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15 Buildings That Define Sydney

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by Ben Conolly (subscribe)
An inner city urbanite.
Published April 7th 2015
Not all buildings are built equal
With the recent discussion around the new University of Technology Sydney building dying down, it's time to look at some of the other architecture that defines Sydney, or has defined it in the past.

1. The Sydney Opera House
I wanted to get this one out here right at the start. No building in Sydney will ever be as iconic as the Opera House, which has defined the world's perception of not just Sydney but Australia since 1973. The 'sails' of the Opera house make it a truly unique building, and I won't waste more words recommending it when you know of it already.

2. University of Technology Sydney Frank Gehry building
UTS business building
The New UTS Business building by Frank Gehry

This building is certainly novel, with a certain bulginess to its concrete exterior. It represents a modern (not Modernist) aesthetic that focuses on more natural shapes, and less straight lines, while still putting me in mind of a rock climbing wall.

3. The Rocks
Okay, this is a cheat, since it is not one single building, but the sandstone architecture that dominates this area right next to the CBD is full of examples of Sydney's early architecture, and has multiple buildings to examine for the style, such as St Brigid's Church or The Former Police Station. This is still one of the defining characteristics of Sydney. Although many of the interiors have been modernised, the outsides remain an interesting step back in time to early settlement. Cadman's Cottage, the oldest surviving Sydney residential building, can also be found here.

4. University of Sydney Main Quadrangle
University of Sydney Quadrangle
The University of Sydney Quadrangle,

Referred to by students as 'Hogwarts', the Quadrangle is based on the architecture of Oxford and Cambridge, and is a larger scale sandstone structure than most of the buildings around The Rocks.

5. Hyde Park Barracks
Hyde Park Barracks
Hyde Park Barracks

One of the oldest buildings still standing in Sydney, and now converted into a museum. This simple building shows the early colony's focus on utility over style, and now houses a museum for those interested in knowing more about Sydney's History.

6. Female Orphan School, Parramatta
Female Orphan School
View of the Female Orphan School, by Joseph Lycett, 1825

Established in Parramatta to escape the corrupting influence of early Sydney, this school aimed to protect and raised the young women of the colony. Built in 1813, it still stands today, as part of the University of Western Sydney's Campus.

7. Customs House
Customs House
Customs House, Sydney

Constructed in 1845 on what legend says is the first contact of the first fleet in Australia, Customs House is a great example of the Georgian style of public buildings that were being built almost two centuries ago.

Department of Lands
The Department of Lands has some amazing detailing
8. Department of Lands Building
Another 19th Century classic, and once a definingly tall building. This building has exquisite detail, and if you can get to Bridge Street, I recommend spending some time to examine the statuary, which is not common even among Sydney's older buildings. Somehow, the Department of Lands has managed to keep this gorgeous building as their HQ.

9. Strand Arcade and the Queen Victoria Building
These two buildings are linked not just by proximity but also by representing the same age of Sydney architecture, dating from the 1890s. These two buildings were actively preserved against attempts to develop the land, and stand out from the buildings that tower around them.

10. BMA House
BMA House
The Top Detailing of BMA House
You likely wouldn't guess by looking at it, but when this building was constructed in 1930, its 12 stories made it the tallest building in Sydney, and remained so until the AWA tower was built. This building for the British Medical Association has since moved in to serviced offices, however the facade can still be admired.

AWA Tower
Once the tallest building in Sydney
11. AWA Tower - Built in 1939, and remaining the tallest building in Sydney until 1960, AWA tower is an interesting mix of art decaux style combined with a tip that is drawn from similar inspiration to the Eiffel tower. Fun fact: This is one of the Sydney landmarks you can spot in The Matrix

12. Sydney Tower
Once named Centrepoint Tower, this landmark still sticks out, thanks to the narrow stem supporting a larger top to the tower. The tower is accessible as a revolving restaurant, but is visible from all around Sydney

13. Department of Railways
Department of Railways
Department of Railways
Constructed to move all the railway staff from Central Station, this building has a very nice green front which, at the time of construction in 1935, was designed to match the trains.

14. One, Shelley Street
One Shelley Street
One Shelley Street, Image courtesy of FMM Magazine

One of several more intriguing buildings that are popping up in the King Street Wharf area, and this building is no exception, large and spacious and with a light feel on the inside, covered in diagonal stripes on the outside, although still the general office block feeling of glass everywhere. This building was only completed in 2009, so is almost a peer to our new Gehry,

15. 12 Shelley Street - Another King Street Modern design, this building adds an orange lattice facade to the glass and steel corporate frame, adding a very nice touch of colour.
12 Shelley Street
12 Shelley Street
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