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Brutalist Bidura children’s court to be demolished after council appeal fails

The New South Wales Land and Environment Court has rejected an appeal to save the brutalist Bidura Metropolitan Remand Centre in Sydney’s Glebe from demolition.

Designed in the late 1970s by the NSW Government Architect’s Office, led by J.W. (Ian) Thomson, the multi-storey, white off-form concrete building has, alongside the Sirius building at The Rocks, become something of a symbol for the fight to protect brutalist architecture in Australia.

Architects and heritage advocates have been campaigning to save the building since 2015, when developer Visual Land Glebe lodged a development application for the demolition of the MRC and construction of a seven-storey building with 73 apartments and nine two-storey dwellings.

The City of Sydney rejected the application, at which time the developer took the matter to court. In 2018, senior commissioner Susan Dixon found in favour of the developer, saying that she found expert advice on its heritage status from consultant Paul Davies “more balanced and objective” that that given by the council’s expert Glenn Harper.

“[Harper is] a media advocate for the retention of this form of architecture (even after the commencement of this hearing) [and] these matters in my opinion diminish his evidence for the retention of the MRC,” she said in her judgement.

The council launched an appeal to that decision, arguing that Dixon had failed to address substantively the difference in opinion between the heritage experts and that her preference for Davies’ advice was “irrational, illogical and manifestly unreasonable.”

On 26 March, however, chief justice Brian Preston upheld the original decision, finding that the council had not established any of the grounds for appeal. He reiterated that Harper had argued for the retention of the MRC because he had undertaken the listing of the MRC for the Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter) Register of Significant Buildings in NSW, he was an expert in Brutalist architecture and he was a media advocate for the retention of Brutalist architecture.

He found that, “Those matters were capable of making Mr Harper’s evidence for the retention of the MRC less objective and diminishing the weight to be given to Mr Harper’s evidence.”

Preston also rejected the council’s arguments that there had been a denial in procedural fairness and that the delay in giving judgment had caused errors on questions of law.

Sydney mayor Clover Moore, who has been outspoken in her support for the building, expressed her disappointment in the decision via Twitter.

“Even though the heritage significance of the building is backed up by a number of independent heritage assessments, our efforts to protect the Metropolitan Remand Centre through local and state heritage listings and an Interim Heritage Order have either been knocked back or ignored,” she said.

“I call on the NSW Government to make heritage a priority, especially the Metropolitan Remand Centre and Sirius – important examples of brutalist architecture in the inner city.”

The full judgement can be read here.

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