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Sunday, 1 October 2017

An afternoon with Glenn Harper

Architect Glenn Harper fronted the audience at a talk ('Sydney, You're Brutal') as part of the Sydney Architecture Festival with MC, radio host Tim “Rosso” Ross, and Michelle Tabet, an urban strategist who founded firm Left Bank.

Harper has spent a lot of time cataloguing the brutalist buildings that are still extant in Sydney, and said that advocacy work needed it. “You need to underpin that with a bit of research,” he said, adding humbly: “By all means, it’s not complete.” He said that his Instagram feed was found by a London publisher, which led to the Brutalist Sydney Map. Now, he has also worked with GeoTourist  to assemble the contents (‘Sydney Brutalist Architecture’) of a smartphone app, in collaboration with the NSW Architects Registration Board. The app has hotspots on its map of Sydney that you can tap on to listen to short histories of the buildings located there.

Harper takes his advocacy work seriously, and was awarded a Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship in order to complete the research work that those deliverables are based on.

There were about 100 people – probably half of them associated with architecture – at the event yesterday at the Peter Shergold auditorium, an outside venue near Parramatta Station.

Some projects that Harper, Tabet and Ross talked about included the Endeavour Estate in Waterloo which was opened in 1977 by Queen Elizabeth, and which the state government is trying to empty so that the site can be redeveloped. They also talked quite a bit about the Sirius Building at The Rocks, the demolition of which was stopped by the Land and Environment Court in July. The building has 79 apartments and Tabet said that the LEC case is going to be challenged by the state government. Another building that was mentioned is the former UTS Kuring-gai campus which has been bought by the NSW Department of Education and will become a high school. The National Acoustics Laboratory and Ultrasonics Institute, Chatswood, has been bought by the Church of Scientology. Harper said that they have cleaned the concrete.

But the Bidura Children’s Court is Harper’s favourite brutalist building at present, he said. (I will be writing about this building in the next blogpost in my brutalism series.) Harper said that, internationally, the concept of brutalism had died by late 60s or early 70s, but that brutalist buildings continued to be built in Australia well into the 1980s. He said that brutalism, a part of Modernism, represented a break with the past but that later buildings here were designed with the context in mind.


Above: From left: Glenn Harper, Michelle Tabet, Tim Ross.

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