The Tapestry Of An Inner City Social and Built Environment

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AAA Volunteer - Deborah Singerman shares her recent experience of the AAA's newest inner city tour - the Ultimo Walk.


The AAA’s first-ever Ultimo Walk started on a blustery June morning outside the Powerhouse Museum. It was also tour leader Michael McMullan’s first AAA venture. Probably sensibly, he did not dwell on the NSW State Government’s wish to relocate the museum west to Parramatta and rejig the existing site into a commercial, residential and creative mix.

After all, this part of town is used to mutability, its gritty history covering industry, education, cultural and community buildings. McMullen’s snapshot of the inner-city took in a formerly grand residence, a still popular technical college, an Olympian’s swimming pool, a modernist building, an urban design and landscaped transformation, and an educational institution that has spawned many nicknames and a few benefactor controversies of its own.

“History has been a hobby of mine since I was five would you believe. Not just dates or events but the whole social history context.”

This approach fed into his commentary as we walked briskly (gee, it was cold) through this varied part of town.

Ultimo House was built by convict labour in 1804 for surgeon John Harris on his estate at Ultimo and extended in 1814 by the convict architect Francis Greenway. It was Greenway's first colonial commission. In its now nondescript inner-city location it is hard to imagine it as a country seat with a park grazed by deer. Yet, as one of Sydney's grand residences, Ultimo House, had a renowned history with Harris leasing it out to prominent tenants. At the time of its demolition, in 1932, it was said to be the oldest standing house in Sydney.

On what was the largest site for technical education in NSW, in 1891 Sydney technical college, museum and two high schools, one for boys, the other for girls, were constructed. The intricacy of the façade detailing of Australian flora and fauna particularly impressed us.

The roof’s undulating grandeur marks the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, Harry Seidler’s last public building, the clean, steel and glass structure such a contrast to area’s older brickwork. By the by, McMullan also pointed out the nearby Jessie Street (named after women’s rights advocate, 1889-1970) National Women’s Library and further along, the Durbach Block Jaggers-designed Le Corbusier Building, which shows his five principles of windows. It houses University of Technology Sydney Science and the Graduate School of Health.

Behind Central station we walked the Goods Line, the disused rail corridor that Aspect Studios in collaboration with design partners CHROFI transformed into a vibrant civic corridor for events, recreation and relaxing in an unexpectedly open space.

We ended up at the UTS business school, better known as the “paper bag” building or Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, within the complex. After admiring the hours and hours of brickwork involved and the 14 different types of brick used, we went inside and wound down the mirrored “crumpled” staircase of this Frank Gehry showpiece.

McMullan is a former forester, IT manager, contract manager of business change projects, and holder of an economics degree, which included Australian history. “My interests are the natural environment, the built environment, and the forces that drive change and progress. I have a sense of history, so I can stand in an environment and ‘feel’ the flow of what led to where we are.”

He is also long-time secretary of the AAA.


Experience the Ultimo Walk this month. 

Meeting Point: Powerhouse Museum Forecourt, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo NSW 2007
Date: 10.00am - 12.00pm
Time: Saturday 21 July 2018
Tickets: $30 (public) / $25 (Seniors & Students) / AAA Members Free
Please note - concession ticket holders should present their ID on the tour day.

Click here to secure your place on the tour. Numbers are limited so book your ticket now!


Deborah is a professional writer and editor. She offers services to small business, industry and professional associations and creatives looking for crisp, credible copy showcasing business, products and services in a professional light.

If you are looking for assistance delivering content for print and digital media you can contact Debra through her website:

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  • Article: Deborah Singerman
  • Image 1: Tour leader Michael McMullan talks about the Powerhouse Museum (Photographer: Annette Dearing)
  • Image 2: Dr Chau Chak Wing Building - UTS Business School, designed by Frank Gehry. (Photographer: Vanessa Couzens)

At Home With The Architect Visits Kirribilli

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This month 'At Home With The Architect' invites you to explore Doorzien House a residence in North Sydney's Kirribilli.

Taking place on Sunday 15 July, architect Melonie Bayl-Smith, Director of Bijl Architecture will guide tour participants through their architectural reworking of an existing semi-detached residence.

Designed for a couple looking to abandon their nomadic lifestyle, Doorzien House is the result of their desire for a 'forever' home. 'Doorzien' in Dutch means 'see through' and the house is designed to open up to as many lines of view as possible to take advantage of natural light and a spectacular vista of the Harbour.


Bijl Architecture was established in 2012 by architect Melonie Bayl-Smith and is already the recipient of numerous architecture and construction industry awards.

The practice has worked on a variety of projects including work across residential, interiors, commercial and public sectors, with a focus on a collaborative approach to each project working closely with clients, consultants and builders.

