The Functional Tradition: wool stores

Most of the great Sydney wool stores were located in Pyrmont close to the commercial port of Darling Harbour and the main railway goods yard that occupied the area next to the port.  All this is long since gone, the railway yards were redeveloped in the late 1980's as a tourist precinct and many of the wool stores have been converted into apartments.

The Industrial Revolution created the need for new building types for which there were no architectural precedents.  These warehouses weren't considered important in a civic sense, they were simply regarded as common sense answers to practical demands that were necessary to supply goods and make money.  They are functional buildings without any architectural pretensions, and can be easily distinguished from the architect's architecture of the time, which was governed by pictorial values and preoccupied with the fluctuations of stylistic fashion in a worn out aesthetic. 

Most of the functional tradition buildings didn't consciously set out to please.  Buildings belonging to the functional tradition derive their aesthetic character directly from the way the challenge of practical demands was met, and the good qualities they have are a product of the hard headed relationship of ends and means that is inherent in this approach.

The photographs below show a typical Pyrmont warehouse built in 1898 with load bearing brick walls, timber floors and cast iron columns.  The top floor of most warehouses had south facing sawtooth roofs with skylights. The arched windows echo older classical buildings and in this case the brick reveals of the windows have been rendered and painted white as in Georgian architecture to reflect light into the interior. 

The brickwork was so well built using lime mortar that it's rare to find any cracks over a hundred years later.  And as is evident from the photographs the building gains great strength of character from the robust use of brick as a material.  Note that sandstone quoins were used on the curved corner of the building to protect the vehicular entrance, and also notice the tentative decorative sheep over the building name. 

How many of the buildings built today are going to look as good in a hundred years time?

How many of today's buildings would benefit from a similar functional approach to design?

Woolstore in Pyrmont Sydney
Woolstore in Pyrmont, Sydney 
photographs by Harry Sowden

 

 

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