For those of you who don’t know the Sirius building, it sits front row in Sydney’s skyline, nestled in beside the southern approaches of the Harbour Bridge and looks out across Circular Quay to the Opera House. The controversy begins with people’s views of the building; what some would consider to be an eyesore sitting on prime city real estate, and others recognise as a great example of modern brutalist architecture with a significant place in Sydney’s social history.
It’s been called many things over the years, including “a stack of concrete boxes”, “as sexy as a carpark”, and “a human filing cabinet”. If you want to see how divided the people of Sydney are over this building, you only have to read the flood of comments that follow any news article on this topic.
The current issues around this building are about whether it will be demolished to make way for redevelopment, or preserved and heritage listed. These outcomes will affect both the working class community for whom it was originally purpose built, and the NSW State Government who will likely sell off the land for future development of luxury apartments.
Here is where things are up to….
The to and fro of this story began back in 2014 when the State Government announced the sale of the building hoping to raise $100M, relocation of the residents, the likely demolition of the building and redevelopment of the site. In 2015 and despite stern opposition from many sides, the evictions began with residents being told to find accommodation elsewhere.
In short, two successive Heritage Ministers (Mark Speakman, 2016 and Gabrielle Upton, 2017) have ignored the advice of their own experts at the NSW Heritage Council, who voted unanimously to recommend heritage listing for the building. A heritage listing would ultimately save the building from demolition, but would lower the sale price.
The first decision by Mark Speakman was determined invalid; in July 2017 the Land and Environment Court found that the minister had “side-stepped the required assessment” and ordered the current minister to reconsider the heritage listing. The second decision by Gabrielle Upton was announced in October 2017, again declining to grant the building heritage status.
History repeats. To really appreciate the true heritage value of this building, you need to consider its origins. Ironically the Sirius building and the Heritage Act both came about from the Green Bans in the 1970’s. This was a movement led by prominent activist Jack Mundey and the Builders Labourers Federation to prevent high rise development and preserve historic buildings in The Rocks. It also prevented what was a form of social cleansing of the area, and the Sirius building was the community inspired alternative that came about from this movement that would help to retain the working class community in the area. Read more about the Millers Point community. The image below shows the 1963 Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority proposal that was thwarted at the time.
The Sirius building’s last remaining tenant, Myra Demetriou will be moving out in December 2017, after a long and public battle. I recommend you read her story by Tim Elliot, originally published in the SMH Good Weekend on December 2, 2017, of this remarkable and resilient woman. I can’t help but feeling that once the last resident leaves the Sirius, there is nothing left to stop the bulldozers.
Take a good look next time you drive past, as this might well be the history lesson they teach to primary school students in another 20 years’ time.