The Sandstone Precinct
Unique city stories
Built Senior Project Manager, Michael Hamilton is working on the Department of Education Building in Sydney, known as The Sandstone Precinct. This project involves an extensive adaptive renovation and restoration of one of Sydney’s most significant heritage buildings into a new 6-star luxury hotel.
“You have to really think outside the box with a complex heritage refurbishment project, everything needs to be considered in terms of methodology, protection of existing building fabric, site access, and structural loading constraints, Michael says.
“Because it’s an existing structure, with so many heritage elements and with minimal existing as-built information you are building around parts where you don’t know the make-up of the structure until we expose it. It takes a lot of planning, investigation, and due diligence to understand all the different aspects and have a Plan A, B, C and D for how you are going to handle different situations that may arise. It’s key to understand that change is inevitable and being ready for problem solving at every turn is a must.”
In the case of The Sandstone Precinct, Built had to develop innovative construction methods to preserve the large heritage façade, the size of a city block, while essentially demolishing, excavating and rebuilding the entire non-heritage central portion of the building. Michael describes it as like “coring an apple”. Over 300 tonnes of temporary steel have been carefully threaded through the existing building and secured by temporary footings to underpin and hold the façade safely in place until it can be reconnected with new floors.
With heritage refurbishment projects, construction teams also find themselves unearthing pieces of history along the way.
“At Sandstones, we expected to discover some archaeological findings, which we did. Under direct supervision of the project archaeologist we uncovered, recorded, and salvaged several intact colonial brick drainage systems, garden beds, and retaining walls,” notes Michael.
The care and consideration taken with heritage buildings also extends to the complex craftsmanship required to restore heritage materials, fabric, and detailing. There is significant demand for specialist trades such as stonemasons, tilers and master painters whose methods often require greater time and skills not seen in modern construction.
An army of such tradespeople are restoring the entire façade of the Department of Education, by traditionally methods - literally stone by stone and window by window - to bring the building back to its former glory.
“While these types of projects are enormously difficult, they are just as rewarding. To know that you are dealing with a building that has such important history and has such significance for the community and future generations you can’t help but become personally attached and passionate about it. It provides such a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing you're leaving behind something for your children’s children to appreciate,” Michael concludes.
About the project
The redevelopment of the Department of Education and the Department of Lands buildings (The Sandstones) on Bridge Street will restore and adapt two of Sydney’s most significant heritage buildings into a new 6 star luxury hotel. After being inaccessible to the public for over a century, works on the Department of Education is underway and will include a new reception, 192 guest rooms, internal pool, spa and gym facilities and restoration of the heritage façade and interiors.