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Top right A skybridge apartment at the Colgate Palmolive development at Balmain. Bottom right Siljvol Zone at Sydney Mansions in Surry Hills. Below left Exterior of Whites Paddington. Bottom left Living zone at The Grace in Camperdown.

Sydney is the centre of another boom in recycling grungy old industrial buildings for glamorous new apartments. Here’s a scan of some notable recent examples.

Sydney’s first warehouse apartments boom began in the late 1970s, with developments along the west and east edges of the city centre. Now another phase of residential recycling – more vigorous – is spreading to industrial buildings in the ring of Victorian suburbs that includes Paddington, Darlinghurst, Camperdown, Surry Hills, Newtown and Alexandria. An interesting aspect of this wave is the popularity of obsolete Grace Bros warehouses – but other favoured species include former hospital and brewery blocks and factories.
Most buildings being recycled have no remarkable exterior features, but they often provide desirably high wooden ceilings and sturdy brick or concrete envelopes which can be revised without a heritage drama – allowing budgets to be redirected towards glamorous joinery and PC items.
Several foreign architectural firms are involved in Sydney’s latest warehouse renaissance – a sign of the city’s rising international profile. For example, French designer Philippe Starck is part of a New York consortium which has announced plans to offer either shells or Starck-approved fitouts in at least one Sydney industrial building – although the site’s yet to be found.
Another example is the Stiljvol Zone display apartment at Sydney Mansions in Surry Hills. Here, local architects Noel Bell Ridley Smith converted the building into small units with timber windows and glazed doors leading to narrow decks. Then Aaron Tan and Grace Liang at OMA’s Hong Kong office were flown in to prepare a display unit which was widely promoted under the name of their Dutch principal, Rem Koolhaas. OMA’s sleek interior includes poured epoxy floors in the kitchen and bathroom (groovier and cheaper than tiles), sliding walls of green glass to hide the kitchen and study alcoves, and an ensuite which (controversially) opens to the bedroom. In Camperdown, Philippe Robert of the Paris practice Reichen + Robert has been working with Tim Williams and Suters on an adaptive reuse of the old children’s hospital outpatients block – the first stage of a DEM-planned development of the whole site by Stirling Estates. The first building, Etage, will be distinguished by window infills of timber louvres, allowing the living rooms to be marketed as exotic loggias – and avoiding any need for balconies. Robert has been spruiking this clever twist in The Sydney Morning Herald’s property pages, and in brochures which feature his face full page. The display unit is seducing buyers.
Also in Camperdown, Bonus Architects (directed by former Allen Jack + Cottier associate Geoff Bonus) has employed square-gridded windows to distinguish the otherwise nondescript facade of a five-storey GBs warehouse, now a mid-market residential block called The Grace. The display apartment includes an alcove balcony, sliding walls hiding the kitchen and a spare bedroom/study opening to a lower-level living area.
In Paddington, a large building formerly occupied by car dealerships and a taxi fleet is being converted to two-storey loft apartments with white walls, concrete floors and metal stairs to mezzanine bedrooms. This minimal styling – by Crone with interior designer Ruth Levine for Pacific Property – is strongly reminiscent of Engelen Moore’s award-winning Redfern terrace house. In Balmain, architect Julius Bokor is converting the old waterfront premises of Colgate Palmolive into spacious units of diverse configurations.
These are only a few examples of a development trend which is bringing tens of thousands of new dwellings to Sydney —Davina Jackson



Published online: 1 Mar 2000


Architecture Australia, March 2000

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