When the renovations of Sydney’s historic Lands and Education buildings in the CBD are complete in 2020, we can expect the architecture to be referential and sensory, but only partially accessible to the public.  

Further artist impressions and details of the proposed $300 million redevelopment of the heritage ‘Sandstones’ on Bridge Street were released on Thursday, but it might be an interview with Make Architects’ Ian Lomas that reveals more about his firm’s plans for the building.

In a video released by Fairfax Media, Lomas touched on his favourite parts of the buildings, which were designed more than a century ago by architects James Barnet (Department of Lands) and George McRae (Department of Education), and are expected to be redeveloped into a $300 million luxury hotel.

He called their ornate detailing, playfulness, invention and hidden surprises “exciting” and “joyful”, and expressed his firms’ plans to restore much of the buildings’ domes, temples and forgotten features.

He found the hidden pressed patterns on the building’s internal stairway treads and risers particularly exciting:

“The staircases embody that sense of invention—at the moment they’re covered in black lino, but then you lift that up you find these wonderful pressed patterns which are all then based on Australian plants,” Lomas said.

“It’s this kind of, I’d like to say playfulness, but it’s more a kind of joy of invention about what can we do, how can we push things, that is what excites me in these spaces.”

“I also want to make sure people have a smile when they touch the handrail, when they see the light coming through, when they feel materials.

“That whole sensorial side of architecture is overlooked, and this building has many beautiful examples of that.”

Ian Lomus enjoying one of his favourite parts of the building. Image: Fairfax/supplied1-5.jpg
Elliptical windows will be added to the building’s rooftop. Image: Fairfax/supplied

The designs include ground-level retail, dining and a rooftop salon on the Lands building, as well as 250 hotel rooms and suites across both buildings. The buildings’ domes and temples will also be refurbished and the Lands Building’s old horse and carriageway will be reopened and updated.

Image: Fairfax/supplied


NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property Dominic Perrottet says that the development, which grants 99-year leases to developer Pontiac Land Group, will be good for the Australian public.

"For many years we've had these beautiful sandstone buildings closed to the public, housing bureaucrats and prime CBD real's a tragedy," he says.

"Thanks to this stunning restoration you will get to experience their history and grandeur first-hand."

The rooftop bar, street retail and dining, and internal thoroughfare will be open to the public but it’s unsure whether you’ll need to be a paying customer to access the hotel, which makes up the majority of the buildings. And while it’s true that the buildings have historically been shut off to the public, there are a few prominent Australian architects that would prefer the new proposal for the public asset consider public use more prominently.

In 2014, architects Richard Leplastrier, Peter Myers, Beverley Garlick, Swetik Korzeniewski, Philip Thalis and Paul Berkemeier all co-signed a letter that appealed to the NSW Government to keep the buildings for public use, specifically a public school.

“Surely here is an unlikely to be repeated opportunity to make a very fine city-based school in a building that belongs to the citizens and is currently under the custodianship of the Department of Education,” the letter said.

In his description of the Sandstones, Make Architects’ Ian Lomas noted excitably that as you entered each room in the building you found new secrets, themes, history and nuances.

“You see each room has a different motif according to the minister, or the secretary, or surveyor that lived in that room,” he explains.

“But they’re all kind of hidden, or covered up.”

The question then for this new development is how much of this history will be uncovered for the public to see and how much will be enjoyed exclusively by paying customers of the luxury, and likely expensive, hotel?