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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-


Driving down George Street in 1904

27 May

This is worth looking at- brilliant footage shot from on the top of a tram going down George Street in 1904. It’s very recognizable and yet very foreign. Heaps of pedestrians, no cars.

A 1906 bird’s eye view of George St, Sydney NSW. Cameraman takes his life into his own hands in perilous trip. Whoopee! National Film and Sound Archive Collection: Title No 106667.

Repairs ordered on Australia’s oldest house, Surry Hills

1 Apr

CentralMag, 31 Mar 10  by Robert Burton-Bradley

Cleveland House Picture: Phil Rogers

The owner of Australia’s oldest home, Cleveland House, has been ordered to repair the building after a surprise Heritage Office inspection found it in a state of severe decay.

LGC Enterprises, the owner of the state heritage-listed Georgian mansion in Surry Hills was issued with a works order earlier this month after Central revealed the poor state of the building.

It built was 1823-1824 and is the oldest home in Australia, predating Cadmans Cottage in The Rocks previously thought to be the oldest property, though this was not actually lived in until 1827.

The Heritage Office order requires the company to repair the roof, drainage system, gutters, down pipes and flashing to prevent water damage.

Cleveland House Picture: Sally,

It must also hire an expert to inspect the house and make any necessary repairs.

A spokesman for the Heritage Office said a full report on the whole building was also required.

“(It) is to be prepared and submitted to the Heritage Council,” the spokesman said.

“The report must identify all maintenance and repair measures that are necessary to ensure the building is structurally sound and watertight.”

Cleveland House was designed by well-known colonial architect Francis Greenway for convict emancipist merchant Daniel Cooper according to the State Heritage office, which has officially listed the house as the oldest surviving residence in Sydney.

The exterior of the building is in very poor condition with peeling paint, crumbling columns and broken veranda railings. Part of the veranda also has scorch marks from a fire and has grass growing on the floorboards along one side.

The descriptions of the house on the NSW Heritage offices online register express concern at the state of the property and the relative obscurity in which it presently exists.

“Its lack of setting and state of disrepair do not do justice to its history as a prominent house on a large city estate,” the entry says.

Late last year a complaint was made to The National Trust about the poor state of the building and the Trust contacted Sydney Council. The council told the Trust that the owner was going to make repairs which it was monitoring.


Hundreds protest Windsor redevelopment in Melbourne

28 Mar

AAP   MELISSA JENKINS  March 25, 2010

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown has vowed to take the protest against the redevelopment of Melbourne’s historic Windsor Hotel to federal parliament.

Senator Bob Brown said the historical buildings in Melbourne’s parliamentary precinct should be protected.

“This is one of the most important and beautiful precincts in this whole nation,” he said.

“It’s part of our federation history, it is part of this nation’s democratic history as one of the world’s four oldest continuous democracies.”

Senator Brown joined hundreds of demonstrators outside the Victorian parliament on Thursday to protest the state government’s approval of the controversial multi-million-dollar redevelopment.

He says protecting the heritage-listed hotel was important to people across Australia.

“This isn’t just Melbourne, it’s Australia’s heritage,” he told the crowd, some of whom carried signs reading “Hands off the Windsor” and “Money Speaks, Minister Listens”.

“I can tell you now that this gathering has the support of not just so many Victorians but millions of Australians who will not want the bulldozers moved in on this marvellous Windsor Hotel, which belongs to Melbourne and the whole of this nation.

“I will take the message of this rally to Capital Hill in Canberra.”

Planning Minister Justin Madden last week gave the green light to the $260 million redevelopment, which will involve demolishing the rear section of the 1883 building, which faces Parliament House, to make way for a 91-metre high, 26-storey tower.

It follows a leaked email scandal sparked by a document created by a media adviser – who has since been dumped from Mr Madden’s office – advocating a fake public consultation process.

The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) is considering its options, which could include taking legal action.

Chief executive Martin Purslow criticised statutory authority Heritage Victoria for its support of the project and called for an overhaul of the planning system.

“Our inability to challenge Heritage Victoria’s decision except in the Supreme Court points to a problem with the system,” he said.

Planning Backlash convenor Mary Drost said Oscar-winning Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, who sent his apologies for not attending the rally, compared the redevelopment to the destruction of the German city of Dresden which was razed by British bombers in 1945.

“He said that old historic city of Dresden was bombed out during a war,” Ms Drost said.

“We don’t need a war to bomb out our city. We’ve got a government who is bombing it out for us.”

Protectors of Public Lands Victoria president and the Greens’ Melbourne candidate, Brian Walters SC, said the planning process was corrupt.

“Give us planning that values our heritage and give us a process that values the community,” he said.

Premier John Brumby said Mr Madden’s decision was based on recommendations from his department, an independent panel, Heritage Victoria, Melbourne City Council and the Victorian government architect, Geoffrey London.

“People who are passionate about heritage, people who are passionate about the environment – people have strong views,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

“The bigger question is how do you best maintain and restore a beautiful building into the future.”

The state opposition is in broad support of the proposed redevelopment but is critical of the planning process.

“The planning processes in this state today are a sham,” opposition planning spokesman Matthew Guy said.


2010 “Save the Windsor” rally on the steps of Parliament House

The Hotel Windsor is a 5 Star luxury hotel in Melbourne. The Windsor is Australia’s only surviving grand 19th century city hotel and only official “grand” Victorian era hotel.

The hotel has a significant role in the History of Australia as the place where the Constitution of Australia was drafted in 1898.

For much of its 20th Century life the hotel, dubbed the Duchess of Spring Street, was one of the most favoured and luxurious hotels in Melbourne. It has hosted many notable national and international guests including Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep, Anthony Hopkins, Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Katharine Hepburn, Muhammad Ali, Basil Rathbone and Lauren Bacall as well as Australian prime ministers Sir Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard.

The Windsor is situated on Bourke Hill in the Parliament Precinct and is a Melbourne landmark of high Victorian architecture.

The original Grand Hotel in 1883 from Treasury PlaceThe hotel was built in two stages by shipping magnate George Nipper, both designed by Charles Webb in a broadly Renaissance Revival style. Originally named the Grand Hotel, the first section (the southern half) was completed in 1884.

The northern half, which included the distinctive twin mansard roofed towers in the Second Empire style, was completed in 1888, just in time to host visitors to the Centennial Exhibition in the Royal Exhibition Building. A notable feature is the stone sculpture, attributed to John Simpson Mackennal, over the main entrance with male female figures known as ‘Peace and Plenty’ reclining over the English and Australian Coat of Arms.[5] The extension was undertaken by a new owner, temperance movement leader James Munro, who burnt the liquor licence in public and operated the hotel as a coffee palace, renamed the “Grand Coffee Palace”.

Grand Hotel and Spring Street in 1906Re-licenced in 1897, it became the Grand Hotel and in 1898 the Constitution of Australia was drafted in the hotel.

The present name dates from 1920, when the hotel was sold and refurbished, and honours the British Royal Family.

For much of its 20th Century life, the hotel dubbed the Duchess of Spring Street was one of the most favoured and luxurious hotels in Melbourne, hosting many notable national and international guests.