Industrial Revolution

November 22nd, 2019 - by Brad Gillespie

There is something about a warehouse conversion that instantly piques the interest of buyers and designers.

Some love the so-called ‘cool factor’ while others are drawn to the history in the walls.

Inner Sydney is dotted with residences that have shed the skin of their industrial past life, and allowed the building’s bones to provide the framework for fashionable, open-plan homes.

In fact, rumour has it that Sydney’s first warehouse conversion took place in Redfern’s Watertower in 1984 – although the architects responsible for the project chose to place gyprock over characteristic industrial features like the beams and brickwork.

In any case the Watertower catalysed an urban trend, which is very much ongoing. Here’s my take on the appeal of a warehouse conversion and why they are a drawcard in their own right.

The History

There are only so many warehouses in inner Sydney, so much like antiques you are investing in a piece of architecture that is available in a finite quantity. Each warehouse is also unique – produced for a specific purpose belonging to another era.

So the appeal is partly down to their one-off charm. “The buildings themselves have an authenticity which cannot be newly recreated,” Iain Halliday of BKH told Domain in 2015.

Waking up to the rough and raw look of exposed brickwork is a daily reminder of the buildings’ history and features like exposed steel beams are a tribute to the structure’s durability.

The Environment

Warehouse conversions are also a form of architectural recycling. Environmentalists are drawn to the notion of adaptive reuse.

“The mindset of wholesale demolition and starting again from a blank beginning is now from another era. We now embrace and evolve buildings, allowing the layers of history and the aesthetic to inform the work we do, which makes for a richer building, and a richer, far more interesting, city,” Joe Agius of Cox Architecture told Domain.

The Space

Warehouses appeal to history lovers and urban dwellers who love the idea of a terrace but do not want to be confined to the narrow spaces that are typical of Victorian-era architecture.

While warehouses may have been crammed with workers when they were in use, once they’ve been gutted they are light, airy and filled with possibility.

These buildings often have high-ceilings, which create an optical illusion – making the available space instantly look bigger.

They also have industrial-sized windows, which flood a home with light.

Inhabitants also love the rough unrendered look that is typical of this style of architecture. It means they don’t have to be precious with the property as it’s been through a lot more than a crayon-armed toddler.

My recent warehouse listings

16/111 McEvoy Street, Alexandria
This building, constructed in 1953 was designed by architecture firm Stafford Moor & Farrington. It housed McPherson’s Pty Ltd, who manufactured nuts, bolts and rivets.

“The Sydney Harbour Bridge only one of the many large Australian structures which are literally held together with rivets and bolts from McPherson’s Bolt and Nut Works,” a spokesperson from McPherson’s said.

Architecture-wise the old factory has many unique features, including a glass-tiled façade which was unusual in industrial buildings, as well as rooftop parking – a likely first among Sydney warehouses. It also embodies post-war functionalist architecture and was in use until the late 1970s.

“One One One” is a thought out conversion which has been faithful to the building’s history. Unit 16 has open-plan interiors and large, paned windows unique to the former steel factory.

198-200 Australia Street, Newtown

This building has had quite a past. It was built as a bakery at the end of the 19th Century and was expanded in 1921, where it was a textile factory and was still in use until the late 1980s.

Inside, the high ceilings, steel beams and open-plan layout speak volumes about the virtues of the warehouse conversion.

Today, it’s one of Newtown’s largest properties with six bedrooms and four parking spots. There is also a Roman-designed courtyard and pool, the latter being a major selling point in the Inner West.

Former Warehouse Listings

72 Albert Street, Erskineville
236 Lawrence Street, Alexandria