If you’ve been to Woolloomooloo, you’ve probably seen these apartments. But have you walked over their incredible roof?
To get from the Domain to Woolloomooloo, you can take a series of steps down to the Finger Wharf. If you want to stay up high and walk through a glorious rooftop garden though, I recommend walking across a connecting bridge to the roof of the Wharf 11 apartments (a lift at the Cowper Wharf Road end of the apartments takes you down to the wharf).
There are a couple of mentions of the Wharf 11 apartments in Land & Environment Court proceedings. It’s listed among landscape artist Peter McQueeney’s commissioned works, on his website, but it’s unclear whether he painted the scene or laid out the garden. There’s also a Bikely bike path running from Bronte through the city via the rooftop garden.
For such a spectacular rooftop garden, it’s remarkable how little coverage there is online. I thought the developers/landscape architects responsible would trumpet it from their various websites. But there’s not much out there.
It first appears in a 1989 Sydney Morning Herald story, ‘Victory claimed over wharf plan’:
Pivot would be allowed, however, to build a five-storey, 424-room hotel, with basement parking for 300 cars, on the western side of the bay, where Wharf 11 now stands. The hotel would be set back from the water’s edge, providing space for a landscaped promenade along the foreshore.
For a long time the wharf was a battle zone between naturalists, who wanted to strip away the Boy Charlton Pool and wharves, and redevelopers. Friends of the Finger Wharf (with the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and the National Trust) campaigned for years against a series of hotel proposals. By 1994, it seems to have settled down with Peddle Thorp architects, according to another SMH piece, ‘Finger Wharf development plan soon to be unveiled to public’:
Under the proposal, the development – “predominantly masonry and glass” – would comprise 33 apartments, parking for 372 cars (88 for residents, the rest for visitors), a recreation centre, a 29-berth marina, landscaped roof areas and an eight-metre-wide boardwalk along the foreshore.
By the time it went to DA several years later, they’d swapped architects to Buchan Group, in the SMH again:
New to the basin will be a 32-unit residential complex on Wharf 11, the concrete slab across from the Finger Wharf, to be known as the Wharf Terraces. Originally by Andersons, this too has undergone “design development” by Buchan. Stapleton said Andersons had, during DA stages, made a lot of effort to keep the new building very low, and non-obtrusive from the Art Gallery of NSW. There would, he said, be almost “100 per cent access” for the public to the roof garden above the terraces, which would have two connecting bridges to the Botanic Gardens. There will also be a wide public walkway in front of the units, continuing to the Finger Wharf.
Response from architects has been qualified. The Dean of Architecture at the University of Sydney, Professor Neville Quarry, said the Finger Wharf was “not a bad job” considering it had to be altered from storage to residential.
The Wharf Terraces, however, were “pretty ordinary … repetitious glass-fronted quadrant balconied apartments.” Also, he was critical of the “out of character” facade pattern of the new block at the wharf’s end. Each apartment read as an individual rectangle, “utterly different” to the wharf’s pattern which was broken into quite small-scale square elements.
Construction began on August 20, 1997.
You can see why the developers and others involved haven’t trumpeted the story, but 12 years after the first bricks were laid on the site, it might be time to reevaluate. The gardens on top of Wharf 11 must be among Sydney’s earliest green roofs. The rich mix of native plants is accessible by anyone, and that’s pretty great.