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Sirius building

The Sirius building is an apartment complex in The Rocks district of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Designed in 1978-1979 by architect Tao Gofers, the building is a prominent example of Brutalist architecture in Australia. It has striking repetitive geometries in reaction to the Japanese metabolist architecture movement.

Sirius (building)
Siruis apartment complex sydney martin pueschel.jpg
Sirius facade
Sirius building is located in Sydney
Sirius building
Location within Sydney
General information
Status Complete
Type Housing
Architectural style Brutalist
Location 38 to 70 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, Sydney
Country Australia
Coordinates 33°51′28″S 151°12′28″E / 33.8577°S 151.2079°E / -33.8577; 151.2079Coordinates: 33°51′28″S 151°12′28″E / 33.8577°S 151.2079°E / -33.8577; 151.2079
Completed 1980
Opened 16 May 1981
Client Housing Commission of NSW
Owner Property NSW
Height varies from one to twelve stories
Technical details
Structural system Concrete frame & precast concrete sections
Design and construction
Architect Theodorus (Tao) Gofers
Other information
Number of units
  • Total 79 (49 in High Rise, 30 in Low Rise)
  • 28 x 1 Bedroom
  • 24 x 2 Bedroom Split Level
  • 14 x 2 Bedroom Single Level
  • 8 x 3 Bedroom Split Level
  • 5 x 4 Bedroom Split Level

It is notable for being the only high rise development in The Rocks. Sirius houses 79 apartments with one, two, three or four bedrooms, generally with single storey apartments to two and three storey walk ups.[1] It is included in the #SOSBrutalism database at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt, Germany.

The complex was built to rehouse public tenants who had been displaced after a controversial redevelopment of the historic Rocks suburb during the 1960s and 70s.[2] The building housed many of the original residents who fought for their right to remain in the area during the famous Green bans, whose purpose was not to retain heritage buildings but rather to retain the working class community in The Rocks. Ironically many of the buildings remain, but the majority of the residents were moved into the Sirius apartments in the so-called 'people's plan'. The terraces and town houses they used to call home are owned by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA), who receive rent from the tenants living in the building.

Anecdotally, unit 74 of the Sirius building became somewhat of an unofficial Sydney landmark; its sign displaying ‘One Way! Jesus’ clearly visible to Harbour Bridge commuters.[3] The sign was in place for around 10 years, although the owner of the sign, Owen McAloon, and his motivations to spread a Christian message remained generally unknown.[4]

Since 2015, the Sirius Building has been at the centre of controversy over plans to remove the residents, sell off the building and possibly redevelop the site, with opponents of the plans seeking to secure its protection as a heritage building.


Brutalist styleEdit

Sirius (2014)
Exterior, looking up

Sirius is among the few quality examples of the Brutalism style in Australia, demonstrating the style's objective of ethical design based on social concerns as well as its focus on the truthful expression of materials, function and structure.[5] The original plan was to finish the building in a white colour to match the nearby Sydney Opera House. However, due to budget constraints, the building was finished in the standard Brutalist grey.

The Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt has included the Sirius building in #SOSBrutalism, a growing database that currently contains over 700 Brutalist buildings. Importantly, #SOSBrutalism is a platform for a large campaign ‘to save our beloved concrete monsters’. The buildings in the database marked red are in particular jeopardy. There are few Australian entries in the project, but Sirius is at the top of the list of the world's endangered Brutalist buildings.[6] SOSBrutalism will also lead to an exhibition, to be jointly organized by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) and the Wüstenrot Stiftung, and displayed at DAM, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in April 2017.

“…what characterises the New Brutalism… is precisely its brutality, its je-m’en-foutisme, its bloody-mindedness.” —Reyner Banham, 1955

Decisions regarding heritage status, conservation and demolitionEdit

A decision to demolish the building was made in 2015[7] by the Baird Coalition government. The NSW Heritage Council recommended heritage listing for the building in 2016,[5][8][9] but this was denied by the Heritage Minister, Mark Speakman.[10] The Land and Environment Court was advised in a hearing that redevelopment would affect views of the Sydney Opera House, a World Heritage Site, as well as "impinge on the Rocks' low-rise heritage, wharves, sandstone buildings and Victorian terraces".[11]

In July 2016 the NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage announced that the building would not be heritage listed "despite a unanimous recommendation by the Heritage Council."[12] The government's intention is to replace the existing 79 social housing apartments with 250 luxury apartments.[13]

The last remaining residents are Cherrie Johnston and Myra Demetriou, who in 2017 was 90 and legally blind.[14] The S.O.S. lights inside Myra’s unit on the tenth floor flashed their message every night from November 2014 until June 2015. They were turned off while Minister Brad Hazzard considered how he might be able to save the social housing tenants of Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks from ‘relocation’ and thereby avoid the destruction of this community. In December 2015 the S.O.S. lights were switched back on to broadcast a message that Sirius should be saved.[15] Efforts to move the last residents were made to accommodation described as "unsuitable".[16]

