5 buildings brought back to life through award-winning architecture

We take you on a tour of some of Sydney’s most surprising restorations – and they’re all open for you to explore.

There’s only one thing better than a beautiful building and that’s an old, unloved building given a new life through brilliant design.

Here are 5 local buildings that have been reimagined into inspiring, award-winning places and spaces for modern life. Best of all, they’re all open for you to visit, explore and use. Get ready to be architecturally inspired.

1. From theatre to eternity: Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst

You know you’re a true Sydneysider if you understand the significance of the word ‘eternity’ to our city. From 1932 to 1956, ‘the man who writes Eternity’ was a Sydney legend, secretly writing eternity’ on the city’s footpaths – first in chalk, later in crayon, and always in a distinctive cursive script.

Eternity sign commemorating the work of Arthur Stace, Town Hall Square, Sydney. Image: Sardaka 2008 CC-BY-SA

This quirky and sentimental story is central to the first building on our list, a former church. Here, Arthur Stace was inspired by a sermon to begin his mission of bringing wonder to the Sydney public. Now transformed into the Eternity Playhouse theatre, the building continues Arthur’s mission, inspiring a nightly audience of 200 people.

Eternity Playhouse designed by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects with the City of Sydney and Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Image: Josef Nalevansky

The 127-year-old, Victorian-style building is now a grand, high-tech theatre. Old doors and timber panelling from the pulpit have been reused, while the former timber floor of the church forms the new ceiling of the downstairs foyer.

See a show that captures the zeitgeist, have a bite at the Two Trout Restaurant or hire the venue for your own event.

Authur Stace would be delighted to know that his legacy lives on – for eternity.

Awards

Prince Alfred Park Pool, designed by Neeson Murcutt Architects and Sue Barnsley Design in association with City of Sydney. Image: Josef Nalevansky

2. A splash of yellow: Prince Alfred Park Pool, Surry Hills

A visit to the Prince Alfred Park Pool could transport you to another place and time. What used to be an underwhelming suburban pool was reimagined and brought back to life as an uplifting, sustainable aquatic facility and green space.

The design appears simple but don’t be deceived - every detail holds clues to the park’s rich and colourful history of funfairs and circuses. There are even stylish references to modern art amidst a display of bright yellow umbrellas. In particular, keep an eye out for the retro pool signs – a feature that adds to the pool’s sense of fun and playfulness.

For those with a special appreciation for landscape design, a wander through the park with its 35,000 plants will inspire. You’ll see avenues inspired by the Victorian love of all things exotic, with rolling grasslands and the glistening blue pool tucked under a roof of native meadow grasses.

Awards

East Sydney Community and Arts Centre, designed by Lahznimmo Architects with City of Sydney. Image: Katherine Griffiths

3. Design at play: East Sydney Community and Arts Centre, Darlinghurst

It’s hard to believe that this modern, vibrant building was ever a sombre, red-brick 1960s community hall. In 2017, the site was transformed into a playful, sustainable and accessible community and arts centre where you can go to meet friends, work, learn or get creative.

As the building lies in a heritage conservation area, the refurbishment needed to retain original features. A handsome sandstone retaining wall that ran along Burton Street was painstakingly disassembled and, stone by stone, cleaned and beautifully re-assembled inside the building. The building’s gloomy brickwork was stripped back, and the remaining skeleton was then dressed in a "veil of glass and aluminium" and filled with flexible spaces for community use and spaces for rehearsals and creative use hireable through our friend Brand X.

But best of all is the joyful, interactive art installation S(W)ING, an artwork literally at play. 3 fluoro pink translucent discs glide behind a giant glass wall as their cables are pulled by children (or grown-ups) playing inside the centre.

Award

The Joynton Avenue Creative Centre, designed by Peter Stutchbury Architecture with Design 5 – Architects and City of Sydney. Image: Katherine Griffiths

4. Arching back in time: The Joynton Avenue Creative Centre, Green Square

The former Royal South Sydney Hospital in Zetland is one of our most recent heritage conversions. The site has been skilfully reinvented as Green Square’s cultural and community precinct, with a creative centre, a repair shed, and a stormwater recycling plant.

The hero of the precinct is the former nurses’ quarters, a 1936 heritage building which has been reinterpreted to create the Joynton Avenue Creative Centre. Striking timber arches extend out from the building’s original brick façade and continue through to the interior, balancing and connecting the exterior with the artist studio spaces inside.

Old is cleverly blended with new and a range of subtle design features hint at the building’s former life such as the blood cell-like pattern adorning perforated copper panels that shade the western façade.

Embedded content: https://cityofsydney.wistia.com/medias/4puzt7qk7g

The restored building is now home to 107 Projects and a cluster of resident artists and creative organisations on a mission to cultivate creative practices – both inside the building and out in the community.

Across the neighbouring Matron Ruby Grant Park you can find the wonderfully restored Banga Community Shed. This used to be the hospital’s old pathology building. The shed, managed by the Bower Reuse and Repair Centre, is fitted out as an electronics workshop where you can learn about repairing and reusing household items.

Awards list – Joynton Avenue Creative Centre

Award – Matron Ruby Grant Park

Juanita Nielson Community Centre. Image: Katherine Griffiths

5. Bold, old and beautiful: The Juanita Nielsen Community Centre

Woolloomooloo’s Juanita Nielsen Community Centre gives you that wonderful sense of times past before you even step inside. Previously a set of six joined warehouses, the building served Sydney harbour’s shipping industry in the 1800s and became home to a kindergarten in the early 20th century.

Today, the centre’s black and white striped awnings are a bold contrast to the building’s classical stone façade. The stripes honour the centre’s namesake, Juanita Nielsen, a high-profile publisher, local activist and fashion icon with a fascinating life and death story. Her signature striped outfit is also referenced in the building’s zig-zag shutters and timber ceiling lining.

Be sure to check out the clever signs in the black awning over the front entrance. The typography has been cut out so that the sunlight projects the words 'community centre' onto the footpath.

Juanita Nielsen Community Centre before (image: Paul Patterson) and after (image: Katherine Griffiths), designed by Neeson Murcutt Architects with City of Sydney

Inside, the bricks, repurposed timber and exposed steel bring that industrial history to life while still feeling modern and welcoming. Vermillion on walls, bright yellow floor and lime green chairs bring vibrancy to the interior and reflect the colourful character of Woolloomooloo.

There’s plenty to get involved with at the centre, from fitness classes to creative workshops, as well as event spaces and a co-working space for startups and small businesses.

Awards

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