"The Toaster"

Location: East Circular Quay
The area we now call East Circular Quay, on the eastern shore of Sydney Cove, has for many years been been an essential part of the port facilities of Sydney. The advent of containerisation set in motion the movement of international shipping out of the harbour, resulting in previously unseen sections of the Sydney Harbour foreshore being redeveloped for public use. When it was announced in the early 1990s that East Circular Quay was to be re-developed, many Sydney residents realised this was Sydney's once in a lifetime opportunity to extend the gardens and parklands of The Domain and Royal Botanical Gardens around Bennelong Point and onto the shores of Circular Quay and lobbied the Government for this to happen. One of the buildings in the planned re-development - knicknamed The Toaster by opponents of the scheme because of how it looked - came to represent everything that the public hated about the re-development project, and today it is still known by that uncomplimentary name.

East Circula Quay had been put to immediate use by the new arrivals aboard the first fleet in January 1788, being the place where the animals and later, the convicts that had arrived about the fleet's ships, were safely brought ashore. It wasn't long before the colonists needed extra wharfage for ships and they turned to the sandstone on the rocky slopes of Bennelong Point to build seawalls and other structures. The construction of a long wharf and a road on the eastern side of Sydney Cove led to more rock being quarried, and the sheer rockface we see towards the end of the point today soon replaced the gentle slope of the hillside down to the water's edge.

Land first went on sale on the eastern shore of the Cove in the mid 1850s, and though development was slow at first, the influx of capital from the gold rush and the development of new overseas markets for Australia's wool led to the development of warehouses and wool stores. By the mid 19th century, the warehouses were gone, replaced by office buildings, their occupants no doubt attracted by the superb view across the water to the Harbour Bridge.

The "lost view" that all the fuss was about. "The Toaster" was eventually built in front of the grassed area seen to the right of the Opera House forecourt in this photograph

During the years leading up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the NSW State Government announced plans to replace the hotch-potch of waterfront buildings on East Circular Quay with a row of new ones along the full length of the foreshore. Public outcry erupted over the heights of the buildings, their bland shape, the intrusion on the harbouride landscape and the possible denial of public access to the foreshore. An 11th-hour intervention by the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, led to the inclusion of a colonnaded walkway, a lowering of the height of the proposed buildings, which involved a swapping of the air-space rights above the site and improving its look. This trade-off guaranteed public access to the private buildings and sent the architect back to the drawing board.

The compromise didn't please everyone, and to make matters worse, as the older buildings were demolished, Sydneysiders got a glimpse of what they had been missing, that up until then had been hidden behind the wall of office buildings - views of Government House surrounded by the lush green of the Botanical Gardens, now visible from Circular Quey for the first (and as it turned out, the last) time. Those who were not happy with the outcome took it out on the end apartment building nearest to the Opera House, which they dubbed "The Toaster" because of its shape. These days The Toaster and the other buildings on the quayfront have been generally accepted as part of the landscape, no doubt helped along by the wonderful array of cafes, bars and restaurants that call East Circular Quay home, and by how pleasant the walk along East Circular Quay now is. But that is still cold comfort to those who saw Government House from Circular Quay before The Toaster was built and had a glimpse of what might have been.

Bennelong Apartments

Designed by Andrew Andersons and PTW Architects, the controversial residential apartment building was completed in 1998. It was part of East Circular Quay's multi-use development, which is officially named the Bennelong Apartments. The complex consists of three buildings. No. 1 Macquarie Street, is the northernmost building in the development and the one dubbed The Toaster. It is connected via a bridge at its southern end to the slightly lower no. 3-7 Macquarie Street building, which house a cinema, restaurants and shops, as well as apartments. The southernmost building, no. 61 Macquarie Street, houses a hotel.

In November 2007 an apartment in the building sold for $8.4 million. With an internal area of 190 square metres, the price of $44,210 per square metre is an Australian record.

Unilever House is the last building in the row of skyscapers on East Circular Quay, 1965

Unilever House

When "The Toaster" controversy was in full swing, the concern was over the preservation of the views to and from the Opera House and Botanic Gardens, and not the iconic 1950's/60s International Style Modernist office buildings - ICI House, Unilever House or Harry Seidler's Lend Lease House - that had to be demolished to make room for The Toaster and its neighbouring buildings which now line East Circular Quay. All three were significant buildings of their time.

"Dated, unloved and standing on prime real estate, the multi-storeyed office building of the 1950s and 1960s is the most threatened species among Australia's historic building stock", declared the opening statement of an essay by Professor Jennifer Taylor, now of the Queensland University of Technology, who examined the love-hate relationship Australians have with the thrusting high-rise architecture of their seaboard cities. The fate of this trio of post-World War II office buildings seems to supoports her argument. "The city tells the truth about a civilisation," she said, "and both the good and bad of Australia in the postwar decades has been written in the cities", much of it in the high-rise office blocks. Many have disappeared and many more are under threat of demolition or of drastic modification in a world where the latest, and the biggest is seen as the best.

View of Circular Quay from Unilever House, April 1957

Taylor also admits that modernism itself was not the easiest style to love. Cities, she says, are "conservative animals and messy places", resisting both change and purity. Modernism in its purest form was a utopian movement, demanding wholesale clearance of the relics of the past to allow the glassy tower to be appreciated, isolated on its platform. Harry Seidler achieved it at Australia Square in the 1960s, where 30 sites were amalgamated to allow a generous public plaza between the rectangular Pitt Street building and the George Street tower. Few other post World War II projects enjoyed anywhere near the degree of public acceptance achieved by Australia Square.

East Circular Quay, 1960

Unilever House, which occupied the site where Bennelong Apartments now stands, was one of first curtain-wall skyscrapers in Sydney. It was the first of trio of 1950s skyscrapers on East Circular Quay to be demolished in 1994. It had 14 storeys and stood 53 metres above the waters of Sydney Cove. It was very similiar in shape and style to another office tower erected five years later, just a short distance away - the 1962 AMP Sydney Cove building - which thus far has survived any threats of demolition. Both were classic examples of the International Style architectural style so popular in the post-War era; both had a slightly curved facade, a featured used to dramatic effect on the Qantas headquarters building in Phillip Street less than a kilometre away.

Unilever House was completed in 1957, the year work on its northern neighbour, The Sydney Opera House, was started. There was no public outcry back then about how it might block the view of the Opera House from Circular Quay, perhaps because no one knew at that time how dramatic and iconic the image of the Opera House guarding the entrance to Circular Quay and the city centre would be.

Unilever House, ICI House, and Lend Lease House had replaced a row of aging wool and bond stores, so perhaps the people never had a vision of what they might be missing had they never been built. More likely is that the concrete, steel and glass landscape created by the Harbour Bridge approaches, the Cahill Expressway and the wall of modern skyscrapers around Sydney Cove was welcomed and embraced as a sign of modernity, symbolising the universal progress that irrepressible Victorian ideology had promised but failed to deliver.

East Circular Quay, 1893

East Circular Quay, 1963

The Toaster under construction

Government House peaks through the gap between the Toaster and the next East Circular Quay building

A humorous view of how East Circular Quay might look if the Toaster was actually a toaster and The Sydney Opera House was modified to match it.

Unilever House

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