Knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Sydney’s most famous Brutalist building and most high profile affordable housing sits in an area called the Rocks, known as the original settlement of the city.

The Sirius Building — source architectureau.com

Value of nothing

In Lady Windermere’s Fan Oscar Wilde portrayed the cynic as “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. At the end of 2016, Jack Mundey stated the same in response to the New South Wales government’s decision to sell Sirius, and it’s surrounding land. Mundey directed Wilde’s quote towards NSW Environment and Heritage Minister Mark Speakman, who publicly announced the gain of 70 million dollars in resale value from denying heritage listing. At this moment the Sirius sat at the nexus of two systems of thought, one of a possibility of public space funded and shared by all people, and the other as space as a site of individual economic choice in funding and use. The Sirius emerged at a time when public housing formed part of a broader idea of architecture that served community interests and based access on citizenship rather economic means. As the Sirius passes over into private development hands the building reflects a change in thinking around the public and how architecture has become politically stripped of its social impact, in particular erasing the Sirius’s role in shaping Sydney’s social and cultural identity.

Economics beyond capital

In governance it seems a clear cut decision, Sydney needs social housing, Sirius provided 79 apartments on valuable land. The sale value of the Sirius could provide capital to build many more subsidised and affordable residencies in other locations. Understood within the current NSW government’s political economy, sustainability is hijacked, social housing must individually sustain itself through income generated from social assets. The social must somehow generate capital to justify its existence.

Digital Legacy

On the 27th of November 2016, I was lucky enough to be shown around Sirius by its lead architect Tao Goffers. It’s a remarkable building, but not for the obvious reasons. I was not overly impressed by the apartments and was surprised by the lack of natural light in some spaces, but this was not its remit. Sirius is more about its common spaces, its rooftop gardens, its viewing platforms, its double-height conference room (images here). These spaces provide the opportunity to meet, communicate, cultivate common interests and form bonds of community. When left purely to an economic analysis of space and value, these common areas would be the first to disappear to maximise private commodifiable space.

Material / Immaterial Architect

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