The practice’s design philosophy identifies that inherent flexibility and intentional longevity are key to creating sustainable architecture, from the viewpoints of aesthetics, functionality, economy and the total environment.


Location: Kirribilli, NSW
Please note that the address and meeting point will only be forwarded to ticket holders in the days immediately before the tour.
Time: 2.00pm - 3.00pm
Date: Sunday 15 July 2018
Tickets: $35 (Early Bird) / $45 (Public) / $30 (AAA Members)

Don't miss your opportunity to experience this private residence, numbers are limited. Book your place on the tour, click here.

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  • Article: Vanessa Couzens
  • Images: Castlecrag Residence designed by Bijl Architecture (Photographer: Katherine Lu, images courtesy of Bijl Architecture)

A Membership Offer Perfect For Small Business

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The Australian Architecture Association is now offering small businesses the opportunity to keep opening the doors on architecture through its new AAA Company Membership. Specially tailored to suit small businesses and organisations that employ under 10 staff, AAA Company Membership will cost $350 annually.

There are numerous benefits to be gained for you and your staff, including free walking tours and At Home With the Architect tickets, along with discounts on other AAA talks and events.

Your Company Membership provides the perfect opportunity to organise social events for your staff and promote team building.

Your membership also helps support the continuing operation of the Australian Architecture Association. Our not-for-profit organisation is dedicated to making architecture and design accessible to everyone.

Your AAA membership will help continue opening the doors on contemporary architecture and raising awareness of the value of design.

Click here to get your AAA Company Membership today. Alternatively, visit the AAA website and learn more about the different membership schemes available to suit your needs.

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  • Article: Vanessa Couzens
  • Image 1: Living Room - Tusculum House, Potts Point NSW, designed by Smart Design Studio (Photographer: Vanessa Couzens)
  • Image 2: At Home With the Architect attendees at Tusculum House, Potts Point NSW, designed by Smart Design Studio (Photographer: Vanessa Couzens)

AAA Residential Bus Tour To Take Place in August

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Don't miss out on our Winter residential tour which is an all day event where you will be visiting some of the most interesting new and renovated contemporary architecture in the inner west and northern suburbs of Sydney.

Inside the houses you will hear about the design process from the architects and see firsthand the value of good design.

Projects by the following architects: David Boyle Architects; Sam Crawford Architects;Carter Williamson Architects and Mark Szczerbicki Design Studio.

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The day includes a delicious sit down lunch, itinerary, commentary by architects at the houses and coach travel. There will also be the opportunity to talk to some of the architects at the luncheon.


Location: Meet Loftus Street, beside Customs House, Circular Quay NSW 2000
Date: Saturday 11 August 2018
Time: 9.30am - 5.30pm
Tickets: $205 (public) / $190 (AAA Members)

Hurry tickets will sell out fast, so book now!

Click here to secure your place on the tour.

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Explore Sydney Observatory With the AAA and MAAS

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Due it's popularity during Sydney Design 2018, the Australian Architecture Association (AAA) and MAAS (the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences) are partnering to present the Sydney Observatory Architecture Tour throughout the remainder of 2018.


In association with MAAS (the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences) the AAA developed a special architectural tour of the Sydney Observatory in Millers Point, The Rocks.

Join volunteers from the AAA on an architectural tour of one of Sydney’s most significant historic sites.

Built in 1858, Sydney Observatory is one of the most significant sites in the nation’s scientific history. It is recognised as an item of ‘state significance’ by the New South Wales Government and is heritage listed.

Beginning as the centre of scientific research for the colony of New South Wales, the Observatory has a seminal role in the history of timekeeping, meteorology, navigation and astronomy in Australia.

Now known as Observatory Hill, the site was previously known as Windmill Hill, Citadel Hill, Fort Phillip and Flagstaff Hill. Each name indicates the site’s function over time, all of which relied on it being the highest point over Sydney Harbour.

The Observatory buildings, built from stone with distinctive copper telescope domes, were built between 1857 and 1859 in the Italianate style. They combined the practical needs of an observatory with those of an astronomer’s residence. The Observatory grounds recreate the original layout and vegetation of formal gardens cultivated in the 1880s.


Location: Sydney Observatory, 1003 Upper Fort St, Millers Point NSW
Time: 11.00am - 12.30pm
Sunday 29 July
Sunday 26 August
Sunday 30 September
Sunday 28 October
Sunday 25 November 2018
Tickets: Adult $30 / Concession $25 / MAAS & AAA Members $25
Accessibility: Please note there is no wheelchair access to many of the Sydney Observatory spaces due to narrow and steep staircases in the heritage-listed buildings.  Strollers must be cloaked on arrival.

Don't miss out book now - click here.

  • Article: Vanessa Couzens
  • Image: The Sydney Design 2018 tour held in March (Photographer: Annette Dearing)