Go behind the scenes of landmark buildings at Sydney Open

As Sydney throws open its doors for a day, go behind the scenes and explore the city's architectural landmarks during Sydney Open.
Go behind the scenes of landmark buildings at Sydney Open

Visitors in The Great Synagogue. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums  

Sydney Living Museums is the custodian of a dozen of the city’s most precious architectural treasures. While these are open year-round to explore and enjoy, the biennial Sydney Open day on Sunday 2 November allows a behind the scenes look at more than 40 other exciting spaces around the city that are not normally opened to the public, and as Sydney Living Museums Director Mark Goggin explains, is ‘a real opportunity for any Sydneysider who loves their city’.


Sydney Living Museums works with architects, building owners and tenants to provide access to an impressive cross-section of urban architecture. From the earliest colonial structures to shiny new skyscrapers, from the pared-back and functional to the highly decorative, Sydney Open has something to pique everyone’s interest.

The event presents a great opportunity for those looking to reacquaint themselves with Sydney’s major landmarks. You may have loitered on the steps of Sydney Town Hall many times, but a City Pass enables you to ascend them in order to peek into the Council Chamber, and, intriguingly, the building’s underground vault. Still on money matters, a new addition to the Open circuit is the Reserve Bank of Australia, where visitors can get the currency on our currency.

If church rather than state is what you’re after, spiritual relief is at hand. Access to the elaborately decorated The Great Synagogue will run throughout the day, while over at St Mary’s Cathedral the crypt will be opened, revealing its impressive terrazzo mosaic floor. Visitors to Sydney’s oldest surviving church St James’ will be able to discover the tiny Children’s Chapel. Set under a barrel-vaulted ceiling, the Chapel is adorned with beautiful murals painted by the Turramurra Painters in 1929, in which the Christmas carol ‘I Saw Three Ships’ is reinterpreted within a Sydney Harbour setting (including a partially-built Harbour Bridge).

If your children possess the widespread juvenile fascination for fire trucks, don’t miss your chance to explore the Darlinghurst Fire Station. Visitors young and old can explore the station from bottom to top, from the vehicles parked on the ground floor, up the circular staircase to the rooftop and its impressive view over the surrounding suburb.

For a fix of contemporary culture, there are plenty of options. Alaska Projects (whose home is in an underground car park in Kings Cross) have recently expanded to Stockton House on William Street, where City Pass holders can experience the studios of resident artists. Underbelly Arts, who have presented exhibitions in the industrial surrounds of Carriageworks and Cockatoo Island in the past, will reveal their current abode, the William Street Arch. The Arch is one of the oldest surviving bridges on the Australian mainland, and was originally built in the 1830s to carry sewage and stormwater out to sea.

Fans of Australian modernist architecture will delight in the Harry Seidler showcase. Five decades of the celebrated architect’s towers will be open to the public – Australia Square, MLC Centre, 9 Castlereagh Street (formerly the Capita Centre), Grosvenor Place and Cove Apartments. As Goggin explains, ‘These five towers changed Sydney’s skyline forever, and made an indelible impression on architecture around the world.’ Their showcase during Sydney Open will be in tandem with the exhibition ‘Harry Seider: Painting Toward Architecture’, one of the first major retrospectives of Seidler’s work, which will open at the Museum of Sydney on the weekend of Sydney Open.

It wouldn’t be the Central Business District without business, and Sydney Open is a great chance to see how the other half work and where the city’s cogs turn. A new addition to the Sydney Open circuit is 8 Chifley, a collaboration between the firms of acclaimed British ‘starchitect’ Sir Richard Rogers and Sydney’s Ed Lippmann of Lippmann Partnership. Flanked with bright red bracing and adorned with a massive digital text work by Jenny Holzer, the site opened just last year and is already staking its claim as a landmark.

The magnificent Beaux Arts building at 50 Martin Place (known to many as the model for the Commonwealth Bank moneybox) has undergone some spectacular additions in its metamorphosis into the new global headquarters of Macquarie Group. Those in possession of a City Pass have the opportunity to check out not only the recently restored marble interior and its new glass lifts, but also the contemporary glass dome which now adorns the rooftop.

And then there’s the jewel in the Sydney Open crown, the Dome of the Queen Victoria Building. Purchase your Sydney Open Tickets before 17 October for your chance to be one of the lucky 100 to win a Golden Ticket to explore this secret aspect to Sydney’s beloved grande dame. Recipients will be able to check out the stained-glass dome up close before climbing the original iron lace spiral staircases to the dome’s outdoor balcony, which affords 360 degree views, 60 metres above the street. No better aspect could be found from which to consider the rich architectural history of this magnificent city.

'Sydney Open provides Sydneysiders with the opportunity to fall in love with their city again,' said Goggin. As Sydney throws open its doors for a day, don’t miss your chance to step over the threshold. It will change the way you see Sydney for good.

Sydney Open: Sunday 2 November 2014, venues across Sydney
For more information and to purchase a City Pass or Focus Tour, visit slm.is/open

Chloe Wolifson

Tuesday 30 September, 2014

About the author

Chloe Wolifson is a Sydney-based independent art writer and curator who works across artist-run, commercial and public domains.