The Sydney Harbour Control Tower – variously labelled a “hypodermic in God’s bum” and a “concrete mushroom” – will be demolished with more of a whisper than a boom.
There will be no dynamite nor wrecking balls, with two remote-controlled robots set to chew away at the structure which has cut an imposing figure on Sydney’s skyline for nearly four decades.
The 87-metre tall tower will slowly and steadily be wiped from the headland at Barangaroo over a period of 10 months, with work due to start at the end of March.
The panoramic view from the top of the Sydney Harbour Control Tower. Photo: Wolter Peeters
On Tuesday, the Herald climbed the more than 300 steps to become one of the last to see the panoramic views from the now-empty control centre at the top of the tower.
Built in 1974 to allow maritime controllers the best possible position to oversee shipping movements in the harbour, the tower has been disused since surveillance operations moved to Port Botany in 2011.
The Barangaroo Delivery Authority, which purchased the tower a year later, wanted to demolish the concrete and steel structure in order to realise its vision of creating a “naturalistic” headland park.
Heritage advocates have campaigned to preserve the structure as a symbol of Sydney Harbour’s commercial maritime past, with options of using it as a bungee jump, look out or restaurant all proposed.
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating even weighed into the brouhaha, saying the tower did not have a “shred of heritage about it” and that calls to keep it were “rancid reactionism”.
But the debate over whether it was was a beauty or a blemish was effectively over when the state government approved the demolition of the tower last July.
“We didn’t just decide to knock it down straight away,” Barangaroo Reserve project director Peter Funder said.
“What was evident was that the structure was built for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to be a harbour control tower and any adaptive reuse was just not possible.”
The entrance to the tower on Merriman Road. Photo: Rebecca Holland
Two remote-controlled robots, each weighing about 1.6 tonnes, will “eat away” at the tower.
Using a special mast-climbing platform system, the robotic excavators will push pulverised material into the shaft of the structure, with one truck a day used to cart the rubble away.
Clinton Dick, from the contracted deconstruction company Liberty Industrial, said it was the first time the method had been employed in Australia, although it had been used extensively across Europe to dismantle industrial structures like old smoke stacks.
“We chose this option because it is very low impact we are in a urban environment, we are in a park surrounded by park lands. It’s very low impact, it is very good with noise, low dust, low vibration, so it is very good for this setting,” Mr Dick said.
A section of Barangaroo Reserve will be cordoned off and there will be intermittent street and footpath closures around the tower, but the parkland will otherwise remain open.
Sydneysiders, Mr Dick said, won’t be able to see or hear the robots at work, so will only notice from afar the formidable structure slowly disappearing.