‘It feels gross’: ad for Sydney’s ‘luxury’ Sirius building criticised as insult to former social housing tenants

Marketing of multimillion-dollar apartments makes no mention of refurbished building’s history as public housing

A glossy newspaper ad selling “reimagined” luxury apartments in Sydney’s iconic Sirius Building has been condemned as tone-deaf and “gross” for implying the previous public housing tenants did not deserve to live near Sydney Harbour.

The Sirius building was built in the 1970s to provide social housing for low-income residents of Sydney’s The Rocks district. The Berejiklian government sold it to private developers in 2019 for $150m as property prices in the harbourside location skyrocketed.

The government said the developers would refurbish the building for private sales, and the $150m would go towards building new social housing in other areas.

The last resident of the Sirius building, 93-year old Myra Demetriou, was forced out of her home in January 2018 to clear the way for the sale.

Developers JDH Capital have converted the building, now referred to as “Sirius Sydney Harbour”, into multimillion-dollar apartments, to be sold by the company CBRE.

On Friday, a four-page glossy liftout was printed in the Australian Financial Review advertising “private appointments” for prospective buyers.

The ad has been widely criticised on social media and among those who fought to keep the building as social housing.

For those not up on this, the Sirius building was purpose-built 1970’s public housing, shamefully sold off in #privatisedsydney .... https://t.co/StzqxknXtH

— Philip Thalis (@PhilipThalis) May 13, 2021

Peasants can't be having harbour views. Those days are long gone. Viva the spivs and speculators and landlords https://t.co/yHM83UHWiR

— A Holly Kylie Christmas (@misskylie77) May 14, 2021

The ad asked readers to “live on the world’s most iconic harbour”, while saying the former social housing block had been “reimagined for a modern sensibility, with a level of luxury its harbourfront address deserves”.

“Quickly your mind says: did people not deserve it previously?” Ben Peake, an architect and the manager of the Save Our Sirius campaign, said. “It feels gross because it is stained with what we have done to the people who lived there.

“We kicked out a 92-year old blind woman and turned her apartment into a multimillion-dollar house. And we rushed her out. The government squeezed her into a house she couldn’t properly access.”

A rally outside the Sirius building in Sydney in 2016
A rally outside the Sirius building in Sydney in 2016 demanding it be heritage-listed. Photograph: Tom Rabe/AAP

The Sirius building has been praised by architects and residents for its architectural beauty and for providing social housing in the inner city.

“According to my records, Sunday is the 40th anniversary of Sirius opening to the public,” Peake told Guardian Australia. “In just 40 years we have gone from a society that provides high-quality housing for low-income people to luxury housing for the most wealthy.”

Peake and other defenders of the Sirius building said previously that it was important for cities to retain social and public housing in inner city areas – even if their property values rose.

Shaun Carter, the former NSW president of the Australian Institute of Architects, said in 2017: “It’s seeking to create an enclave of the haves by removing the have-nots.”

Peake said many campaigners had asked the state government to retain “a proportion of social housing” in the building, but “there was no real interest in that”.

Neither Friday’s newspaper ad nor the website for the new development mentioned the building’s history as social housing.

The website tells readers: “Sirius is Sydney’s most famous Brutalist building and a landmark of The Rocks’ skyline. Designed in 1979 by architect Tao Gofers, its strong architectural presence is visible from bridge, street and shore.”

Peake said: “The idea of it as affordable housing has been lost. The social value and the heritage value of Sirius is connected to its use. Without any provisions for social housing, it really has lost a lot of its social value. But it does tell a very Sydney story.

the photo of the team turning the Sirius building into luxury apartments – immaculate stuff pic.twitter.com/tEWJ1bIa9O

— henno (@jrhennessy) May 13, 2021

“It is interesting that they have kept the name. And now the Brutalist architecture of Sirius has been held up as a ‘design icon’, when not that long ago even government ministers were comparing it to a carpark.

CBRE and JDH Capital were contacted for comment.

The development’s new website says: “Spanning disciplines and continents, JDH Capital have sought out a project team with the values and expertise to preserve Sirius with long-term integrity.”


Naaman Zhou

The GuardianTramp

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