Brutalist Architecture and Social History in Sydney and London


There is Sirius, poking out in the background

As you wander around Circular Quay in Sydney, you can’t help noticing the Sirius building.

Occupying a chunk of prime real estate in The Rocks, this brutalist-style high-rise is in complete contrast to other buildings in the neighbourhood.


Sirius, attempting to hide itself behind a tree…

At one time The Rocks was full of social housing, mostly for people who worked in the port. As the area became more and more gentrified people living in social housing were dispersed, as buildings were torn down and redeveloped as luxury flats or hotels.

When Sirius was completed in 1979, it allowed a few of the area’s longterm tenants to retain their prestigious 2000 postcode and harbour views, rather than being moved to other parts of Sydney.


Sydney harbour

Whether you look on Sirius as an eyesore, completely out of step with other buildings in the neighbourhood, or as a piece of social history, rather depends on your viewpoint. The Save Our Sirius campaign group want to see it regain its former glory as a brutalist structure to house working class tenants at affordable rents.


The Sirius building has been part of a long running campaign to save it.

A couple of attempts have been made to bestow it with heritage status, citing its social and cultural significance. However the courts disagreed and the building is now up for sale. It is assumed that any buyer would intend to knock it down and rebuild either luxury apartments or a top-end hotel.



Barbican centre in London

The BBC likens Brutalist style to Marmite (there’s a British cultural reference for you), meaning that people either love it or hate it.

Brutalism gained popularity in the 1960s and 70s and was often used in social housing, government buildings, universities and such.


Barbican in London.  I love this building for some reason that I can’t figure out, as it really is quite ugly.

Certainly it is a very unpopular style with a number of people, frequently appearing on lists of the world’s ugliest buildings.

Also it has turned out not to age particularly well, often showing signs of damage within a relatively short space of time. Rather than deal with the damage it is often seen as preferable to tear the building down and build something ‘prettier’ in its place. Brutalism has grown to symbolise urban decay.

New Appreciation for Brutalism

It has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late. #brutalism has an active following on Instagram. Many brutalist buildings have been granted listed status and there is a loyal band of fans who support various campaigns to preserve brutalist buildings doomed for demolition, like the Save Our Sirius campaign.

4 replies »

  1. I’ve never heard Brutalism compared to Marmite. I used to rather enjoy it, though through overexposure I’m turning into a hater. Marmite, however, is still my friend 🙂

    I’m exceeding jealous of your trip to Taiwan.

    • Actually it’s a fallacy that people love or hate marmite; a lot of people think it’s just ok.
      I think with brutalism you have to think of it as social history and it makes a lot more sense. I used to hate it but now I find it interesting.
      Taiwan got completely out of control. It started as a short trip to renew my Aussie visa and ended as a 25 day trip around the country and by the end I was so tired I couldn’t function. I’m too old for backpacking now 😊

    • That looks so good. Of course there are a lot more Brutalist buildings in London, or England generally. I do quite like them. The National portrait gallery extension is another; Prince Charles once called it a carbuncle.
      Of course I was living in a fine example of Brutalist style building in London; we’ve just heard that building has been ‘saved’ from demolition and will be repaired (i.e. patched over) instead.
      Sydney was just a brief visit and I was sick for most of it (some silly infection I brought home from Taiwan) so I didn’t really do that much, but I was always fascinated by the Sirius because it was so out of step with the other buildings in the area.

Leave a Reply