Council, that it has a lot of art deco architecture.
In the 1920s-1940s, there was a massive increase in residential building across Greater Sydney, including Randwick, to accommodate the population boom between the world wars. It figures that, as the art deco style was popular in that period, there are a lot of buildings of that style in the area.
Randwick City Council held an exhibition of photos by resident Alan Lloyd, who had documented a lot of the buildings, in 2013. This became two walking tours of Randwick and Coogee, which were so popular they developed self-guided versions for each suburb.
I’d found the Randwick one a few years ago but hadn’t realised there was a Coogee one as well!
My goal for the week was to find all 20 buildings on the Randwick walk and photograph them.
It was easier said than done, mainly because, due to my early morning starts, I ended up with a lot of uneven light. And there were photos I definitely could have used a tripod for.
I also missed one because the walk brochure didn’t give the actual address of the building I was looking for and I got distracted by a more modern building . . .
It took me three days to find all the buildings, and I discovered some other cool buildings along the way. So this is going to be a series of several posts of my week in Randwick and other places around Sydney. (I also wrote a travel blog about my week in Sydney at my personal blog.)
Today’s photos are the first six buildings from the art deco walk, which starts at St Pauls Road at an area called The Spot, which is a small shopping centre with a lot of cafes and restaurants.