Sirius | Brutalist and shining ever-more brightly

[click on images to enlarge for better viewing]

Concrete mould for URO (Unidentified Running Object), public art for Sirius building, 1979. Photograph Tao Gofers

A recent decision by the New South Wales Land & Environment Court has declared ‘invalid and of no effect’ the refusal by the Heritage Minister to list the Sirius apartment building on the State Heritage Register.

The dreams of some: the Sirius site in Cumberland Street, The Rocks before construction, c1977. Photograph Tao Gofers

The decision has some important implications for heritage in New South Wales and Australia, especially places that are of historical significance.

Other dreams: providing quality social housing in the heart of Old Sydney for the local Rockites and Pointers in their home quarter. Source: Sirius, Housing Commission of NSW, c1980, page 10

One very significant implication is that the heritage significance of a place must be properly considered when deciding the future of such a place.  It is not just one factor among many, but the prime factor that needs to be decided first, and which will provide the subsequent framework for all other decision making about the place.

Aged community balcony area, 1980, with characteristic use of rich colour, and view to the Harbour Control Tower on Millers Point (demolished in 2016).  Photograph Tao Gofers

A speaker at the recent Australian Historical Association conference in Newcastle said “constraint is enabling”.  In other words, any field of endeavour needs to be bounded in order to keep it achievable, and the ‘constraints’ of a heritage listing can have the effect of focussing attention on carefully crafting and designing new works that support and even enhance heritage and historical values.

Sirius under construction, tower stepping down to south wing, east facade, overlooking Atherden Street, The Rocks.  Photograph Tao Gofers

Sirius is a creative design response to the environmental constraints of its site.  Its multiple levels and forms mimic the natural topography of the sandstone cliffs and ledges of The Rocks, emphasised by its exaggerated scale.  ABC TV’s second series of the dystopian Indigenous sci-fi drama Cleverman, filmed around Sirius, reveals the complexity of the building’s geometry and shows to full advantage its relationships with its setting.  It is remarkable that, along with the old State Archives building also in The Rocks, Sirius can still convey a visual sense of an imagined modernist future nearly 40 years after it was built.

Sirius under construction: stepping downwards along the north wing, with Bunkers Hill rock face in foreground and Harbour Bridge approach in background. Photograph Tao Gofers

This has been a signal victory for the Millers Point Community Association Inc., all the other people and groups that have continued to campaign and fight for keeping the Sirius building in The Rocks, and the Environmental Defender’s Office who successfully argued the case in Court.

The Royal Australian Historical Society has posted a more detailed summary of the Court’s decision on its website, which also contains a number of links to other useful sites concerning the Sirius battles.  Click here to read the summary and access the links.

Sirius under construction: east facade of tower, stepping down to the north, with westerly views to Pyrmont.  Photograph Tao Gofers

The Minister for Heritage has been ordered by the Court to properly consider whether Sirius has heritage significance, and while it is entirely possible that may still lead to a curmudgeonly decision of ‘no significance’, the possibility that heritage conservation might finally be turning a corner after the past few Stygian years gives some cause for hope.

Pausing to take a cool drink – public art in Sirius, a URO fibreglass model, 1979. Photograph Tao Gofers

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