Sirius building added to 2018 World Monuments Watch list

The Sirius social housing complex, described as a “brutalist icon,” is one of 25 sites worldwide to be included on the 2018 World Monuments Watch list.

The list was established in 1996 by the New York-based World Monuments Fund, which issues a list every two years of cultural sites under imminent threat from conflict, natural disasters, climate change or conservation challenges.

The places on the 2018 watch list span more than 30 countries and territories and range from prehistoric to modern sites.

The Sirius building is the only site in Oceania and the youngest of the 25 sites on the 2018 watch list.

It is threatened with sale and demolition if heritage protection is not secured. The building, which is located in The Rocks and was designed by Tao Gofers in 1979, was denied heritage protection in 2016 by the former NSW heritage minister Mark Speakman, contrary to a unanimous recommendation from the Heritage Council of NSW.

The Sirius building by Tao Gofers, 1979.

The Sirius building by Tao Gofers, 1979.

Image: Katherine Lu

Speakman said at time the building’s heritage value “is greatly outweighed by what would be huge loss of extra funds from the sale of the site.”

In the Land and Environment Court the government claimed heritage listing would reduce the value of the site by approximately $70 million.

The court ruled against the government in July 2017, finding that it had mishandled the decision making process and ordering it to reconsider Sirius’ heritage status. In August the government announced it would appeal the court’s decision.

“The 2018 World Monuments Watch calls on the government of New South Wales to respect the recommendation of its heritage experts and allow its citizens to maintain an important social legacy,” said the organization.

Interior of the Sirius building by Tao Gofers, 1979.

Interior of the Sirius building by Tao Gofers, 1979.

Image: Barton Taylor

The Sirius building is one of three sites on the 2018 watch list identified as examples of “modernism at risk.” The other two sites are the Kenzo Tange-designed Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium in Japan and the Post-Independence Architecture of Delhi, India, which comprises government, public, institutional and residential buildings designed by a number of architects including Charles Correa and Joseph Allen Stein.

Sirius is only the second Australian site to be included in the history of the watch list. The Dampier Rock Art Complex, located across an island archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the north-west coast of Australia, was placed on the watch in 2004, 2006 and 2008 after it was declared endangered by the National Trust as a consequence of proposed industrial development.

In 2004 it received a World Monuments Fund-administered American Express grant to finance research to secure its place on the Australian National Heritage List.

More than 170 sites were nominated for the 2018 watch list from around the world, which were assessed by an international team of more than 120 heritage experts.

A panel of six selected the final 25 sites for inclusion. The watch list now includes 839 sites.

“Through these sites, the 2018 Watch calls for amplified vigilance for modern landmarks everywhere and aims to broaden what the public sees as heritage worthy of protection.”

The selection panel comprised Alissandra Cummins (director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society), Tess Davis (executive director of the Antiquities Coalition), Ed McMahon (Charles E. Fraser Chair on Environmental Policy at the Urban Land Institute), Francesco Siravo (Historic Cities Programme of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture), Stefan Simon (director of Global Cultural Heritage Initiatives at Yale University), and Charles Stanish (executive director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Culture and the Environment at the University of South Florida).

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