Heritage Alert: Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia


July 22, 2013


One of the leading International organizations for the protection of 20th Century Cultural Heritage – the International Council on Monuments and Sites International Scientific Committee on 20th Century Heritage (ICOMOS ISC20C),  wishes to express its concern regarding the alarming situation now facing the future of Sydney’s Darling Harbour Precinct (Darling Harbour).  Built for the 1988 Australian Bi-Centennial Celebration, Darling Harbour is currently under threat from a government plan to redevelop a large part of the area for commercial and residential development.


The NSW Government Development Proposal SSD57521 for ‘Sydney International Convention, Exhibition & Entertainment Precinct’ (SICEEP) outlines the redevelopment of the convention center, exhibition center, entertainment facilities and associated public domain works.  In addition the Sydney Entertainment Centre is to be demolished.

The ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for Twentieth century heritage has  written to the Hon. Barry O’Farrell MP, NSW Premier and Minister of Western Sydney; the Hon. Andrew Stoner MP, Deputy Premier; and the Hon. Brad Hazzard, MP NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, requesting that they suspend the current proposal and engage in a process to understand the 20th Century heritage values of the site and subsequent potential retention of the Sydney Exhibition and Convention Centre complex and Darling Harbour as a whole.

The site slated for demolition and redevelopment has significant 20th century heritage values. It includes the Sydney Exhibition Centre designed by Philip Cox, and Sydney Convention Centre designed by John Andrews, two of Australia’s most prominent architects of the late 20th Century. Also slated for demolition is the waterfront pubic park known as Tumbalong Park with its “Urban Stream” and significant other landscaping.

The scale of the proposed ‘Sydney International Convention Centre, Exhibition & Entertainment Precinct’ redevelopment is much larger than the existing development and will overwhelm the surviving 19th century historic buildings in the area and significantly compromise and reduce the harbor side landscape setting. Public space designed as a “place for people” will be alienated.

Beside the architectural and heritage loss, the demolition of the major buildings and most of the parkland is not environmentally sustainable. The demolition, rather than the alteration and augmentation of the existing facilities, is a departure from the widely acknowledged commitment of Australia and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to the protection and long-term conservation of its cultural heritage and historic sites of all periods, whether ancient or modern.

The ICOMOS ISC20C urged the New South Wales government to suspend the current proposal and to engage in a process to understand the 20th Century heritage values of the site and subsequent potential retention of the Sydney Exhibition and Convention Centre complex and Darling Harbour as a whole, including the Robert Woodward-designed Spiral Water Feature, the ‘Urban Stream’ Water Feature, Tumbalong Park, and Chinese Garden of Friendship.

The heritage values of this site and the potential international importance of the work of Philip Cox, John Andrews, Robert Woodward and Ove Arup should be given careful and comprehensive reconsideration as a part of the proposal.

The ICOMOS SIC20C has offered to discuss these issues further with the NSW government to achieve a more balanced approach to the desire for new development within a heritage precinct that is significant for its late 20th Century design.

The international Heritage Alert process uses the ICOMOS ISC20C’s international professional and public networks to investigate requests for international action where potentially significant heritage places are threatened, by using external experts to assess research and comparative values, in order to achieve a rigorous, independent assessment of the situation.

The Heritage Alert will be uploaded to the ISC20C website http://icomos-isc20c.org/id3.html and distributed through the networks of ICOMOS, DOCOMOMO International, and the International Union of Architects.

The Heritage Alert review was undertaken by ISC20C members from Russia, the USA, UK, Sweden, Australia and South Africa, who have engaged with local professionals and have been closely monitoring the risk situation for Darling Harbour.

Read more at: http://www.icomos-isc20c.org/id3.html

CONTACT FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: isc20c@icomos-isc20c.org

Gunny Harboe, Chair, ICOMOS ISC20C Heritage Alerts sub-committee, gunny@harboearch.com


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