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‘No fake heritage’: Sydney building powers back on

In the early 20th century, the City of Sydney opted to use DC power, and No. 164 was one of five converters built to convert the AC power being generated at Pyrmont into DC power for the city’s lights. After AC won, the lights went out at No. 164 in 1985.

Jono Cottee, the development director at construction firm Built, said many people had over the decades unsuccessfully tried to redevelop the two sites at 183-185 Clarence Street.

Adding to the difficulty was the sites have different levels, street frontages and addresses – one on Kent Street and the other on Clarence.

A winning proposal by fjmt (Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp) architecture firm proposed to restore the heritage buildings and use a giant cantilever to create one above.

Mr Cottee described it as “the anti-extension of a heritage building below rather than just building directly below”.

“It deliberately floats, it’s modern and it sits above, respecting the items below. The existing buildings are left raw, pared and stripped back,” he said.

“There is no fake heritage.”

The decision to retain the heritage facade, floors and columns would also result in a 24 per cent reduction in embodied carbon compared to conventional construction, said Clare Gallagher, the environmental manager at Built, the project’s builder.

In an interview with Sydney Living Museums, she said with so much of cities already built, it was becoming rarer to work on a ‘clean slate’ to create a sustainable building.

The reuse of the heritage buildings and much of the internal building fabric preserved the heritage and contributed to a significant reduction in the carbon footprint of the redevelopment.

At a tour of SubStation No.164, the lord mayor Clover Moore and the developmental director of Built Jono Cottee talk about the potential for the old machine hall to become a place for events or concerts.

At a tour of SubStation No.164, the lord mayor Clover Moore and the developmental director of Built Jono Cottee talk about the potential for the old machine hall to become a place for events or concerts. Credit:Edwina Pickles

“In addition to being textural, character-filled features that are rarely seen in architecture today, if we were to replace the brickwork, steel beams, and timber floors it would create an immense environmental impact,” Ms Gallagher said.

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