Industrial buildings contain a particular type of sublime. In Sydney today, they’re almost synonymous with conversions into designer loft apartments or slick, contemporary workspaces and cafes. But over their lifetime of disuse, old warehouses have attracted a variety of guises outside of factory-floor production. For example, those seeking alternative lifestyles, including artists, ravers and squatters, were drawn to industrial sites because they offered access to space in a rapidly developing and privatising city. In the process, these character-filled buildings absorbed imaginations with their atmospheric cavernous structures.
Inner Sydney represents one of only two historic industrial heartlands in Australia, containing one of the largest collections of historic industrial buildings. From chewing gum manufacturers to World War II munition factories, stationers, fabric mills, substations and fridge factories, the heritage-listed buildings reflect the diversity of Sydney’s industrial past. They reflect our social history, marking the population shift from farms to the city, our manufacturing for the war effort, the growth of the labour movement and much more.
Over 3 years, a team of historians, heritage consultants, archaeologists and planners for the City completed a study to identify industrial buildings with the most historical and architectural integrity. Based on a rigorous survey of over 470 buildings, we listed more than 100 industrial structures and warehouses in our environmental plan. A listing means that if a development application is put forward, it must gain Council approval to ensure new additions and conversions respect the historical features of the building.
Check out just a small selection of these now-quiet, but formerly roaring industrial giants that over the 20th century powered our city.
W. C. Penfold & Co factory
470-484 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
This building is historically significant for its connection to the Australian stationery manufacturing and printing industry, in particular for making stationery, accounts books and packaging, newspapers, catalogues and books. It shows us how the printing industry grew with technological advancements during the early twentieth century.
6-8 Crewe Place, Rosebery
The Chicago-esque site is closely associated with the well-known Wrigley’s gum – remember Juicy Fruit and Spearmint? These brands featured in many Australian diets for nearly 100 years. The building is an early example of concrete construction and provides evidence of one of Sydney’s first planned suburbs – Rosebery was planned by John Sulman in 1911-20.
Globite suitcase factory (former Ford Sherington factory)
119-127 Kippax Street, Surry Hills
This Federation warehouse building was once owned by luggage manufacturer Ford Sherington, which made the famous Globite school cases for more than 50 years. It dates back to 1912, during a key period in the development of Surry Hills when the area evolved from a residential to a manufacturing precinct.
Former National Motor Springs (Igloo building)
52-54 O’Riordan Street, Alexandria
Discovered by the heritage study, this shadow factory (which means it was operated by civilians) was used to make WWII bombers. It is known for significant Australian innovations in aircraft design. It’s also distinctive for being the first-known igloo-style building constructed by the Sydney plywood manufacturer Ralph Symonds using arches of laminated timber.
There are plenty more charming industrial buildings to discover across NSW and in Sydney.