Lost Sydney: Lookouts

Hancock's Tower, 1840

Sydney once had a shot tower on George Street, that had an observation platform at the top. It was built by a man named Hancock in 1840, and was familiarly called Hancock s Tower . Many romantic legends circulated around Sydney town as to the purpose of the tower, the most common being that the builder put it up as a prison for his wife. But the fact is that Hancock was a shrewd, hard-working wheelwright, who had his smithy  at the intersection of George and Market Streets.

Hancock was so firm a believer in the adage that an Englishman s house is his castle , that, having made considerable money at his trade, he built a watchtower as part of his residence to scare away would-be thieves. In the courtyard between the Tower and the Inn in front, he had a large stone statue erected, with flower-beds and trellises filling the surrounding yard. Hancock was known to entertain his guests in the tower, proudly showing off his view of Sydney that few other would ever see. The tower was demolished in 1894.

GPO Clock Tower, 1891

The 73m General Post Office clock tower in Martin Place, Sydeny, opened its small viewing platform from 2-4pm most days back in early 20th century. The spiral stairs took you to a height of 60 metres above street level. The clock tower was demolished in 1942 to reduce the visibility of the GPO in case of an air attack on Sydney. It was rebuilt in 1964 but the viewing platform was never re-opened to the public.

View to the north east from GPO Clock Tower

The General Post Office (is a landmark building in Sydney. The main facade stretches some 100 metres down Martin Place. In 1996, as part of the disbursement of Australia Post assets by the Federal Government of Australia, the building was sold to private owners. It was subsequently refurbished and now houses shops, restaurants, hotel rooms, and the lobby of two adjoining tower blocks. Designed by colonial architect James Barnet, the building was constructed in stages from 1866 to 1891. Barnet s building features a neo-classical sandstone facade, with a colonnade running around the building at street level. Each arch of the colonnade features a carved face on the keystone (representing many parts of the British Empire and other foreign lands), and spandrel figures, whose comical references to real-life personalities (including Barnet himself) caused a controversy at the time of construction. At the centre of its 100-metre Martin Place facade is a white marble statuory group, featuring Queen Victoria flanked by allegorical figures. Above this stands the clocktower.

AMP, Circular Quay, 1963

The AMP's Sydney Cove building, on the corner of Young and Alfred Streets, Circular Quay, was completed in 1962 and is a landmark in Australian architecture. At 115 metres, it was the first building to break Sydney s height limit of 45.7 metres and was at the time Australia s tallest building. Recognised as Sydney s first skyscraper, it features the sweeping curves of its curtain wall  facade, following the new curtain wall-shaped office tower designs of New York architect Gordon Bunshaft. It broke new ground not only in its shape but also in being one of the first office buildings in Australia to feature floor to ceiling windows. The reflection from Circular Quay on the windows caused major air conditioning problems.As the building stood head and shoulders above everything else around it, a viewing platform (106 metres) was incorporated into the top floor on the Circular Quay side. People flocked to it in their thousands, and it became one of the city s top attractions.

AMP Building observation deck

Built as the head office of a leading Australian owned and operated insurance company, the AMP building on Circular Quay broke new ground not only with its height but also in that it did not occupy the whole of its site. Only 55% of the site was occupied by the office building, the rest was to be part of the public space around Circular Quay, achieved by the removal of vehicular traffic from Alfred Street. For a time, this occurred, but the re-introduction of taxis and buses has turned the forecourt of the AMP Building into wasted space as it is separated from the rest of the Circular Quay open space by a busy roadway.

View from AMP Building lookout, 1963

A major building boom in the 1960s saw many other skysrcapers being built, most of which where taller than the AMP Building. It was only a matter of time before a taller building incoroprated a higher lookout into its top floor  this happened in 1967 when the Australia Square was completed. Its lookout was 48 floors up, with a revolving restaurant on the floor below it. The AMP viewing platform lost much of its custom to Australia Square and within a year had closed down. The vista from the now-closed viewing platform is still one of the best of Circular Quay, The Rocks and the upper harbour, and that the lookout remains closed is a tragedy.

AWA Building, (1939)

Sydney s AWA Building is a 15-story office and communications complex built for Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited. The AWA Tower was designed by architects Morrow and Gordon from 1937 1939 and became one of the most notable commercial buildings of Sydney. It brought geometric Art Deco design and modernism to the city skyline with polished trachyte facing at ground level intending to signal a progressive and go-ahead firm.

The tower was modelled on Berlin's Funkturm Tower, built a few years earlier, and both took inspiration from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The building is decorated with appropriate symbols of communication, including a winged Pegasus, said to be chosen by Sir Ernest Fisk, the pioneer of wireless technology and a founding director of AWA. For many years, the tower wore the sign Beam Wireless , a service providing radio contact to commercial shipping on the England Australia route introduced in 1927.

AWA Building, 1961

The communications tower was an integral part of the structure and remained the tallest structure in Sydney (other than the Sydney Harbour Bridge) until the 1960s. The tower is 46 metres (151 ft) high atop a 55-metre (180 ft) high building. The tower was 48 metres, and at the 97-metre point of the building there was a viewing platform.

Location: 45-47 York Street, Sydney, near Wynyard Park and Wynyard railway station.

View from Australia Squaure's Summit Restaurant

Australia Square, 1967

On its completion, Australia Square became the tallest building in Australia, and remained so until 1976. When Sydney Tower opened its lookout (250 metres) in 1981, the Australia Square lookout suffered a similar fate to AMP's, and was eventually closed. The Summit Revolving Restaurant still operates. Sydney Tower is higher than any other structure in Sydney, therefore its view has not been built out by taller buildings, as was the case with Australia Square. Needless to say, many people who have visited both the Australia Square lookout and Sydney Tower lookout prefer the former, as it was closer to the harbour and gave a better view of Sydney's two most iconic landmarks - the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

Australia Square, on the corner of George, Pitt and Bond Streets, was designed by Harry Seidler, an architect whose buildings have had a major impact on the Sydney city skyline. When opened the 183 metre high structure laid claim to being the world's tallest lightweight concrete office building. Created by the amalgamation of 30 small sites, its area includes a public plaza surrounding the tower, which incorporates office space, retail shops, car parking and a revolving restaurant on the highest public access level. Contrary to trends of the day, the building was circular and not rectangular, and did not feature a podium, but was a free standing design set back from the street front and surrounded by ground floor public space.

Summit Restaurant, 47th floor, Australia Square

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