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Sydney's top urban exploration sites

5 Sep

My favourite urban exploration sites in Sydney at the moment-

Site One- Dunlop/Slazenger Factory in Alexandria
9 Bowden Street, Alexandria.
Open and easy to access.

We found all sorts of old Slazenger things- tennis racquets, golf balls, shoes, etc. A favourite haunt for film makers (there were two crews there, early on a Sunday morning).

Part of the vast Green Square area, soon to be luxury flats.

Look at my car!

The holes in the asbestos sheeting roof make for splendid effects.

Famous graffiti artists work.

Site Two- Rozelle Tram Depot.
South of Harold Park Raceway, next to Jubilee Oval, Glebe Point.

Rozelle Tram Depot is a large tram depot in Glebe that has stood effectively empty sine the 1960s.
It is currently being redeveloped as part of Mirvac Harold Park residential redevelopment and will be developed as a retail area.

The vandalised trams within will be retained on site and restored.
Currently patroled by security, as is now part of construction site. Quiet on Sundays.

This place is classic as the interior is slowly returning to nature, complete with ponds of tadpoles.

A local ruffian leaving his mark.


Site Three- Summer Hill Hospital
Grosvenor Centre, 56 Liverpool Road, Summer Hill (abandoned hospital).

Private property. Soon to be redeveloped into flats. Main building is heavily alarmed.
Summer Hill’s largest mansion, Carleton (now the Grosvenor Hospital’s main building), was built in the early 1880s on Liverpool Road for Charles Carleton Skarrat.

Definitely haunted…..

That ruffian again!

The above images were sent to me by anonymous sources.
The sites are (dangerous) private property and are not open to the public.


Central Park- Laneway plan grows from heritage-listed alley

16 Aug

Kelsey Munro Urban Affairs, August 15, 2011

THE developer of the former brewery site at Broadway has engaged a Sydney architect to turn a crumbling, heritage-listed alley near Central Station into a bustling Melbourne-style laneway precinct.

Kensington Street runs south from Broadway along the boundary of the brewery site and is lined with vacant, heritage-listed terraces and brewery administration buildings, some home to artists’ studios.

The street is book-ended with two great Art-Deco pubs- at the east the County Clare.

As it looked in the fifties, note the tram lines and clear road.

And on the western end by this robust specimen (love the stumpy concrete awning)…

Architect Tim Greer, who oversaw the reinvention of Eveleigh Carriageworks and the award-winning Paddington Reservoir Gardens, is running the project, which he said will provide a threshold zone between lower-rise, old city blocks and the towering new residential precinct.

Frasers Property’s chief executive officer, Guy Pahor, said the Melbourne laneway concept was apposite for what will be renamed Kensington Lane. ”This has a lot of parallels in terms of the scale,” he said, ”but also in what we intend to do with it, which is provide a rich diversity of uses which may include small eclectic retail outlets, cafes, possibly small book stores, possibly a boutique hotel and student accommodation.

”The restoration of the old Clare Hotel and the Fosters administration building is part of that mix.”

Mr Pahor said the developer was investing in the laneway because it believed the success of Central Park, the residential component, would depend on the quality of the public spaces delivered around it.

Brewery workers on their smoko break, some years ago.

Mr Greer said: ”[Kensington Lane] has some very significant remnant heritage buildings and also a lot of missing teeth which are ripe for new contemporary buildings.”

Frasers Property expects to put a detailed proposal for the laneway to planning authorities next year.

The building site yesterday.

The completed project, showing the “central park” open space.

Read more:

The Renaissance wonders of Sydney

2 Apr

Sydney is actually home to a large amount of Renaissance-inspired architecture.

01- Image- Palazzo Strozzi, Florence.
Real Renaissance palazzo in Florence- the source of so much Western architecture.

From approximately 1910 to 1940, the dominant style for Sydney commercial architecture was that of the commercial pallazo.

02- Image- Union Club (1883- 87, demolished).
Based on Barry’s great Reform Club in London, Renaissance language used here to denote dependability and connection with high culture.