In 2017, the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales ruled the decision by the state’s then-heritage minister Mark Speakman not to place the Sirius public housing complex on the State Heritage Register was “invalid and of no legal effect.” The court determined the government’s claim of financial loss did not constitute “financial hardship.” The court also found the minister failed to consider the building’s heritage significance in his decision. The court ordered the Minister for Heritage (Gabrielle Upton at the time of the ruling[17]) “to make a decision either to direct or not to direct the listing of the Sirius Apartment Building [...] according to the law".[18]

The Sirius building is included on the World Monuments Fund's 2018 list of monuments at risk, following its disposal by the state government. [19]

Public supportEdit

The SOS (Save Our Sirius Foundation) was formed by people and organisations campaigning to save Sirius and its residents and is supported by the National Trust, the Australian Institute of Architects, the Millers Point Residents Action Group, Friends of Millers Point, Millers Point Public Housing Tenants Group, Unions NSW, CFMEU, and Jack Mundey, Green Ban campaigner who helped save The Rocks from redevelopment in the 1970s and was instrumental in the building of Sirius. The NSW president of the Australian Institute of Architects, Shaun Carter, is chairman of the Save Our Sirius Foundation,[8] which produced middle-ground solutions for saving Sirius while achieving the government’s aims. Carter argued that any decision about the building should take account of its social, cultural and environmental significance.[8]

A set of S.O.S. lights flashed over The Rocks and Circular Quay from the top floor of Sirius when they were first installed to coincide with the exhibition S.O.S. Save our Sirius on 2 November 2014.[1] Resident McAloon's sign was briefly replaced by lights flashing S.O.S. to the Harbour Bridge traffic, but this was soon 'confiscated' by Housing NSW and McAloon 'relocated' by Housing NSW.[20]

Other supporters of the building include Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and the Australian Labor Party. Anthony Albanese described the Sirius building as "not just a place people call home, but a symbol of inclusion."[12] The S.O.S Foundation suggested that Sirius could be saved if the Lendlease Residential Development Company purchased the building and developed some of its apartments for social and affordable housing.[14]

Various public protests supported the inclusion of the building on the State heritage Register, including a petition, a crowd funded legal challenge, whose organisers aim to have the Minister's decision annulled;[21][22][23] a rally;[13] and a green ban announced by the Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU), under which no company associated with union will be involved with any proposed demolition of the building.[13]


From Circular Quay 
From Avery Terrace 
From East 
Building signage 

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Sirius". Millers Point. Millers Point Newsletter. 
  2. ^ Pickett, Charles (8 May 2013). "Sirius on The Rocks". Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Brewster, Anthony (8 May 2014). "The man behind the most famous sign seen from Sydney's Harbour Bridge". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  4. ^ Dawson, Matt (11 October 2013). "Looking for the man behind the sign". Precinct News. UTS Graduate School of Journalism. Retrieved 6 August 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Farrelly, Elizabeth (6 August 2016). "The brutal truth: we're trashing Sydney's heritage". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 August 2016. 
  6. ^ "#SOSBrutalism". #SOSBRUTALISM. Retrieved 2016-08-07. 
  7. ^ Johnson, Nathan (2 August 2016). "Gone: Sydney's Sirius apartments face demolition after heritage push fails". Architecture & Design. 
  8. ^ a b c Hoh, Amanda (1 August 2016). "Sirius building's denial of heritage listing, proposed demolition a 'cultural tragedy', artist says". ABC News. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  9. ^ McNally, Lucy; Code, Bill (19 February 2016). "Heritage listing push for Sydney's iconic Sirius building". ABC News. Retrieved 6 August 2016. 
  10. ^ "No heritage listing for Sirius Building". Office of Environment and Heritage. NSW Government. 31 July 2016. Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  11. ^ Robertson, James (2 November 2016). "Sirius redevelopment would put Opera House views at risk, architects say". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2 November 2016. 
  12. ^ a b Kembrey, Melanie (18 September 2016). "'We're very lucky here': Inside Sydney's Sirius Building". The Sun-Herald. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c Keoghan, Sarah (14 September 2016). "Unions block Sirius demolition as protests ramp up". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  14. ^ a b Sanda, Dominica (7 June 2017). "Push to save Sirius, Sydney's controversial brutalist landmark". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 July 2017. 
  15. ^ Millers Point Community. "Sirius". 
  16. ^ "Last residents hold firm in brutal world". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 May 2017. p. 10. 
  17. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (25 July 2017). "The Sirius building to remain standing after court rules against NSW government". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 July 2017. 
  18. ^ NSW Caselaw. "Millers Point Community Assoc. Incorporated v Property NSW [2017] NSWLEC 92". NSW Caselaw. Retrieved 27 July 2017. 
  19. ^ [https:// "Sirius Building"] Check |url= value (help). 2018 World Monuments Watch. World Monuments Foundation. 
  20. ^ Brewster, Anthony (8 May 2014). "The man behind the most famous sign seen from the Sydney Harbour Bridge". The Guardian Australia. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  21. ^ "Save Our Sirius". Save Our 27 August 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016. 
  22. ^ "Save Our Sirius". Save Our Sirius Foundation. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2016. 
  23. ^ Fuary-Wagner, Ingrid (20 August 2016). "Hundreds of supporters gather in fresh bid to save Sydney's famous Brutalist building Sirius". The Sydney Morning Herald (Domain). Retrieved 22 August 2016.