This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Are you Sirius?

Architecture

If you’re a design-loving local reader, you’ve probably heard about Sydney’s iconic Sirius Building in recent weeks. Designed by Tao Gofers for the NSW Housing Department in 1978/79, this Brutalist edifice is one of Sydney’s most distinctive buildings.

A recent decision by the NSW Government has left Sirius without a heritage listing. The intention is to sell the site, and demolish the building for a new private housing development. Thankfully, there are a bunch of people campaigning very hard to try and avert this imminent cultural catastrophe.

In today’s enlightening story, our architecture columnist Stuart Harrison explains the significance of Sirius, and why it’s worth protecting.

22nd September, 2016

The Sirius Building at The Rocks, Sydney. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Sirius facade, with Sydney Opera House in background. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

The Sirius Building at The Rocks, Sydney. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Sirius’ staggered rooftop terraces. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Sirius’ timber panelled entrance foyer. Photo – Barton Taylor.

Entrance foyer. Laminated timber animal artwork designed by architect Penny Rosier. Photo – Barton Taylor.

Sirius’ distinctive interiors include this timber panelled entrance foyer, adorned with laminated timber animals designed by architect Penny Rosier as part of the original plans, loosely based on prehistoric cave paintings. Photo – Barton Taylor.

View through one of Sirius’ many landscaped outdoor spaces. Photo – Barton Taylor.

Sirius ground floor landscaping and communal gardens. Photo – Barton Taylor.

Stuart Harrison
Thursday 22nd September 2016

Buildings like this tell us how to design well. They are living textbooks, reminding us that good design is for all.

THE ROCKS is a part of one of the two main ridges that define central Sydney. It’s an amazing spot – elevated, and close to the city centre and Harbour Bridge. It’s here that nearly 40 years ago a social housing project grew out of the ridge to create an outcrop of fine Brutalism, that until recently has been home for low income and aged residents.

Sirius is not only a great example of Brutalist Architecture – the raw concrete style of late Modernism – it’s also a perfect example of diversity in housing. This is evident in both who lives here, and the types of dwellings within. There’s a mix of them – two, three and four bedroom dwellings, with balconies, roof gardens, social space – basically all of the things a contemporary housing project needs.

Let’s talk about the history of the building. In the ’70s the government wanted to build a series of residential towers at The Rocks. Protests, green bans and deals done, three options were put forward by the NSW Housing Department’s then architect, Tao Gofers. The one selected by powerful locals was the one now built – a skilful hybrid of traditional forms – Victorian terraces, and the more recent towers of Sydney.

So this great piece of singular design is an intelligent compromise between standard solutions and the over-development of the site – it came into being through negotiation. Tao Gofers, still very much alive, designed a varying building form using a standard module. The rounded ‘boxes’ that make up the building recall the Metabolist experiments of the ’70s (think Capsule Tower Tokyo and Habitat 67 Montreal) – though in Sirius’ case, the apartments each consist of several boxes – it’s more like a Tetris behind the façade.

The building changes from a low three storey to a more tower-like 10 storeys at its highest point. This varying form allows view corridors to be preserved, typically to the Harbour Bridge, but also allows views through the building. The staggered form creates the well-defined edges and profile, and it’s this articulation of form that gives the project its identity, connected through wonderful ‘brute’ concrete.

Sirius uses its roof brilliantly – as roof gardens with coloured vents (these form a colour spectrum across the building). The roof gardens provide private outdoor space, essential for families in urban environments. Communal garden areas and terraces are made with rounded brickwork landscaped areas that soften the building at is base. It’s this attention to the human experience that makes this project, well, human.

Sirius is also cleverly organised – the ‘ins and outs’ provide not only variation to the streetscape, but bring light in to deeper sections of the plan – more surface area creates better amenity. Many dwellings have light access from opposite sides, and this is made possible by the use of isolated sets of stairs and lifts – this also means there are no long nasty corridors that take people to their front doors.

We need to talk politics for a moment. With only five residents left (others have been encouraged to leave) in the 79 dwellings of Sirius, the building is under direct threat of demolition. A recent decision by the NSW Government has left the building without a heritage listing, to maximise its resale value. The intention is to sell the site and demolish Sirius for a new private housing development. Not good!

