Rejected visions for Sydney that were never realized at the Museum of Sydney

Sydney’s The Rocks was to be razed in the early 1960s to make way for a Brutalist-style complex comprising up to 40 floors of high-rise apartments for office workers and “middle-class families” spread over treeless podiums above street level.

Its colonial history was saved from the wrecking ball when developer James Wallace Pty Ltd could not afford to buy existing properties for redevelopment, says Professor Rob Freestone, curator of a new exhibition called Sydney unrealized opening on Saturday.

Professor Rob Freestone, guest curator of a new exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, stands in front of a model of a proposal that would have leveled all the Rocks. This did not happen because the company that won the tender could not afford to buy all the properties needed for the redevelopment. Credit:Nick Moir

The exhibition at the Museum of Sydney includes other visions of unnamed high-rise enclosures which Freestone says were part of a mission to remove the heritage and working-class terraces of Woolloomooloo in Macquarie Street.

Other plans that never came off the drawing board included a multi-storey car park overlooking the full length of Circular Quay; an Opera in the Estate; and plans for a Discovery Village in Darling Harbor reminiscent of the 1960s TV show The Jetsons with a futuristic dome.

Freestone, professor of urban planning at the School of Built Environment at the University of NSW, said an important takeaway from the new exhibition was “beware of skyscrapers”. This is particularly the case when tall buildings are proposed in neighborhoods that do not already have them, such as the now moderate plans for Blackwattle Bay.

The exhibition includes official and unofficial plans, competition entries, unsolicited proposals, design challenges and idea festivals for large projects.

Planning and construction after World War II was promoted by governments as a way to ensure years of prosperity and progress, Freestone said.

“Courageous new world thinking has brought with it new and revived utopian visions of rebuilt cities sweeping away slums, congestion and other undesirable legacies of the past,” he said. “The years following World War II saw a complete replanning of neighborhoods, not just buildings, on a scale that increased in the 1960s.

“Alongside proclaimed advances in technology and mobility, serious community resistance has emerged for the first time in Sydney… Fortunately, we have learned from the lessons of the past disaster.”

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