Buchan rebuilds Sydney’s beating industrial heart

Published by
Matthew McDonald
April 4, 2022

More than a repurposed heritage-listed building, South Eveleigh Locomotive Workshop has been transformed into a living museum that pays homage to Australia’s industrial history.

Though the building is not set to be officially opened until later this year, the refurbishment of Sydney’s South Eveleigh Locomotive Workshop is now complete and it is now almost fully operational.

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The heritage-listed structure, which was built in 1887 to maintain (and later to manufacture) steam locomotives, has been transformed into a multi-use commercial and community space. In its new incarnation, it houses a specialty grocer, eateries, a gym, educational facilities, and also public and exhibition spaces.

Beyond that – and importantly, given its historical significance – the building has been designed as something a ‘living museum’; a place that tells its own story and shines a light on the lives of its past occupants.

Developer Mirvac engaged global design firm, Buchan, as the principal design consultant for the building’s interiors, wayfinding, signage and heritage interpretation. In turn, Buchan’s team liaised with architects Sissons and heritage specialists Curio Projects to ensure the integrity of its heritage features.

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In line with the developer’s vision, Buchan was determined to facilitate engagement with the site’s history. “We wanted the artefacts and history to be universally engaging – not to merely mimic a traditional museum experience,” says Buchan senior designer, Patrick Shirley.

As such, visitors to South Eveleigh Locomotive Workshop can expect to see everything from the original blacksmith forge (still in full working order) to integrated 3D projections, graphics and displays that cover not only the site’s more recent history but also re-tell the stories of its traditional owners, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

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They can ride a travelator on a storytelling journey, look out for features like original heavy timber beams that have been transformed into seating, display furniture and signage; and even see the building’s original dirt floors, which have been used in wall setbacks.

Massive, intact machinery like the giant, in situ Davy pressure pump (the largest in the Southern Hemisphere) has been employed to create the experience of working in the original building. “We’ve projected footage of the Davy pump in action creating steel railway tracks, onto the pump itself, complete with noise and simulated smoke,” Shirley says. “This creates an incredible atmosphere as well as showing visitors the skills needed to operate the press.”

If the response of Campbell Hanan, head of Mirvac’s Integrated Investment Portfolio, is anything to go by, the result has exceeded the developer’s expectations.

“Mirvac’s vision was to celebrate the site’s unique heritage, connecting its history and the stories of the people who once worked and lived here with the thousands of modern-day South Eveleigh workers and visitors today,” he says. “Buchan has done a great job, bringing this vision to life through incredible design that celebrates the industrial appeal of the original Locomotive work shed, creating new ways for everyone to appreciate the fascinating 1800s era architecture.”

For their part, the team at Buchan is grateful to have been afforded the rare opportunity to work on a project of this type.

“It’s unusual to visit a commercial venue that’s been made interactive and engaging through texture, visuals and even smell (from the blacksmith’s forge),” says Buchan senior interior designer Michael Curtis. “We’ve thought about how each and every element of the building’s layout can be used to encourage people to meander, stop, meet and shop.”



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