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Pyrmont Apartment Living and the Rise of the Urban Cave Dweller

the astor apartments Pyrmont Apartment Living and the Rise of the Urban Cave Dwellerblues point tower apartments Pyrmont Apartment Living and the Rise of the Urban Cave Dweller

The ‘Australian Dream’ a detached family house on a quarter-acre block in the suburbs? Perhaps now, with more apartments being built in major cities than houses, it’s time to rethink this traditional symbol of Australian life, and look at the century old ‘hidden’ history of apartment living in Sydney.

Apartment precincts, such as Pyrmont, are viewed by most as concentrated, connected communities – well-designed buildings with close proximity to work and entertainment districts, and gorgeous views making for an enviable lifestyle – but apartment living hasn’t always been viewed so favourably.

The first high-rise apartment buildings in Sydney were built in the early 1900s in Macquarie Street, and were soon followed by apartments, such as Kingsclere, in the Kings Cross area during the first apartment boom of the 1920s and 30s. The bohemian wealthy inhabited these luxurious apartments – and a certain reputation followed, in no small part due to the fact that almost 90% were rented. In 1920, when poet, Kenneth Slessor moved into an apartment, his mother was of the opinion that “taking a flat was only one step away from announcing he was going to shack up with a prostitute.” But the number of apartments grew as rapidly as Sydney’s population – giving single people opportunity to escape boarding houses and other suburban lodgings.

A second apartment boom came post-war in the late 1950s, fuelled by the introduction of strata title legislation in 1961. The majority of these new apartments were uninspiring walk-ups in the suburbs – with the notable exception of Seidler’s Blues Point Tower. Although today viewed by many as obtrusive, in 1962 it helped change public opinion of apartment living as a lifestyle highly suitable for young married couples, empty-nesters and singles – a demographic similar to that of today.

sirius apartments Pyrmont Apartment Living and the Rise of the Urban Cave Dweller The 1970s saw ‘Green Bans’ slow the building of apartments, leading to now infamous clashes between the Builders’ Labourers Federation and developers, as well as the eventual completion of successful public apartments, Sirius, in The Rocks. The popularity of the apartment, however, was confirmed with the latest boom in the late 1980s – recession leading to excess office space being converted into apartments.
In the period following the 90s, apartment living in the city and inner west has, once more become synonymous with luxury, and newly developed interests in individuality and sustainability. More recently, rising fuel costs, traffic congestion and changes to the traditional family unit have led many to consider the benefits of inner-urban living.

Surprisingly little has been documented on the rise of apartment living in Australia – a 2007 Historic Houses Trust exhibition at the Museum of Sydney and accompanying book, ‘Homes in the Sky: Apartment Living in Australia’, claimed to be the first comprehensive study. As the apartment lifestyle continues to rise in popularity perhaps this fascinating history won’t be so ‘hidden’.

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