Sirius to be demolished

Sunday 31 July 2016

On behalf of the State Government, Minister Mark Speakman has rejected a NSW Heritage Council recommendation to list the Sirius building as a heritage item of state significance. Minister Speakman wants it demolished.

Sirius consists of 79 residential apartments ranging from one to four bedrooms, and was designed as public housing, with accommodation for the aged and for families large and small. In addition to the units themselves, there are extensive communal areas, including a large common room on the ground floor of the tower, a library, an 8th-floor heritage room for older residents, and a series of courtyards and rooftop gardens. It was unusual for the Housing Commission to combine family and aged accommodation in a single development, but combining a range of ages and providing communal and private spaces has helped the residents of Sirius to be part of a successful public housing community.

Sirius is a fine and rare example of the Brutalist style of architecture in Australia. It demonstrates Brutalism’s objective of ethical design based on social concerns as well as its focus on the truthful expression of materials, function and structure. Brutalism is not well known in Australia, but internationally it is highly regarded. The Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt has launched #SOSBrutalism ‘to save our beloved concrete monsters.’ Sirius is at the top of its list of endangered Brutalist buildings around the world.

Kelli Haynes, Convenor of the Friends of Millers Point, said Sirius was designed “to enable elderly and impaired residents to remain in a community where they have social roles and continue to contribute to society.”

After Sirius was built, it seemed never again would governments or developers have the power to force people from The Rocks, to destroy their homes and a community bonded to a maritime history that stretched back to the earliest days of the Colony – from the traders who built the merchant houses and the longshore wharves that once lined the harbour, to those who worked the ships and finger wharves, and those who walked the Hungry Mile.

The Sirius Foundation has been formed by people and organisations campaigning to save Sirius and its residents and is supported by the National Trust, the Australian Institute of Architects, the Millers Point Residents Action Group, Friends of Millers Point, Millers Point Public Housing Tenants Group, Unions NSW, CFMEU, MUA, and Jack Mundey, legendary Green Ban campaigner who helped save The Rocks from redevelopment in the 1970s and was instrumental in the building of Sirius. Heading the Sirius Foundation is Shaun Carter, NSW President of the Australian Institute of Architects.

The Sirius Foundation has proposed a variety of middle-ground options for Sirius.

One of these involves turning Sirius into a mix of public and privately-owned apartments. Sirius could be amongst Sydney’s coolest apartments while still maintaining a proportion of public housing residents. There is a significant proportion of Sydneysiders who want to live in a mixed and diverse community, and Sirius provides an outstanding opportunity to create an environment for such a community.

Another option is to provide some development uplift on nearby sites while retaining Sirius and some of its residents in their current location.

Mr Speakman says, “he would strongly argue for any future building’s floor space to be restricted to what is currently allowed” whereas Minister Brad Hazzard wants Sirius replaced by 250 luxury apartments which would dominate this heritage precinct from the Harbour Bridge to the Opera House. What is apparent is that neither minister thinks highly of either the heritage or the architectural values of Sirius and the precinct in which it stands.

Mr Speakman proposes to replace Sirius with a building that will “respect the feel of The Rocks … will be shorter in the middle, a bit higher on the sides so there will be an unobstructed view from the Bradfield Highway.” Within a couple of days of announcing the planned demolition of Sirius, Mr Speakman has proposed a replacement that exceeds the existing height controls for the site, and describes what could be a dull building that will dominate The Rocks but will be out of sight as he passes it on the Bradfield Highway. If there is a new luxury apartment block filled with new residents, they will forever feel the ghosts of those they displaced instead of being integrated into a diverse, vibrant and continuing community.

Del Kathryn Barton spoke about the ‘cultural tragedy’ of Mr Speakman’s plan on ABC.

While it is still available, The Feed’s story of 89-year-old Myra campaigning to save Sirius is the top story on our Facebook page.

Recently Sarah Keoghan and Elizabeth Fortescue co-wrote a two-page story of Myra and Sirius in the Telegraph.

Sarah Miller wrote a supportive article in the Herald.

At every occasion, Mr Speakman claims the plan to demolish Sirius and decimate a community “doesn’t mean a practice that money trumps heritage.” But it appears this is exactly what it means.

Mr Speakman claims it would cost $15 million to bring Sirius up to code, but the most recent management plan prepared by the State Government for Sirius indicates it requires minimal work, and in almost every respect it exceeds current codes. Similarly, he claims the government would lose up to $70 million if Sirius is heritage listed and retained, but he has refused to disclose or discuss any aspect of the value of the site or the building. There is a temptation to say the State Government can’t count what Sirius and its site are worth, and worse than this the people who live in this community don’t count for Mr Speakman.

The Sirius Foundation and the community will continue to ask the State Government to consider alternatives to the demolition of Sirius and destruction of a community, but perhaps we should be asking whether another Green Ban for Sirius is needed forty years after The Rocks Green Bans were lifted.

For more information and media interviews, contact

Shaun Carter, Chairman – Sirius Foundation, 0421 997 223

John McInerney, Committee Member – Sirius Foundation, 0414 421 906

John Dunn, Committee Member – Sirius Foundation, 9251 8650

Kelli Haynes, Convenor, Friends of Millers Point, 0400 9241230