By housing a diverse range of people in central locales, cities are less likely to become wealthy enclaves and lifeless monocultures. In these situations (and this is happening in cities around the world) workers and others have to travel from outside the city to do their jobs – it’s not an efficient or equitable way for the city to be. Saving Sirius would help stop this trend, and would protect a vital piece of Sydney’s architectural heritage.

So what is heritage? A building of 40 years age, that is an exemplar of a certain style, that represents protest and struggle at the time (and now) fulfils all the requirements of a piece of cultural and architectural heritage.

Buildings like this tell us how to design well. They are living textbooks, reminding us that good design is for all.

Visit Save Our Sirius to learn more and support the campaign to have Sirius protected from demolition.

View Comments

Similar Stories

Architecture

A Concrete House In A Coastal Setting

Exploring Australian beachside Brutalism with AuHaus.
Miriam McGarry
  20 hours ago

Architecture

A Home That Balances Mid-Century And Modern

Hindley & Co architects bring mid-century design into the 21st century, in Newtown, Victoria.
Miriam McGarry

Architecture

A Mornington Peninsula Home That Goes Back To Basics

The First Lessons House by emerging architectural firm Ray Dinh Architecture, in Portsea.

This Week

Indigenous Art

A Joyful Exhibition Featuring Some Of Australia's Most Talented Indigenous Artists

A group exhibition and celebration of Australia's first Indigenous owned and operated gallery.

Regional

Surreal Scenes At Mountaintop Mushrooms

Our regional columnists discover a world of wonder inside an unassuming shed in South-East Queensland.
Karen Locke

Homes

The Sleekest Apartment In West Brunswick

Explore the exacting apartment of photographer Sean Fennessy and stylist Jess Lillico.

News

Frida Kahlo In Bendigo

An exclusive exhibition drawing on the archives of Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s former home, comes to Bendigo Art Gallery.
Elle Murrell

News

An Australian Christmas Story Takes Over Fed Square

Beci Orpin illustrates a distinctly Australian Christmas story in collaboration with creative film producers General Strike.
Sally Tabart

Every Painting Tells A Story

Uncovering The Hidden Symbolism In NGA's New Blockbuster: 'Love & Desire'

Our collaboration with National Gallery of Australia, celebrating their incredible new exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from London...

Small Business

Knowing When To Call In The Experts, According To KeepCup

This Melbourne-born business has taken the world by storm, but they haven't gone it alone.
Fiona Killackey

Art

An Exhibition of Modernist Suburban Homes, Painted In Brilliant Detail

Artist Robyn Sweaney looks back to the modernist homes of the 1960s, in a new exhibition at Arthouse Gallery in Sydney.

News

A Zen Group Show In Sydney

Saint Cloche gallery celebrates the feeling of home with CASA, an end-of-year group exhibition.
Sally Tabart

News

ACCA’s Explosive New Program Of Reality-Warping Works

The first pieces commissioned by The Macfarlane Fund supporting emerging artists to create career-defining works.
Sponsored

News

A Sustainable Collection Of Objects 'For Gardening' By Australian Designers

Sarah K and Bree Claffey react to the scale of mass production that pervades our modern world.

Architecture

A Home That Balances Mid-Century And Modern

Hindley & Co architects bring mid-century design into the 21st century with elegance and restraint, in Newtown, Victoria.
Miriam McGarry

Architecture

A Concrete House In A Coastal Setting

Exploring Australian beachside Brutalism, with 'The Concrete House' by AuHaus in Torquay.
Miriam McGarry
  20 hours ago

Travel

A Stay At Mitchelton Hotel, Nagambie (+ Giveaway!)

Lucy's review of Victoria's newest boutique hotel, designed by Hecker Guthrie – and your opportunity to WIN a stay!

Creative People

11 Great Craftspeople Who Can Make You A Table

A round-up of the best bespoke furniture makers and designers in Australia!
Lucy Feagins
  4 hours ago

Similar Stories

Architecture

A Concrete House In A Coastal Setting

Exploring Australian beachside Brutalism with AuHaus.
Miriam McGarry
  20 hours ago

Architecture

A Home That Balances Mid-Century And Modern

Hindley & Co architects bring mid-century design into the 21st century, in Newtown, Victoria.
Miriam McGarry

Architecture

A Mornington Peninsula Home That Goes Back To Basics

The First Lessons House by emerging architectural firm Ray Dinh Architecture, in Portsea.