BY ISABELLE BASTIAN
The NSW Minister for Heritage, Gabrielle Upton, has again decided not to place the threatened Sirius Building in The Rocks on the State Heritage Register.
Finished in 1980, the building is known as a prime example of Brutalist architecture. Its distinctive position in The Rocks makes it visible from the Harbour Bridge as people enter the city.
Historically, the 79-apartment building has been used for social housing. However, starting in 2015, residents began to be moved out of the building in preparation for possible demolition and redevelopment.
The campaign to protect the Sirius Building has been active for a long time. After the Heritage Council recommended to the former minister, Mark Speakman MP, that he direct the listing of Sirius on the State Heritage Register in early 2016, he resolved to decline.
However, in July 2017, Save Our Sirius, the organisation founded to protect the building, celebrated when the Land and Environment Court ruled that Mr. Speakman’s decision not to list the building was invalid.
Save our Sirius members, along with many local residents, were hopeful that on appeal, new Heritage Minister Gabrielle Upton would list it.
Unfortunately, on 25 October this year, almost three months after the judges’ ruling, her office released an official statement outlining her decision not to list the building.
“I, Gabrielle Upton, Minister for Heritage, have decided pursuant to section 34(1) of the Heritage Act 1977 not to direct the listing of the Sirius Building on the State Heritage Register.”
Unlike former Minister Speakman’s decision, which focused on the cost-benefit of keeping The Sirius, Minister Upton touched on other aspects of the requirements.
“The Heritage Council only recommended listing on the grounds of aesthetics and rarity, although many submissions also advocated for other grounds.
“Given the divergent views expressed on these other grounds by submissions for and against listing – particularly on the significance of the Sirius building as an outcome of the green bans (and whether its relevance was state-wide or only local), and the relevance of the building to the work of participants in the green ban, I agree with the Heritage Council’s decision not to recommend on these other grounds.”
Minister Upton went on to describe numerous discrepancies of opinion surrounding the Heritage Council’s two criteria – aesthetics and rarity – to lead to her decision not list the building.
“Some submissions highlight the Sirius Building as being a fine example of the late Brutalist style of architecture. However, there are also submissions which note that the building may not have been consciously designed in the Brutalist style and that, in any event, the building was not an influential example of that style.
“On balance, I do not believe that the Sirius Building is important in demonstrating aesthetic characteristics and/or a high degree of creative or technical achievement in NSW, and this criterion is not met.”
Save Our Sirius disagrees.
“Upton’s only argument and the only thing she cites in her decision is the opinion of a group of private companies the government hired, to tell them what they wanted to hear. In doing so, The Minister has placed the view of private hired heritage opinion over the unanimous advice of the NSW Stage Heritage Council.”
Save Our Sirius listed the widespread, and growing, support for heritage listing amongst organizations such as the NSW Heritage Council, City of Sydney, NSW Chapter of Australians Institute of Architects, World Monuments Fund, and Historic Houses Association, all of which shared their belief in the building’s heritage importance.
Shaun Carter, Chairperson of Save our Sirius, responded to the decision.
“Lets be clear about this, it is a decision based on a massive development ploy – 250 apartments on this site where only 79 now sit, and it’s part of the current government’s cultural war to get rid of a building they see as a symbol of the left.
“Imagine what 250 Apartments on this delicate state-significant site within the world heritage curtilage of the Sydney Opera House would look like if a massive tower was built on it. If you don’t like Sirius, imagine how much less you’ll like this.
“Save Our Sirius will continue the fight. If there is a legal avenue to pursue, we will pursue it with all our might. We will not stop this fight until Sirius is saved. If that means we need to stand in front of the wrecking ball, we will do that to. We will not give in.”