This was partly due to the conservative nature of Australian architecture, and partly due to the height limit set (150 ft until 1961) after the scandalously gigantic Culwulla Chambers.

03- Image- Culwulla Chambers, Warehouse style.
The more radical but domestic style of Federation Freestyle. Decidedly unsophisticated.

Above- the hulking mass of Culwulla Chambers shocked Sydneysiders. Anything this high was banned until 1961.

Up until 1910, high buildings in Sydney has been based on either Victorian of Federation/Queen Anne/Warehouse style. This style was, however, somewhat pedestrian for the great commercial buildings that were growing like mushrooms during the 1920s. A more impressive style was needed.

04- Image- University Club (1896- 1900), New York, by McKim, Mend & White.
Also based on the Reform.

05- Image- The Goelet Building (1886-87), New York, by McKim, Mead & White.
The proportions of the palazzo suddenly spring to life on a city scale.

06- Image- The Flatiron Building (1903), by D H Burnham & Co.
A massive Renaissance palazzo complete with well defined base, shaft and capitol.

In New York, McKim, Mead and White had successfully based a high-rise on a Renaissance pallazo. This was a logical thing to do, as small-scale mansions and banks had been doing this consistently through the nineteenth century. The beauty about the commercial Renaissance pallazo style was that, as the building had a well developed base and capitol, the “shaft” could be as long as required without upsetting the proportions of the building.
As this style best suited medium sized buildings without setbacks, it endured far longer in Sydney than elsewhere.

07- Image- Former Daily Telegraph Building (1912-16), King & Castlereagh Streets, Sydney, by Robertson & Marks. 155 KING STREET SYDNEY, The Trust Building.
This building, as with the Herald building below, is a superb civic jesture. As a piece of architecture it exclaims confidence in Sydney and its place in the world.
Interestingly, the Daily Telegraph was designed to house all of the newspaper’s functions, with the printing presses located in the basement and sub-basement. The greater part of the ground floor was given over to large, high, public space – the Advertising Hall – with offices on two levels grouped around it. Above it there was a complicated arrangement of low storeys, double-height storeys and mezzanines accommodating paper storage, stereo room and composing room. On the fourth floor, high-ceilinged spaces were provided for the board room, library and editorial staff, with five storeys of conventional office space above. While hardly satisfying Sullivan’s dictum about form following function, the Daily Telegraph’s facades loosely acknowledged the existence of the differing activities going on behind them, especially the bi-partite treatment of the building’s base.

08- Image- The former Sydney Morning Herald Building.  Quite superb.

09- Image- Commonwealth Bank (1913-14), Martin Place & Pitt St. Sydney, by John Fitzpatrick.
The very model of civilised dependability. The “money-box building”.

10- Image- Former Manchester Unity Oddfellows’ Building (1921-23), Elizabeth Street, by John P Tate & Young. Sydney.
Interesting building this. The Oddfellows were a quasi- secret society, whose good deeds included life insurance policies for the poor.
Interesting use of eastern temple language, especially as it is next to the Great Synagogue.

11- Image- Former Farmer’s Store (c 1930). George & Market Streets, by Robertson & Marks. Sydney.
Shows how department stores were viewed as important prestigious social institutions (as they were, with the mail order component tying the country together).

12- Image- Gowings Bros (1912, 1929) 318 George & Market Streets, by Robertson & Marks and C H McKellar. Sydney.

13- Image- Former Shell House (1938), Carrington & Margaret Streets, by Spain & Cosh. Sydney.
This terracotta-clad Renaissance palazzo is very late, about the last example in Sydney. It has a strong Art-Deco influence, but is still strongly bound to the Renaissance massing conventions.
The Rural Bank of Martin Place (demolished) of 1939 was strongly Art Deco. Perhaps Shell saw this as too radical.

More info-

Melbourne- Stripping the glitter from architecture's 'golden' oldies

7 Feb

SMH February 5, 2011 Julie Szego

Waging a guerilla war against change is actually an attempt to snub history by trying to evade its march.

