A recent decision in Sydney’s historic ‘Rocks’ precinct highlights the effects of differing perceptions of what constitutes ‘heritage’ and the potential tension between heritage and other values.
The Sirius Apartments building in Cumberland Street, The Rocks, built in 1978–79 in the Brutalist architectural style to a design by Tao (Theodore) Gofers, used off-the-form concrete and the stacking of cubic components to create a harmonious whole. Its massing was arranged to retain important views of the Sydney Opera House. The building was conceived to provide affordable public housing to people potentially displaced by other developments in the wake of the 1970s Green Bans movement, which successfully opposed wholesale redevelopment of The Rocks and Millers Point (National Trust 2016).
In August 2016, the New South Wales Minister for Environment and Heritage declined to include this building on the NSW State Heritage Register, despite a recommendation from the NSW Heritage Council. In announcing his decision, the minister noted that the government could lose as much as $70 million in sale proceeds that could fund social housing units elsewhere. The NSW Finance Minister was reported as commenting that the building is ‘not at all in harmony with the harbour and heritage that surrounds it’ (Saulwick 2016), but did not engage with the main rationale for heritage listing, which related more to its intrinsic design and social history.