Heritage insides

There are some spectacular buildings in Sydney’s CBD – many of them heritage listed. My favourites are the sandstone public service buildings along Bridge St, but there some other pretty good ones scattered about the city. I was in one of them, today, and it struck me, again, how intrusive a heritage listing can be. This particular building has been listed, like most, because of its outside appearance. But many of the meeting rooms inside are also of the same period (possibly even original), and so the current occupants are very constrained as to what they can do inside the building, because of the heritage listing. Heritage listing ends up meaning that development of the internal building is constrained, depending on exactly what is listed (very occasionally it is just the streetscape).

The City of Sydney, for example, requires that

Development to a heritage item is to:

  • be consistent with an appropriate Heritage Impact Statement, Conservation Management Plan or Conservation Management Strategy ;
  • be consistent with the Heritage Inventory Assessment Report;
  • protect the setting of the heritage item;
  • retain significant internal and external fabric and building elements;
  • retain significant internal and external spaces;
  • remove unsympathetic alterations and additions;
  • reinstate missing details and building elements;
  • use materials, finishes and colours that are appropriate to the significant periods of development or architectural character of the item; and
  • respect the pattern, style and dimensions of original windows and doors.

This list clearly deals with interiors as well as exteriors. As a worker, I do quite enjoy occasionally visiting some of the spectactular meeting rooms that can be found in this town. Sadly, though, few of them are the heritage listed ones. The heritage listed ones tend to be full of wood panelling, have few, if any, windows, let alone views, be quite small (unless they were once senior executive offices, in which case they can be spectacularly enormous) and have no room for whiteboards, presentation equipment, internet connections, and any of the requirements of the modern business meeting.

I do wonder just whose interests are served by heritage listing the private internal spaces (not the public areas, such as a banking chamber or shopfront) of major buildings. Although it can sometimes be sad to see the back of the wood panelling, it’s hard to see how, as a ratepayer, or normal public citizen, I have any interest in the preservation of a part of a building I have absolutely no access to.