WHENEVER I am waiting for a green light at the corner of Elizabeth and Grattan streets in Parkville, my gaze is drawn to the former Ampol House. The building, now called the Elizabeth Towers Hotel, has a quirky, slightly space-age vibe that inspires mild curiosity. The corner tower, framed by blue tiling, curves around what is apparently Melbourne’s tallest concrete spiral stairway and is crowned with two flagpoles and a neon sign.

Having casually admired the building countless times, I researched its origins and then searched my heart about the prospect of it being razed (we’ll come to why in a tick).

Despite all you’re about to read, when change, with its PowerPoint efficiency, swoops on a thing from the past that helps ground me in the present, I too feel the pain.

It is only natural. But in recent times a healthy regard for heritage, and fierce sense of place, appears to have morphed into a pervasive and crippling anxiety about the future.

Let’s go back to old Ampol House. The National Trust says the 1958 building is the last of its kind, designed in ”a style that appears to belong to the early modernist period of 20 years previously”. In other words, it was always a throwback.

As its original name suggests, the building once housed the headquarters of a major Australian petrol company; initially a pump station was incorporated at ground level. These days it houses nothing and no one.

Melbourne University, which owns the site, wants to knock the building down to make way for the $210 million Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. As its name, which carries that of an Australian Nobel laureate, suggests, the proposed addition to Parkville’s medical research precinct is about luring top scientists to Victoria, pooling expertise with the aid of proximity, being battle-ready for the next pandemic, and a host of other noble objectives. Complications, procedural and political, have dogged this project, but the point is the institute can’t get off the ground.

The council has blocked the proposal, largely on heritage grounds. The university, which says it stands to lose millions in federal funding, has been forced to fight the matter through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

So which would you choose? The institute or the architectural anachronism from the heritage B-list? An investment that may help save many lives or saving the life of one vacant building?

It should be a no-brainer. But in fairness to the council, its decision is in perfect harmony with the zeitgeist.

The Save Our Suburbs movement of the 1990s has now splintered into cells of rescue workers, ready for deployment at the first ominous murmur from developers or public officials. So much appears to need saving from the tide of change: the railway gate and the bloke who opens it, the bridge, the pier, the point, the strip of grass, the hotel, the sauce and its bottle.

Even if their numbers are small, protest groups are changing the conversation.

Consider the state Liberal Party’s pre-election pitch, which was strikingly conservative in a literal sense: protect Melbourne from the ”wrecking ball”, return the rattling W-class trams to commuter routes, resume alpine cattle grazing, review the council proposal for a new boat ramp and breakwater facility at Mallacoota, reopen the gates at the previously hazardous railway level crossing in New Street, Brighton.

This week I asked a spokeswoman for Planning Minister Matthew Guy whether he supports building the Doherty Institute on the Parkville site – his department being a respondent to the VCAT proceedings. She never responded.

Of course, Labor once drank from the same rusty well. A folksy 2006 press release from then planning minister Rob Hulls declared the Barwon Heads bridge – rotting, cracking and splitting but boosted by its 15 minutes of SeaChange fame – had been ”saved”. Four years later, the bridge controversy rumbles on and helped make a casualty of the local Labor MP.

All of the following are givens: Melbourne could do a lot better at adapting what it already has for new uses, an engaged and passionate community is a good one, the mistakes of the past should be avoided, give up too much of what’s known and trusted and we risk losing our bearings and our sanity as well. But waging a guerilla war against change is actually an attempt to snub history by trying to evade its march.

And that’s why planning schemes or heritage codes aren’t the point. There’s a deeper crisis of faith involved. I’ve tended to assume that a loss of belief in the future, in the whole notion of progress, drives the compulsion to pickle our cities. But then recently a friend was bemoaning a plan to upgrade her suburban railway station. ”I love its unfinished character,” she said. ”If the plan goes ahead, it’ll be time for me to move.”

OK, she’s a middle class resident of a well-to-do-suburb who can afford to romanticise crumbling infrastructure. Still, could her attitude reflect a more general unease?

