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National Park musings - Defining Heritage

While it is hard to discern the mint-green Chalet Sonnenhof through the Snow Gums of Kosciousko National Park, it is one of the many distinctive modernist ski lodges that are dotted across Perisher Valley. Typically constructed of a solid stone base with a light-weight vertical timber clad first floor. They epitomise a modest optimism in construction and a sense of Australian Identity uniquely formed by this landscape and climate at a certain period of time.

Most of the lodges in Perisher were built in the 1960's, a time in Australia where the strong influences of the international style of modernism were being felt. Architects like Harry Siedler and Ken Woolley, to name a few championed a new form of housing as a departure from the traditional Federation and Californian Bungalow that had evolved following the Garden City movement in the United Kingdom and America. These modernist houses typically opened up the interior rooms to create an open plan style of home with a stronger connection to the landscape to respond more to the local environment and the changing social and economical state of Australia following the war.

Siedler's Blues Point tower was one of many apartment planned to line Sydney Harbour as both visual markers along the skyline as well as providing small apartments that enabled the views of the water and the city to be enjoyed by many, not simply the wealthy. Tao Gofer's Sirius building for the Department of Housing came about following the Green Ban placed on the Rocks in the early 70's. Designed and built for purpose as social housing, the history of this building and it's people is well documented in the excellent book Sirius produced by the Save our Sirius Foundation.

In 2016 the Sirius building was recommended for State Heritage Listing by the NSW Heritage Council, however this was overturned by Heritage Minister Mark Speakman for various financial reasons and the site is currently for sale. Without wanting to completely over simplify the process all parties involved have undertaken to this stage, I wanted to use this as an example to briefly examine how we define Heritage in our Country.

I live in a Heritage Conservation Zone and may of our projects are within areas defined by this zoning. These areas in Sydney are typically filled with Victorian Terrace housing ( 1800's - 1920 ) or early Federation Bungalows. (1920's-1950's ) While work can be done to alter these homes the controls are often considerably stricter. This is a good thing, to a certain extent as the streetscapes are retained and the heritage character intact, yet is does raise the question of how we value heritage architecture as it shapes our city, both as a reflection of the social story of a suburb as well as an aesthetic one.

As the fight to save Sirius became one of the people, similar groundswells are happening to recognise the residential architecture of the 1950's and 60's worthy of Conservation. The Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris has formed it's own action group to recognise the unique collection of Architect designed modernist homes.

"In Beaumaris, architects were using new materials including the Boyd-designed Stegbar Window Wall, to let in light and garden views. Carports were placed at the front of the house to allow for the garden views, houses were placed on the block to gather northern light, and roofs were often flat or skillion, with large eaves. Inside, houses were open plan, full of colour and modern patterns and often featured Becco light fittings and Featherston furniture. But remarkably, none of this was seen as significant enough to consider these homes for heritage listing."

As Sydney becomes a truly multicultural city it is important not to take for granted the impressive contributions of Architects to our built environment from the second half of last century as they shaped the suburbs physically with housing that was modest, fit for purpose and well designed in response to the environment.

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