Sydney’s Sirius building loses fight for heritage protection

The NSW Environment and Heritage Minister Mark Speakman has rejected calls to heritage list the Sirius building in Sydney’s The Rocks.

The Sirius Building, known locally as “a stack of concrete boxes,” is a brutalist-style public housing complex designed in 1979 by Tao (Theodore) Gofers, architect for the Housing Commission, and built adjacent to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

In March 2014, the NSW state government announced plans to sell the site and in 2015, tenants of the public housing complex were all relocated.

The Heritage Council of NSW unanimously recommended the building for heritage listing following a meeting of the council in December 2015.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, recommendations of the Heritage Council are usually accepted by the minister. However, in a statement released on 31 July, the minister declined to heritage list the building, saying it could reduce the site value by approximately $70 million, which is equivalent to 240 social housing units.

“I am not listing it because whatever its heritage value, even at its highest, that value is greatly outweighed by what would be a huge loss of extra funds from the sale of the site, funds the government intends to use to build social housing for families in great need,” the minister said.

“This doesn’t mean a practice that money trumps heritage. Here there is a dramatic contrast between whatever heritage value Sirius has and what would be the huge loss of funds for getting people who need a helping hand off the social housing waiting list.”

The Sirius building comprises 79 apartments capable of housing approximately 200 people, according to the National Trust.

In a letter to the minister on 1 April, City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore expressed support for the heritage listing of the building.

“The original design and use of the Sirius building for apartments means it is capable of reasonable and economic use for housing. Its retention will continue to contribute to the character and housing diversity of The Rocks and Millers Point,” she wrote.

“Property value assumptions can underestimate the value of listed property. They can disregard the market appeal of the building character and the greater certainty heritage protection provides for maintaining this quality.”

Gofers’s design was influenced by Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 in Montreal.

The Heritage Council’s draft statement of significance described the building as “a rare and fine example of the late Brutalist architectural style especially in its application to social housing.”

If the building is demolished, Sydney will be left with only one other example of Gofers’s brutalist-style architecture for social housing, which is located in Sans Souci.

The Sirius building is listed by both the National Trust and the Australian Institute of Architects NSW chapter’s register of significant buildings.

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