Maybe fear of success – the prospect of arriving, of things being ”finished” – is the real neurosis of these privileged times. After all, if the new bridge works a treat, if the trams run faster, if the institute gets built then even more people will want to come here, right? And that, of course, would only bring more change.


Statement of Significance
The former Ampol Building, designed by Bernard Evans & Associates, and completed in 1958 is architecturally and historically important at the Regional level.

Architecturally, the building is notable principally for its dramatic glazed circular corner tower, housing Melbourne’s tallest concrete spiral stair. The tower is accentuated by the flanking blue tiled wing walls topped by flagpoles, and neon sign.

Historically, it is of interest as a building that is designed in a style that appears to belong to the early modernist period of twenty years previously, and is by far the last major building designed in this tradition in Victoria. It is also of interest as the headquarters of one of the major petrol companies in Victoria, which were all undergoing great expansion at that time, and for originally incorporating a petrol station at the ground level.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens

21 Nov

I visited the Paddington Reservoir Gardens yesterday and was very impressed.  It’s the closest thing Sydney has to a Roman ruin. It also blocks out the noise from Oxford Street well- a real urban oasis.

Beware- the image files below are quite large (about 800Kb), so may take long to load.

Listed as a site of State heritage significance, Paddington Reservoir was originally constructed in two stages, in 1866 and 1878, with water chambers below street level. A grassed park above was opened in the 1930s. Decommissioned in 1899, the site was used as a workshop and garage until 1990 when roof collapses forced its closure.

The concept for Paddington Reservoir Gardens was embodied in the existing artefact. An accessible sunken garden and pond, surrounded by a raised pre-cast concrete boardwalk, have been inserted within the conserved ruin of the Western Chamber. The edges of the ruin are contained by concrete that amplifies the distinctive curves of the original brick vaults. The gated Eastern Chamber has been conserved as a multi-purpose community space. The stabilised brickwork and reconstructed hardwood columns form the base for the new landscaped park above.

Two lightweight roofs float above the Reservoir, signalling the main entry points.

A restricted palette of three materials – steel, aluminium and concrete – was chosen as contemporary partners for the historic brick, cast iron and timber. Their raw expression is softened by generous planting and water below with sweeping lawns above. The walkways and gardens invite exploration of this unique urban ruin.

Text by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer with JMD Design and City of Sydney

The site back in simpler times (probably the 1970’s).

Harold Park plan one third park

19 Jul

Local News16 Jul 10 @ 04:58pm by staff

More than a third of the Harold Park Paceway site in Glebe could become park under draft planning controls soon to be considered by Sydney Council.

The plans include 3.9 hectares of park with a sports field, walking paths and a cycle link to Johnston’s Creek and the Glebe foreshore.

Sydey Council’s CEO Monica Barone said the overwhelming request from locals was for parkland.

During extensive consultation the community told us they wanted improved local village facilities, new open space, protection for the historic Tram Sheds and opportunities for the development to be sustainable. This is what we hope to deliver,” Ms Barone said.Ms Barone said plans would allow for the restoration of the historic tram sheds and would allocate 500 sqm of floor space for community uses within the sheds.

Some 1,200 dwellings would be housed on the land, with at least 50 affordable housing units. Maximum height would be eight storeys, no higher than the cliff-top 2-3 storey terrace houses in Glebe.

The Council believes the plan balances community requests while helping the council to meet residential and worker targets set by the State Government.

Access to the Jubilee Park light rail station will be improved, giving residents a valuable and sustainable transport optionThe draft planning controls will be considered at Central Sydney Planning Committee on July 22 and by Council on July 26.
Locals will then have another chance to voice an opinion on the plans.
NSW Harness Racing Club Chief Executive John Dumesny told Cumberland Courier Newspapers that his organisation which owns the site could not accept the increased demand for open space.
“For the past few months we have been advised by the Council that the Club would have to provide new open space areas as part of the rezoning, which we were happy to assist with,” he said, “however this amount of space seems excessive to the needs of the area.”
The plans have also failed to impress the Greens. City of Sydney Greens Councillor Chris Harris told the Courier he would not be voting for the plans.
“I thought 1,000 apartments was already excessive,” Cr Harris said.
“I applaud the council’s efforts to improve the amount of public space, but I wouldn’t be trading this off with an overdevelopment.”


