Burley Griffin’s last Australian designed building…

I loved Sydney’s ‘old’ Pyrmont.

As a student of landscape architecture at UNSW I used to ‘bus’ it along Victoria Road, from Drummoyne through Rozelle, across the centre span (and still extant) Glebe Island Bridge, along Bank Street and then onto the freeways on the eastern side of Pyrmont into the city.  This was long before it became gentrified, before the new Anzac Bridge and before the flyovers.  This was also when the old NSW Government Printers were still rolling out books, reports and anything printable on Harris Street.

I recall with a sense of nostalgia the buildings – mostly industrial – with some fondness. The big forms, the carved sandstone foundations, the escarpments, the sugar refinery, the pubs on every corner, the fish markets – I can only compare my vision of Pyrmont and Ultimo with the same fondness as I do for Port Adelaide in 2014 (the wool stores and the old waterfront…).  Back to 1992 – this was in the days of the Greiner-led Liberal Government’s CityWest Corporation which was essentially tasked with gentrifying the peninsula.  Many may recall the relocation of the ABC to Ultimo was also a key move to reenergise the area.  The population back then – pre casino, pre apartments, pre activity – was a very low 2,000 residents – in 2011 it was around 12,000.

The Burley Griffin designed incinerator was one of many in Sydney (and indeed one in Adelaide!) that are sadly no longer with us.  However there is hope – witness the recent conversation of the Willoughby incinerator on Sydney’s north shore – also designed by Burley Griffin – into a cafe and gallery space.  It takes some leadership and risk taking, but adaptive reuse is a great way to repurpose buildings.  Many of Sydney’s industrial icons – most now erased – with perhaps the exception of Garden Island (under threat) and Cockatoo Island (safe for now) – could have been considered for adaptive reuse – or in simple language – recreating new uses for them.  This includes residential, commercial, retail and cultural uses (think of the Powerhouse Museum, a former power station converted to a museum).

Between the Bicentennial works in the years leading up to 1988, the western side of Pyrmont underwent massive change in the 1990’s.  It is almost completely unrecognisable today.

What became quickly obvious to me was the lack of appreciation for any of the areas industrial and working history, and this amazing ABC News interview from 1992 with my thesis supervisor Prof James Weirick from UNSW shows he was amongst the lone voices in asking why the Incinerator and at least some of the industrial heritage wasn’t being conserved and reused.

The City of Sydney’s webpage provides some background on what happened, and the confusing legal situation. There was one proposal in the mid 1980’s to consider a tavern and cafe but this fell through.  More information on the many Griffin designed incinerators (including which ones are still existing) can be found at the Griffin Society pages.

Many of these questions may have been asked – but I will always wonder if they were asked well and often enough.  It appears that there was some efforts to save the incinerator, but redevelopment pressures were very strong and appeared to be the overriding force.  The City even tried selling the incinerator to the RTA…

The footage includes the demolition of the structure, as well as footage of a (younger) James Weirick.  Great stuff albeit a sad day.

Northern elevation of Pyrmont incinarator. Source: Walter Burley Griffin Society Incorporated Collection

Northern elevation of Pyrmont incinarator. Source: Walter Burley Griffin Society Incorporated Collection