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Brutalism in Sydney: A book tour of the city’s concrete heritage

A new book documents the brutalist architecture of Sydney, putting the movement into historical context and highlighting its ongoing relevance.

Brutalism in Sydney: A book tour of the city’s concrete heritage

Stewart House by Michael Dysart and Associates, photograph Max Dupain Associates courtesy Michael Dysart.

Brutalism has experienced something of a revival in recent years. From connotations of counter-cultural edginess or nostalgia for a time when architecture was produced with an explicitly social democratic ethos to more urgent issues such as the threatened demolition of the Sirius Building, interest in this mid-twentieth-century movement has certainly risen.

A new book by Heidi Dokulil and published by New South Books, ‘Sydney Brutalism,’ takes a closer look at the specific heritage of the movement in the city’s architecture. Indeed, Sydney’s brutalist gems are some of the finest in the world, as we noted in these city guides last year.

‘Sydney Brutalism’ explores the movement’s international influences, its architects, builders and residents, and the public buildings, university campuses and homes that changed the face of the city. Some of the buildings discussed – and illustrated with atmospheric photography – include the Molecular Bioscience building at the University of Sydney, Sydney Masonic Centre and Warringah Civic Centre and Council Offices.

Molecular Bioscience buliding, University of Sydney, photograph by Anthony Basheer.

It’s to be commended that the book opens with a historical introduction, contextualising brutalism with reference to Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille and the original béton brut and the Smithsons’ Hunstanton School in the UK, which provided the touchpoint for critic Reyner Banham’s initial ideas about the ‘New Brutalism.’

Related: Mapping brutalist cities across Australia and Asia

Warringah Civic Centre and Council Offices by Edwards Madigan Torzillo & Briggs, photograph Max Dupain Associates coutesy State Library NSW.

“A brilliantly researched deep dive into the subject,” says design writer, Karen McCartney. “‘Sydney Brutalism’ askys why our concrete monsters matter while exploring international antecedents and contemporary executions. Powerful photography contributes to this important exploration of a controversial architectural genre.”

After the contextual introduction, the book delves into the history of the Government Architect’s Branch of the NSW Department of Public Works. The reader is then invited to meet some of the architects, so to speak, before the analysis turns to the battles over the Sirius Building and more recent trends in designing with concrete. A timeline of brutalist buildings in Sydney is also included, as well as suggestions for further reading.

‘Sydney Brutalism’ is out now, RRP $49.99.

New South Books

Sirius Building.
Department of Mines, Chemistry Laboratory, photograph by Eric Sierins.
Reader’s Digest Building by John James, photograph by Eric Sierins.
Smith House by Enrico Taglietti, photograph Max Dupain Associtates courtesy Taglietti archive.
Sydney Masonic Centre by Joseland & Gilling, photograph Max Dupain Associates courtesy State Library NSW.

More brutalism: Estée Lauder Companies’ new office in a Sydney skyscraper.

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