Ode to a Sydney brick: how cult of renovation is destroying our past

10 Jul

July 10, 2010`SMH

In the quickie renovation, especially one with an eye to the rental market, there is one interior improvement considered so acutely necessary than it comes even before the replacement of brass fittings with stainless steel ones or the stripping of carpets: getting rid of the bricks.

The war against bricks has now expanded beyond the exposed brick feature wall to postwar bricks of all sorts, interior and exterior. In the worst blocks in the best suburbs, bodies corporate are banding together to render away the recent daggy past.

Brick blocks of blazing orange, dirty-dog yellow and mud-pie brown are smoothed over with concrete in a range of shades all the way from grey to beige.

As for freestanding houses, online renovation forums are full of advice for hiding the earthen offerings of the 1970s. Renderers make big promises about the profits to be gained from smoothing away all those rough edges and explosions of glaze. Even the display home villages have entered a post-neo-Federation phase, with smoothly iced exteriors dominating.

Concern about the mottled terracotta tones of our city began long ago. The theme was taken up in the 1960s in an essay by the writer Charmian Clift, entitled On Painting Bricks White, first published in the Herald and the Age.

Clift was writing with the fresh eyes of a woman who had not long ago returned to Sydney after living on the Greek island of Hydra with her husband, the novelist George Johnston, and their children. One thing she saw with those fresh eyes was the cacophony of brick which so offends us now.

”How in all the world do Australian brick manufacturers manage so many variations on such a painful chromatic theme?” she asked. She noted the ”splenetic bricks, liverish bricks, apoplectic bricks, bibulous bricks (those purplish ones like old drunks’ noses), and bricks which appear to have been steeped before baking in the pancreatic juices for a special variegated effect”.

Above- some art deco brick examples from the inner east. For more images go to-

She suggested a temporary solution, one gleaned from her time in Greece. ”I know it’s a daring suggestion, but I’ll make it anyway. Might not a poultice of whitewash reduce the inflammation of our brick areas also?”

If only she was still alive to see how thoroughly this idea had been embraced. But in the wholesale whitewashing of brick constructions of the recent past, are we solving the mistakes of the past or repeating them?

No one will ever shed a tear for the developer-driven abominations which are now being tarted up, but how many of the thoughtful designs of the 1960s and 1970s are being destroyed, too? Many of the finest examples of the Sydney school of architecture embraced the very techniques which are now so on the nose, such as rough brick and exposed beams.

As Clift noted in her essay, there is nothing wrong with bricks per se, they are a ”good honest form of building material”. It is how they have been used which makes them a problem.

She also mentioned she has ”just been reading Robin Boyd”, something a lot of people, including myself, have been doing again since The Australian Ugliness was republished a few months ago. As Boyd’s biting classic makes clear, the Australian Ugliness is not about a particular material. It is about the inability of Australians to commit to an idea and hold tight to something more enduring than fashion. It is about the flight to trappings and features rather than cohesive design.

And in this respect one passage is as relevant now to the cult of renovation for short-term economic gain as it was when it was written in 1960: ”Not prepared to recognise where, when or what he is living, the Australian consciously and subconsciously directs his artificial environment to the uncommitted, tentative, temporary, a nondescript economic-functionalist background on which he can hang the feature which for the moment appeal to his wandering, restless eye.”

There will come a day when renovators of the future view the renovators of today with the same horror as we view the renovators of yesterday, the ones who hid lustrous floorboards under nylon carpet and replaced bay windows with aluminium ones. It is hard to imagine it now, but they will curse us all as they spend weekends carefully chiselling away at rendering with the care of archaeologists, wondering how anyone could have failed to see the beauty of earthy, honest brick.