Fans of Sydney’s “lump on The Rocks” (as described by the National Trust in the 1970s) have generated a bit of noise since the government’s decision against heritage listing the Sirius building.
The Herald’s Elizabeth Farrelly penned her latest railing attack on the government following the decision, describing the building as a treasured example of the Brutalist style that is “at once elegant and sexy … a style that esteems strength and raw honesty, but especially as juxtaposed against the delicacy of glass, the sway and spike of nature, the play of light”.
My own view of the Sirius building is that it’s about as sexy as the car park at my local supermarket.
Granted, the building occupies an, ahem, “interesting” place in our city’s fleeting architectural pantheon, more for want of candidates than anything else.
But the Pantheon it is not, and to hear commentators referring to Sirius in the same breath as the great historic buildings of Europe is just laughable.
It also happens to occupy a huge tranche of space in a site of far greater historic and heritage significance: The Rocks.
The heritage appeal of the sandstone structures and cobblestone streets of The Rocks is universal, the buildings literally hewn from “the rocks” on which they stand.
With Sirius, the opposite is true. “Brutalism is an acquired taste,” writes Farrelly, in a contender for understatement of the year.
Dismissing those who won’t miss the concrete stack as architectural barbarians only confirms that the building’s elite apologists are out of touch.
For the rest of us, the demise of the concrete eyesore and the promise of a new, less brutal building on the site – required to fit in with the aesthetic of The Rocks – will be met with cheers, not jeers.
Meanwhile, the same sophisticates lamenting the loss of Sirius are also busy applauding the construction of publicly funded giant milk crates and the like, while decrying the road and rail projects that will make working, commuting – living – more bearable for the rest of us, the great unwashed, who don’t have the privilege of living close enough to town to enjoy a bicycle ride down a fig-lined path to work.
Outside the bubble, Sydney’s long-neglected infrastructure is groaning under the strain of a surging population.
This is one of the many real problems the NSW government is trying to fix.
We are not building roads and trains and light rail just for a lark. We are building them because the people of this city badly need them.
Sydney is creaking, and we are putting in the legwork to make it a world-class city once again.
Neither are we knocking down Sirius for a bit of sport, oblivious to whatever skerrick of heritage significance it might have. Because, in a city as young as Sydney, just about every building is liable to have a loyal coterie of admirers who will weep over its demolition.
But with limited space and limited resources, we can’t slap “heritage” on every building erected since day dot.
We have to make judgment calls, and in this case, the decision to sell one antiquated, unfit-for-purpose social housing site will mean we can use the funds to build new homes for at least 300 more vulnerable families.
Some call this a false dichotomy. It’s not. In a “progressive” fantasy land you can have your cake and eat it too – or at least you can scoff your pistachio macaron and endlessly dip into taxpayers’ pockets to buy another dozen.
This government refuses to live in that fantasy world, as lovely as it must be for its well-heeled inhabitants.
As for heritage, we are making it a priority to invest in the heritage that is unequivocally important to our city, state and nation.
Last week we announced $15 million for heritage refurbishments in The Rocks. Our plan to lease the sandstone buildings on Bridge Street has secured a $250 million investment to see them returned to their former glory and opened to the public as hotels with dining, retail and a rooftop bar. The Minister’s Stoneworks Program keeps our great sandstone buildings intact – hospitals, town halls, museums, cathedrals.
These are the buildings everyone actually visits and admires, not the ones that savagely divide community opinion and feature on page 379 of the Handbook of Advanced Postmodern Concretescape Theory Vol 7.
The end of Sirius is not the end of the world. In fact it is the beginning of 300 new social housing dwellings and a new, exciting opportunity for the best and brightest architects of today to design a building that takes its place among the history of The Rocks.