Unrealised Sydney

Unrealised Sydney presents a fascinating insight into the future of our city as it was imagined in the past.

The imagined city precedes the built city. Ideas for new buildings and precincts can reveal much about the time of their conception: economic drivers, politics, technological change, and prevailing views on society, environment and design. Cities evolve as a dialogue between the possible and the actual, with change often contested. Many visions are left behind, unrealised, ghostly reminders of the city that might have been.

Guest curated by Robert Freestone, Unrealised Sydney explores the genesis of, and community responses to, bold and sometimes misguided design proposals by governments and the private sector for redeveloping some strategic sites in and around the CBD in the second half of the 20th century. Though never realised, these schemes – shown through a range of plans, designs, models, sketches and documentary footage – form a rich part of the story that is Sydney.

These decades saw shifting ideas about architectural and urban design, heritage, and democratic governance. Controversial urban renewal projects raised stark questions about global versus local priorities and private versus public interests.

The processes of reimagination and renewal continue apace. As we continually refashion our cities for the future, what can we learn from past unrealised visions?

Accompanying the exhibition is Realise, an interactive experience developed in collaboration with media producers Junior Major. Visitors modify precincts in Tallawoladah / The Rocks, considering factors such as environmental sustainability, liveability and productivity – then see them brought to life in the gallery.

Screenings of the 1978 documentary Woolloomooloo, courtesy National Film and Sound Archive and Bower Bird Films.

Past exhibition

  • 6 August 2022 - 13 November 2022

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Concept from development proposal to the Darling Harbour Authority for the northern development site, Darling Harbour,

Sydney as it could have been

Unrealised Sydney examines postwar visions that remained on the drawing board. What can we take away from this exhibition?