Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Brutalism three: Sydney Law School

This is the third in a series of blogposts about brutalist buildings in Sydney. Since starting this series, I have met with the scholarship of Sydney architect Glenn Harper, who exhaustively studied brutalist architecture in the city. In his Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarships Journal, Harper wrote:
Given the recent demolition of so many Brutalist buildings across Sydney and the limited recognition from various Governments, these buildings require significant community support to persuade government in their recognition and ongoing protection.
For the former Sydney Law School building at 173-175 Phillip Street, which was bought by Galileo Group and ISPT in early 2015, time is running out. The developer’s Stage 2 development application has been given conditional approval by the city council and ads for luxury apartments have already appeared. Units will be available for purchase on 23 of the building’s planned 26 floors. Fairfax Media’s Domain gave the development free publicity with a piece of soft-sell in August. Property marketer CBRE is pushing ads out on Facebook. One that appeared in my news feed in August included a link to a website for the development, named ‘King and Phillip’, which has a video featuring lead architect Richard Francis-Jones of FJMT Architects enthusing about 19th century heritage structures in the vicinity, especially St James Church.

“The culture and the history of these beautiful heritage buildings is directly reflected in the materials and the proportions of the new building,” Francis-Jones intones in the video, despite the fact that in order to build the new block of high-end flats a unique and irreplaceable example of 20th century brutalism will have to be demolished. “History reimagined,” promises a newspaper advert. “I would adjust the title to read ‘History un-Reimagined’,” wrote Harper in an email to me in September. He wrote:
I too have been critical (at various public lectures and via Instagram) [of] the University of Sydney’s treatment toward their Brutalist campus buildings. Their 2014 ‘Improvement Plan’ has most of their brutalist buildings (on the Camperdown and Darlington Campuses and the former School of Law) identified for demolition.  
These actions by the University [raise] the question [as to] whether there is indeed a prejudice towards their post-war campus architecture; and you would like to think that there is always an opportunity for adaptation within an age of sustainable use of resources. My views about the current flight of the former [School] of Law, an important Sydney Brutalist building, is not be to the liking of University of Sydney, especially as their decision to sell off one of [these] important assets was undertaken knowing that the University (to have a presence within the city) is leasing (?) floor space within Stockland’s building on Pitt Street.
Sydney City Council, which has gone into bat for another brutalist building, the Bidura Children’s Court in Glebe, has abandoned the Sydney Law School to its fate. I asked the council why there are different approaches to buildings that are both examples of the same design style.

“The City is currently investigating listing the Bidura Metropolitan Remand Centre [as a heritage item on the Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2012] in response to requests from the community and the Heritage Council of NSW,” a City of Sydney spokesperson wrote to me in an email in September. “The City has not received similar requests for the former law school building on King Street.”

To build its new law school, in the 1960s the university had a bill debated in state parliament, the University of Sydney (Law School Site) Bill, 1967. In a letter to J.H. Luscombe, town clerk, the VC and principal of the university, Emeritus Professor Stephen Roberts, noted that the minister for education and science had informed him that the bill had passed into law.

Previously, a 4-storey and basement building at 148A/152 King Street and 94 Elizabeth Street had been used since before 1951 as a licensed hotel with two lock-up shops and a restaurant in the basement. A three-storey building at 154/160 King Street had been used since before 1951 as a licensed hotel. 173/175 Phillip Street was a five-storey building used as two shops on ground floor and as commercial offices on the upper floors. Tooheys Limited was owner of the premises at northwest corner of King and Phillip Streets. On 26 February 1965 by notice in the Government Gazette, the property was resumed by the minister for public works for the university.

Brambles got a blasting license to use in preparation of the site. Blasting of 500 cubic yards of sandstone went ahead. The license was granted for Monday to Saturday inclusive.

The new building was estimated to cost 1.4 million pounds, and would be completed in 1969 with 10 upper floors and three basement levels, including off-street parking for 12 cars, and with an FSR of 10:1. The architects were McConnel, Smith and Johnson of Ocean Street, Edgecliff, and the partner responsible for the overall project was R.N. Johnson. Civil & Civic was involved in the project, as were engineers Woolacott, Hale, Corlett and Jumikis.

“In [the Sydney Law School] the volumetric form of international modernism was adopted to include large precast panels of exposed aggregate in Brutalist detail,” writes Harper in his study.

Harper will be giving a talk on brutalism this Saturday at the Amphitheatre, Peter Shergold Building, Western Sydney University, Parramatta, for the Sydney Architecture Festival.



Above: A surveyor's plan showing the buildings that were at the site before demolition began in 1967.


Above: A drawing showing the spaces that were inside the building once it was completed in 1969.



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