a ghost building, and the value of heritage

I frequently walk past this building in Sydney’s CBD. It’s on Castlereagh Street, sandwiched between two glinting steel-and-metal spires, and every time I see it, I want to know more. Who built it? Why is it so run down? Why has no-one bought it? And most poignantly, what stories would it tell if it could speak?

The building fascinates me, I suppose, because I’m fascinated generally by the question of how story affects inanimate objects. How narrative can imbue items with a value totally in excess of their actual utility. Significant Objects and Wicked Sick BMX are two projects that have explored the way this happens, by measuring how an object (a BMX bike, a porcelain ornament, an old alarm clock) increases in market value (as measured by ebay) when invested with a compelling and entertaining story.

But no-one, so far as I know, has done something similar with something as big as a building.

And I suspect that such an experiment would reveal, in fact, the inverse effect to that demonstrated by Significant Objects and Wicked Sick.

The value of story, when it comes to buildings, is negative. At least in Sydney.

My guess is that this ghost building, here in the middle of one of Sydney’s most valuable strips of real estate, has remained run-down and unsold because of heritage regulations that prevent potential developers from tearing it down.

Nobody wants it.

Which seems a funny irony, really.

Story has saved it.

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3 thoughts on “a ghost building, and the value of heritage

  1. Casey and I were just talking about this- the issue of historical preservation vs. prevention of progress. That area of the CBD is a hot real estate commodity, yet nothing has been able to be built there due to the conditions of preserving a historic building. It’s a beautiful building, and I am completely in favor of keeping it for its value as what was once an important building. I just wonder if there isn’t a way to ease up on the restrictions of what can be done to the building in order for it to become purposeful again?

  2. Yup, it’s a weird irony.
    Is it the same in Pittsburgh?
    Because I’d expect that generally in the States, history is kind of a bigger deal. Like a bigger thing culturally, on the school curriculum, and with more of a sense of national importance. Generally in Sydney, heritage restrictions are regarded as a bit of a pain, and I’m not sure whether that’s linked to the fact that there’s not much attention paid generally to issues about history and heritage and how that defines a place… not sure, maybe I’m rambling.
    But I’d love to see something similar to the Mannahatta Project http://themannahattaproject.org/ created for Sydney – the idea of mapping Sydney through time – that’d be fascinating…

  3. It’s not exactly the same in Pittsburgh, because there is less industry and business here before than there used to be. However, a lot of former business buildings are being turned into studios, and lofts, etc.
    I think mapping any urban area through time is important, esp in expanding areas such as Sydney. 🙂

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