Monday 9 May 2016

Sydney Art Deco

Sydney is known for its spectacular Opera House and Harbour Bridge, both of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, for its busy night life and wonderful beaches, including Bondi. The city is also home to a large collection of well maintained art deco buildings and I was recently able to see some of the best examples in the Potts Point neighborhood and in the city centre. This post, the first of two, will cover some of my favourites.

Transport House, York Street.
York Street, one of the city's main thoroughfares is home to several deco buildings including the distinctive, green terra-cotta clad Transport House at numbers 17-31. Completed in 1936 it was designed by architects H. E. Budden and Nicholas Mackey originally as the headquarters of the New South Wales Railways and with the name Railway House. Well received amongst the architectural profession, it received the Sulman Award in Australia in 1936 and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) medal in 1939. Opened soon after the completion of Sydney's underground system it was another example of the city's modernity. It was also the first building erected by an Australian public body to have air conditioning and benefitted from an escalator carrying employees straight down to the Wynyard metro station below. The green colour was selected to match that of the railway carriages, buses, ferries and trams, ensuring identification with the public transport system. Transport House has protected status as it is listed in the New South Wales State Heritage Register. The building was featured in the 2006 movie Superman Returns.

The architect, Henry Ebenezer Budden, was born in New South Wales and won several awards during his career. He designed several buildings in and around Sydney including the 1927 wing of the David Jones department store. He also served as War Chest Commissioner during the First World War for which he was later awarded the Order of the British Empire.

Transport House, York Street.
Potts Point is a short drive from the city centre but has a completely different, more relaxed atmosphere. Its main thoroughfare, McLeay Street, and the streets leading off it are lined with small cafes and restaurants, independent shops and numerous art deco buildings. Perhaps the most spectacular of these is the Metro Theatre at number 30 Orwell Street, built in 1939 and designed by Charles Bruce Dellit. Dellit also designed the Anzac War Memorial in Sydney's Hyde Park. Dominated by a large vertical tower, the facade also features blue "speed stripes" that contrast with the clean white exterior. The tower bears the theatre's name in vertical, stylized lettering, repeated horizontally above the main entrance whilst the stepped and recessed blue and white striped canopies also add interest to the facade.

Metro Theatre, Orwell Street

Metro Theatre, Orwell Street

Originally named the Minerva and designed as a live performance theatre, the art deco interior was designed by Dudley Ward and included a number of small shops, an orchestra pit, air conditioning and carpeting throughout as well as seating for 1006 customers. By 1948, struggling to attract an audience, the theatre was sold to the MGM group who re-launched it as a cinema in 1950. The Forsyth Saga was its first screening.The name was changed to the Metro in 1952 and the Australian premieres of several films took place there including Mary Poppins and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf. In 1969, the cinema reverted to being a theatre and premiered the musical Hair but in 1979 it was sold again, stripped of its fittings and opened as a supermarket two years later. This was a short lived venture and the following year the Minerva/ Metro was sold again to become a soundstage and recording facility - its current function.
Ashdown, 96 Elizabeth Bay Road.
Ashdown, 96 Elizabeth Bay Road.
Elizabeth Bay Road has a large concentration of art deco and modernist buildings. Number 96, known as Ashdown was built in 1938 and was designed by architect Aaron Bolot. Born in the Crimea in 1900, he emigrated to Australia at a young age and studied architecture at the Central Technical College in Brisbane. He designed a number of cinemas across the country and served in the armed forces during the Second World War. The apartment block displays a number of features typical of modernist European architecture during this period including a curved bay, metal framed windows, flat roof and metal pipe railings whilst the main entrance to the side of the building is framed in exquisite glass bricks. The name Ashdown is displayed above the ground floor bay window in stylised lettering.

Emil Sodersten was one of the leading Australian artists of the 1930's. Born in Balmain in 1899, he studied at Sydney Technical College and went on to work in art deco, functionalist and moderne styles. He was responsible for a number of buildings in Potts Point and surrounding area including Marlborough Hall, a large apartment block at 4 Ward Avenue. Containing 62 apartments originally described as "bachelor flats", it was built to an L-shaped plan providing most of the apartments with a north-easterly aspect, some with a view of the harbour. The brick clad development also included a swimming pool and private gardens. I particularly like the glazed stairwell with its protruding windows and the canopy above the entrance echoed by a smaller version at the apex of the tower.

Marlborough Hall, 4 Ward Avenue.
20 McLeay Street.
Sodersten has also been credited with designing of the  apartment block at 20 Mcleay Street although this has not been confirmed. Dating from the late 1930's, it has an unusual facade with serrated bay windows cantilevered over the street. This is similar to another of Sodersten's Sydney buildings but also reminds me of an apartment block in Riga, Latvia. Details of the date and architects have been lost for several buildings from this period, including the show-stopping The Oxley apartment block at 12 Ward Avenue. It sports a fabulously decorative glazed  green, black and white coloured window the length of the stairwell and deco motifs under the window facades. It also has a stunning entry lobby with black and white "piano key" steps leading to the glazed entrance which also has several art deco motifs, some of which comply with the rule of three. There is a touch of the Great Gatsby to this apartment building - what a shame we don't know who designed it.

The Oxley, 12 Ward Street
The Oxley, 12 Ward Street.
Aderham Hall, 71 Elizabeth Bay Road.
Back on Elizabeth Bay Road, Aderham Hall at number 71 was one of the first art deco apartment blocks to be built in Sydney. Completed in 1934 and designed by architects Gordon McKinnon and sons, it is still owned and rented out by a single family.  Look up to see the sunburst motifs on the parapets of the rather austere facade. The block was only painted in recent years as one practice in the 1930's was to render buildings and leave them exposed to the elements. Mckinnon designed a number of hospitals, schools, churches and other public buildings across Australia.

My final selection for this first Sydney art deco post is Cahors, a large apartment building at 117 McLeay Street  built in 1940 and designed by architects Joseland and Gilling. There are deco motifs in relief at the upper levels and large blue glazed terracotta tiles around the entry. The ground floor is given over to retail, including a florist which adds a further burst of colour to the already attractive ground floor. 

Cahors, 117 McLeay Street.
Cahors, 117 McLeay Street.
Thanks to Robin Grow of the Art Deco and Modernism Society for providing lists of deco buildings in the city centre and in Potts Point as well as details for some of them. Look out for a second Sydney Art Deco post, coming soon.

In the meantime, you might also like Australian Art Deco - Treasures in Melbourne's Suburbs and Australian Art Deco -Glenelg and Port Adelaide

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