This article first appeared on Open Journal on March 10, 2017. Images by Mick Ross.
Apartments have long been a part of Sydney’s urban landscape. The first apartment buildings began appearing in the early-1900s in the city and inner city suburbs such as Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Elizabeth Bay. Many of them inspired by apartments in Europe and America and reinterpreted by Australian architects. The Kingsclere in Potts Point is one of the last surviving high-rise residential buildings from the era. Designed by architects Halligan and Wilton in a Federation Free Style, it was completed in 1912; its 17 apartments still serving as homes today. Apartments continue to be an integral part of the city’s housing mix, with an estimated 39 per cent of Sydneysiders living in medium and high-density housing.
We look at four of the city’s most iconic apartment buildings.
Perhaps the most contentious of Sydney’s iconic apartment blocks is the Sirius Building, the Brutalist-style public housing complex in The Rocks designed by architect Tao Gofers in the late-1970s.
Defined by its raw concrete exterior and stacked box style, the Sirius building was specifically designed to cater for both families and aged residents, with a focus on shared and communal spaces. It features 79 apartments, which are a mix of one, two, three and four-bedroom units, with rooftop gardens and views of Circular Quay and the harbour.
Despite a recommendation from the Heritage Council to list it on the State Heritage Register and a Green Ban from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) which means no unionised workforce will take part in its removal, the Sirius Building is currently being prepared for sale and demolition by the current NSW Government. Campaign group Save our Sirius (SoS) are working tirelessly to see the building preserved, including putting alternatives forward to the State government to see it continue, in part, as social housing, while still generating the $100 million the government has forecast from its sale.
As part of Art Month Sydney, Sirius architect Tao Gofers will be hosting one-hour tours of the building to offer an insight into its history, cultural, and architectural significance. The tours will be held on March 11 and 25 and select dates the months following.
Blues Point Tower
Sydneysiders have long loved to hate Harry Seidler’s Blues Point Tower in McMahons Point, with the apartment complex regularly making its way onto the lists of the city’s most ugly buildings. Regardless, the building, which was placed on the North Sydney heritage list in 1993, continues to stand proudly on the harbour’s edge, surrounded by the green parklands of the reserve from which it takes its name: Blues Point.
Completed in 1962, the 25-storey Modernist square-plan tower houses 144 apartments, each with a view of the harbour. It was Australia’s first strata-titled apartment building and, at 85 metres high, was the tallest building in the country at the time of its completion. Blues Point Tower was the first of what was to be several high-rise apartments planned for McMahons Point, but a change in local council saw plans halted, resulting in the tower’s strange lone presence on the harbour.
The tower also represented the beginning of a cultural shift away from the suburbs for middle-class Australians back towards higher-density apartment living in the inner city. In a 2002 article with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Stephen Lacey about Blues Point Tower, Seidler said of apartment living: “Nobody can argue that [the quarter-acre block] isn’t a high standard of living, if you can afford it, and you can get to work reasonably and your kids can go to school – that’s all very well. But to keep on doing that right now is just out of the question, because people have to drive 60 kilometres before they can afford a piece of land and when they get there there’s no shopping, there’s no schools, there’s nothing. It’s a very barren life, because they have no social facilities; they can’t go to plays or concerts because it’s just too far away from everything. And it’s the greatest waste of land in Sydney.”
There was nothing quite like the Montrose apartments in Sydney at the time they were built in 1955. The Heritage-listed rectangular-shaped apartment building in Neutral Bay, with its exterior of aluminium and glass was strikingly minimal, clean and sophisticated. Montrose were the first double-storey units in Australia, each of its eight apartments designed to have generous views of the city and harbour from the south, and to catch winter sun from the north.
Its innovative design was the work of Neville Gruzman, reputed architect, educator and major of Woollahra in 1996. Gruzman contributed greatly to Sydney architecture, particularly from the 50s through to the 70s. His work celebrated in the book Gruzman: An Architect and his City, which includes photographs of 24 of his buildings shot by Max Dupain and David Moore. Architecture Australia in their July 2005 issue paid tribute to Gruzman shortly after his death, noting: “His work, like his personality, was chimerical, brilliant, outspoken and assertive. You could not divorce the two.”
Passengers on the Manly ferry, both current and decades past, have long admired the glistening white Kilburn Towers as they pass them on the trip to Circular Quay. Listed on the Australian Institute of Architects’ Register of Significant Architecture in New South Wales, Kilburn Towers was designed by architect William E Beck and completed in 1960.
The striking pair of circular apartment towers – its shape earning it the cheeky nickname of ‘the toilet rolls building’ – on Addison Road sit at the tip of Manly Point, and are adjacent to and share a part of the small and pretty Manly Peace Park. The towers’ lucky residents are blessed with uninterrupted vistas that span from Little Manly Beach across Sydney Harbour and a grassy, private garden that sits on the ocean’s edge at the front of the property. It has often been said the towers were the inspiration behind the Bee Gees’ 1968 song of the same name, ‘Kilburn Towers’.