Property of the week

Sydney’s newfound passion for heritage, and why we can’t get enough.

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by Maggie Kelly

In early 2016, it came to light that the iconic Sirius building in Sydney’s historical area of The Rocks was set for demolition. Residents and construction workers alike were up in arms, protesting the decision with passion.

Sure, it was a low-budget housing complex built in the early 80’s; squat, strange, brutalist, even described by many as downright ugly. And yet, Sirius was also part of the fabric of the Sydney skyline, one that it seemed almost unimaginable to get rid of.

Griffiths Teas photo: supplied

Griffiths Teas photo: supplied

Architect Sam Marshall, designer of the MCA, summarises the sentiment perfectly when he gave his definition of ‘heritage’.

“I see heritage as an ongoing thing, not just what was built in the first couple of years of the colony or done in the 1930s,” he wrote for the AFR in a piece on the impending destruction.

“It’s ongoing. It’s respecting what was there and accepting things from the latter part of the 20th century. It’s ongoing.”

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Griffiths Teas photo: supplied

Marshall was not alone is his sentimental attachment for his city’s heritage. In recent years, the obsession with all that is modern and new has been overtaken by a newfound appreciation for Sydney’s vast historical architecture.

A far cry from the harsh concrete form of the Sirius building is a smattering of stunning historical buildings across Sydney that are creating major excitement among buyers. The idea of buying your own literal slice of our nation’s history, in a unique and modern development, is too good to resist.

And, unlike the ugly duckling Sirius, these buildings are exquisite.

Among Sydney’s heritage architecture, some names are better known than others. These are the buildings that property developers stumble over each other to lay their hands on, the ones that have lines around the block for a viewing.

Three of the best would have to be Surry Hill’s ‘Griffiths Teas’ building, Rosebery’s ‘The Burcham’ development, and Redfern’s ‘Cleveland and Co’ restoration.

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Cleveland and Co photo: supplied

The Griffith’s Teas building is over a century old, established in 1915 a year after the outbreak of World War One. It was the factory for the wildly successful Griffith’s Tea Bros company, who ran the tea distribution for Australia’s east coast. The iron-shaped building is set to be revived into 38 apartments, including 5 penthouses.

The heritage design is central to Griffith’s Teas charm: soaring 3m high ceilings, arched windows, and raw brickwork are part of the appeal that has already attracted massive attention.

“These penthouses showcase a fusion of old and new,” says Cornerstone, “the rich historical character of the Griffith’s Teas warehouse alongside a refined architectural vision that draws out the remarkable authentic features of the building.” Historical charm, in other words, that no amount of money will ever be able to reproduce.

The Burcham development in Rosebery is not named after its original tenants, rather after its designer, John Burcham Clamp. Established in 1918 as Australia’s first Wrigley’s chewing gum factory, the concrete and glass creation was inspired by the sturdy ‘Chicago style’ buildings that were coming out of America at the time.

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The Burcham photo: supplied

The Burcham’s rock-solid design has laid amazing foundations for the ultra-modern residential development it will be hosting in it’s completion in Q1, 2014. Even with the extraordinarily futuristic bells and whistles being attached (fingerprint recognition, anyone?), The Burcham still pays homage to it’s historical design with polished concrete floors, exposed concrete soffits and the original mushroom shaped ‘Capital Columns’ that are central to the Chicago design.

In fact, the attention to detail is so committed that The Burcham’s developer sourced and purchased at auction the stunning original art deco lights that once flanked the front door of the Chicago parent building – and will again adorn the front entrance.

Meanwhile, Redfern has seen a remarkable development at the hands of Cornerstone, the same developer that is doing the Griffith’s Teas, with the combination of the 1889 New York and Brooklyn tobacco factory, and the 1938 Demco Machinery Company warehouse, into one flagship residential and commercial development. The development – which has 38 massive apartments – has actually retained many of the original elements, including the beautiful timber framed windows looking out across the city.

'The Burcham' redevelopment in Rosebery. Image supplied.]

‘The Burcham’ redevelopment in Rosebery. Image supplied.]