The heritage-listed Department of Lands building and the Department of Education in Sydney are among four properties up for sale.
The Department of Education is a significant example of the Edwardian architecture of the 1915-1930 period and is particularly notable for its detailed sandstone walls.
The building has been home to the head office of the NSW government education administration since 1881 and takes up an entire block in the city centre, having been designed to dominate the precinct.
The Department of Lands building, at the heart of Sydney’s CBD, is another sandstone-clad building. It was designed by colonial architect James Barnet and completed in the late 19th century. Bounded by Bridge, Gresham and Bent streets, the three-storey structure was built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style and was once Sydney’s largest building.
When it was built, the tall buildings that currently loom over the site did not exist along Bridge Street and its surroundings areas, ensuring that views of its clock tower from the harbour uplifted the building’s status as an administration office.
“The divestment of these assets reinforces the New South Wales Government’s commitment to only owning strategic assets that support core government service provisions,” said Acting Minister for Finance and Services Andrew Constance.
However, the Australian Institute of Architects expressed its concern at the sale of these two iconic, heritage-listed landmarks.
NSW chapter president Joe Agius said the buildings’ historical significance and importance to the urban landscape of Sydney make them ‘priceless’ and emphasized that great efforts should be made to retain public access to both buildings.
“The Department of Lands building is one of the grand public buildings that help define Sydney as a ‘sandstone’ city, while the Department of Education building is one of the city’s most outstanding examples of Edwardian architecture,” he said. “Should the government insist on selling the buildings, the Institute strongly recommends it investigate a private sector leasing scheme that enables public access and contributes some public benefits.”
As both buildings are listed on the State Heritage Register and the City of Sydney local environmental plan, any proposed use in the future must preserve the heritage significance of the buildings.
“In assessing any tenders for the sale of the buildings, the government should look beyond immediate economic return and consider inter-generational issues. Assessment criteria should consider ongoing public amenity, the city’s cultural development and public access to the buildings,” Agius said.
The government’s aims to promote these buildings internationally with a focus on tourism, particularly the Department of Lands building, which was once suggested as a potential home for a casino, to hoteliers and investors.
The Ausgrid Building on George Street and an empty piece of land at Macquarie Park are also expected to be sold off, with the four properties expected to generate $200 million for the NSW government.