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Thursday, 18 January 2018

Brutalism fourteen: Labor Council of New South Wales

This is the 14th in a series of blogposts about brutalist buildings in Sydney. The building is still used for union offices as well as being the headquarters for the NSW branch of the ALP.

In Australian politics “Sussex Street” is a highly loaded term, being as it is where the NSW headquarters of the Australian Labor Party is located. It stands for a certain type of institutionalised power that is the machinery of the centre-left of politics in the nation’s most populous state. Precisely, the NSW ALP HQ is located on level nine of this building, just around the corner from the Trades Hall, for which the foundation stone had been laid in 1888.

A development application (DA) was received by the city council for the new building on 9 December 1966, and the relevant minute paper from the acting city building surveyor notes that on the site at the time there were two buildings.

One was described in the document as 377-379 Sussex Street, which is marked down as a three-storey structure that had been used as a warehouse and was owned by retailer GJ Coles, but was now in the process of being demolished. There was also at 381-383 Sussex Street a two-storey structure that had been used as warehouse but was now in the process of being demolished, and that had been owned by J.B. Morris and L.H. Cox.


Above: The site plan drawing in the DA file. It erroneously shows that two buildings were demolished to make way for the new building. The Trades Hall, which was constructed in the late 19th century, is shown in blue in this drawing. I wrote briefly about this building in early December.

But there is another document, this time in the DA file, that shows other details. This document says that there was a building at 377 Sussex Street that was a four-storey building used as a wine and spirit warehouse. At 379 Sussex Street there was a five-storey building. At 381 Sussex Street there was a two-storey building. And at 383 Sussex Street there was a three-storey building used as a wholesale grocery warehouse. The drawing below shows the four lots marked out in this architect’s plan.


The lord mayor’s approval was given to the plan with the proviso that pedestrian access be provided by an arcade connecting the new building with the 19th-century Trades Hall behind it on Dixon Street. The city council had resolved on 24 May 1965 in respect of 381-383 Sussex Street only that consent be given to the application submitted by the Labor Council of New South Wales on behalf of J.B. Morris and L.H. Cox for permission to erect on the site a building comprising a basement and eleven upper floors, including parking for four cars. The consent was for a building to be used “as a licensed club and as associated offices”, meeting rooms, storerooms, and for residential purposes.

The site seems to have been enlarged later, as shown in the above drawing, when a larger block of land that had been occupied by two other buildings located immediately to the north of the site was added to it. 

A DA form that was filled out and dated 1 December 1965 shows that all four properties were now included in the plan and that parking for 25 cars was planned for the basement. The estimated cost of the new building was $1,750,000. The architects were Brewster, Murray & Partners of 165 Walker Street, North Sydney. Harvey H. Brown & Associates of 2 O’Connell Street were the structural engineers. Mechanical Contractors Pty Ltd were the mechanical engineers. James Wallace Pty Ltd of 89 Berry Street, North Sydney, were the builders.


The above drawing in the DA file shows the site for the new building, as well as the “hotel” at the corner on Goulburn Street, which is now a convenience store.

The new building would have approximately 8000 square feet (743.2 square metres) of area per floor. According to CityScope, the city reference book published by RP Data, the building has 10,200 square metres of gross floor area.

The builders requested an extension of the time of the building approval from the city council of 12 months on 28 December 1968.

There is a minute in the building application file by the city planner addressed to the city health officer dated 9 June 1972 requesting a further check to the mechanical ventilation system for the new building. It appears the building had been completed in 1971.


Above: The ground floor plan drawn up by the architects. The driveway would end up being at the other side of the site, to the north (right-hand side of this image), coming off Sussex Street.


Above: A typical floor plan of the building in this architect’s drawing.


Above: The floor eleven plan, showing the flat roofed area on the Sussex Street side of the building.


Above: The passageway going into the Trades Hall building is shown at the rear of the ground floor in this drawing. The connection to the Trades Hall was completely refashioned in 2005 when a central courtyard was constructed with a separate high-rise building providing additional office space (as we will see in a later photograph).


Above: This drawing of the original building has Sussex Street at the left-hand side.


Above: This architect’s view of the Sussex Street frontage of the new building shows that at the time Sussex Street was one-way northbound, whereas nowadays it is one-way southbound.


Above: A plan from the city archives shows the final eastern elevation of the new building, as built. This drawing shows the heights of the buildings on either side of it at the time. The little pub to the left, on the corner of Goulburn Street, is still there, although it’s a convenience store now.


Above: The imposing Sussex Street frontage of the building in Chinatown.


Above: The central courtyard that was constructed in 2005, with (at right) a new structure built at that time providing additional office space. The 19th century Trades Hall building is at the left in this photo.


Above: The 19th-century brickwork is exposed in the central courtyard, where people can have a coffee from the little café concession that is located there.


Above: The superstructure of the 2005 construction is visible at the right-hand side in this photo of the courtyard connecting the Sussex Street building with the Trades Hall building at the back of the block.

As well as commercial tenants and the Australian Labor Party, the building at 377-383 Sussex Street also houses the Australian Maritime Officers Union, the Funeral Union of NSW, the National Union of Workers, the Australian Workers Union, and The McKell Institute (a progressive think-tank). The building is owned by Unions NSW (which is the branding the Labor Council of NSW uses) and was refurbished in 1994.

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