Blue collar workers in Sydney are taking a stand for brutalist architecture.
Australia’s largest construction union Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Unions NSW have barred their members from taking bulldozers and wrecking balls to the Sirius building, a 79-unit public housing complex with stellar views of the Sydney Opera House. The dramatic building is an icon of 1970’s brutalist architecture.
“The Sirius building is not only an important piece of architectural history—it is one of the last areas of public housing in the district,” explained Rita Mallia, president of the CFMEU in a Sept 16 statement.
Sirius was slated for demolition after the New South Wales government decided to exclude it from the register of protected sites in July. The government plans to flatten Sirius and evict its long-term tenants to make room for new commercial redevelopment.
Despite the outpouring of support from locals, architecture fans and endorsement from the local heritage council, New South Wales’ minister of environment and heritage Mark Speakman says the real estate in the Sydney suburb is just too precious to keep for outdated architecture and public housing.
“I am not listing it because, whatever its heritage value, even at its highest that value is greatly outweighed by what would be a huge loss of extra funds from the sale of the site,” Speakman said in a press statement explaining the decision. He said that saving Sirius would cost the city AU $70 million (US $52 million).
In a strategy called “green bans,” labor unions in Sydney have previously help defend public spaces and cultural heritage sites by refusing to work. They’ve helped save a park called Kelly’s Bush, the homes in the working-class residential area of Darlinghurst and several heritage buildings such as the Regent Theatre, the Newcastle Hotel and the Helen Keller Hostel for Blind Women.
What’s been referred to the “most hated architectural style,” many brutalist buildings in the world are at risk today. Characterized by raw concrete surfaces and rugged, monumental geometric forms, brutalism is an offshoot of modernism and was the dominant architecture style from the 1950’s to the mid-1970’s. The German architecture museum Deutsches Architekturmuseum maintains #SOSBrustalism, a growing database of nearly 1,000 threatened brutalist structures around the world.