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Concrete and conservation: Highlights of the 2017 Sydney Architecture Festival

The 11th annual Sydney Architecture Festival begins on 29 September with a program that focusses on architectural heritage, the protection of 20th century icons and the future of architecture in a “Sydney we’re yet to meet.”

With the uncertain future of Tao Gofers’ brutalist social housing complex Sirius looming large in conversations around architecture in Sydney, this year’s program pointedly celebrates brutalism, concrete and the fight to protect architectural heritage.

A series of events under the heading “Sydney, you’re brutal” will explore the city’s “love affair with concrete,” examining how the early modernists, socially minded brutalists and a new generation of architects working today have used the material to transform Sydney.

Festival organizers NSW Architects Registration Board will launch an audio tour of Sydney’s brutalist architecture to coincide with the event. Narrated by television personality Fenella Kernebone and available through the Geotourist app the tour will cover 50 sites across Sydney, including the Seidler House in Killara by Harry Seidler, Buhrich House II in Castlecrag by Hugh Buhrichin and the former Torin Corporation Building in Penrith by Marcel Breuer.

Another highlight of the festival will be Jane’s Walk Parramatta. Part of a global movement inspired by New York journalist Jane Jacobs, Jane’s Walk Parramatta will draw on the history of urban activism to encourage people to connect with their communities.

The program also looks to the future. The exhibition “Finding Sydney’s ‘Missing Middle’” will reveal the kinds of homes Sydney needs, as it seeks to find space for more than 1.7 million additional people, in more than 725,000 new homes over the next 20 years.

Sydney’s westward shift will be a key consideration of the festival’s agenda. The festival hub will be located at Western Sydney University’s One Parramatta Square by Architectus, the first stage of the Parramatta Square redevelopment, and a highlight of the program will be the unveiling of western Sydney’s newest mosque, a concrete masterpiece designed by Candalepas Associates.

Here are the details of some of the festival highlights:

Sydney, you’re brutal


Kicking off the “Sydney, You’re Brutal” events is a free talk held at the festival hub at the Peter Shergold Building at Western Sydney University’s vertical campus in Parramatta. Architect Glen Harper, who started the The Sydney Brutalist Project, will join urban strategist and founder of Leftbank Michelle Tabet to discuss the history of concrete and brutalism in Sydney. Comedian and architecture enthusiast Tim Ross will MC the event.

Info and registration.


Sydney, you’re brutal: The New World

Glenn Harper and Tim Ross will lead a curated tour of Sydney’s brutalist masterpieces, with the original architects sharing “tales from the drawing board.” The tour will also mark the launch of Blue Crow media’s Sydney Brutalist Map.

Info and tickets.

Sydney, you’re brutal: the old quarter

Glenn Harper will lead a personal tour through Sydney’s old quarter, Surry Hills and the CBD, looking at the Reader’s Digest Building, the Surry Hills Police Station and the Masonic Centre.

Info and tickets.

Jane’s Walk Parramatta

Jane’s Walk is a global movement of free, citizen-led walking conversations inspired by New York journalist and urban activist Jane Jacobs, whose writing and grassroots activism left an indelible imprint on urban studies, and her neighbourhood of Greenwich Village. The Parramatta walk is free and will leave from the Festival Hub at the Peter Shergold Building.

Info and registration.

Finding Sydney’s “Missing Middle”

This free exhibition, presented in collaboration with Government Architect NSW, will explore what the homes of the future should look like in a city that will need to accommodate an estimated more than 725, 000 new homes over the next 20 years.

More info.

Parramatta Quickdraw

Samantha Donnely from the school of architecture at the University of Technology Sydney will lead a free architectural drawing class. The class will focus on key landmarks in Parramatta’s CBD, with beginners encouraged to attend.

Info and registration.

World Architecture Day Oration

Belin-based architect, curator and author Professor Kristien Ring will give a speech discussing how “profit-driven developments shape the housing markets of most major cities today” on Monday, World Architecture Day. Ring, the author of The Self-Made City, will share a citizen-led housing model that “might just help Sydney deliver a supply of well-designed affordable housing that can cost between 15 and 30 percent less to purchase.”

Info and tickets.

The Sydney Festival of Architecture is presented by the NSW Architects Registration Board. In 2017 the registration board has collaborated with Western Sydney University and the City of Parramatta to put on the festival.

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