Urban Rehab: Once Abandoned, a Sydney Street Rises Again

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By Heather Corcoran / Published by Dwell
An adaptive reuse project transforms a derelict Australian streetscape into a vibrant public space—and picks up two 2016 Good Design Awards in the process.

In the Chippendale area of Sydney, Australia, Kensington Street was once buzzed with life from factories and warehouses on the edge of the Carlton United Brewery. But fast-forward a century-and-a-half, and the area had fallen into neglect. 

Urban Rehab:
Once Abandoned, a Sydney Street Rises Again - Photo 1 of 6 - "Our vision was to reactive the heritage buildings along the street and redevelop them for contemporary food, lifestyle, artistic, and commercial endeavors," says developer and Greencliff Executive Chairman Dr. Stanley Quek. 

"Our vision was to reactive the heritage buildings along the street and redevelop them for contemporary food, lifestyle, artistic, and commercial endeavors," says developer and Greencliff Executive Chairman Dr. Stanley Quek. 

Now, thanks to a team of architects and landscape designers lead by Greencliff developers, Kensington Street's terraced 1840s workers' cottages and old industrial buildings have been transformed into a bustling laneway filled with shopping and dining experiences, and even a boutique hotel—a type of public urban space more typically associated with Sydney's southern cousin, Melbourne.

Urban Rehab:
Once Abandoned, a Sydney Street Rises Again - Photo 2 of 6 - Before:&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.8;">Now a vibrant laneway, Kensington Street had fallen into disrepair since its 19th-century heyday.</span>

Before: Now a vibrant laneway, Kensington Street had fallen into disrepair since its 19th-century heyday.

The original site consisted of 16 listed historic houses, which architecture firm Tonkin Zulaikha Greer rehabbed over the course of eight years with the assistance of heritage architect Paul Davies & Associates. Now the buildings form a series of retail and gallery spaces topped with bars and restaurants. 

Urban Rehab:
Once Abandoned, a Sydney Street Rises Again - Photo 3 of 6 - Before: The historic workers' cottages stood vacant and in disrepair.&nbsp;

Before: The historic workers' cottages stood vacant and in disrepair. 

Urban Rehab:
Once Abandoned, a Sydney Street Rises Again - Photo 4 of 6 - In a classic example of adaptive reuse, restaurants like Bistrot Gavroche now fill the formerly abandoned spaces.&nbsp;

In a classic example of adaptive reuse, restaurants like Bistrot Gavroche now fill the formerly abandoned spaces. 

The rehabilitation project does more than just revive a historic stretch of the city, it also preserves it from encroaching high-rises, a fact the design team nodded to in their choices. The paving brick, for instance, both pays homage to history and serves as a tool for navigation. 

Urban Rehab:
Once Abandoned, a Sydney Street Rises Again - Photo 5 of 6 - Spice Alley's four outdoor eateries enliven the laneway under a canopy of red lanterns. "Resurrected building frontages spill out onto the street and provide a streetscape that is activated by day and night by conversation, creative hustle, and culture," says landscape architect Mike Horne of Turf Design Studio.

Spice Alley's four outdoor eateries enliven the laneway under a canopy of red lanterns. "Resurrected building frontages spill out onto the street and provide a streetscape that is activated by day and night by conversation, creative hustle, and culture," says landscape architect Mike Horne of Turf Design Studio.

"We kept the materials palette as simple as possible, with the hero, bespoke Bowral Blue brick, paying homage to its local architectural heritage," explains Mike Horne, director of Turf Design Studio, the project's landscape architects. "The pattern of the brick changes across the public domain to add visual interest and delineate between building edge, the City of Sydney boundary, and the through-site links." 

Urban Rehab:
Once Abandoned, a Sydney Street Rises Again - Photo 6 of 6 - Now, Kensington Street is a "vibrant melting pot of contemporary design and historic charm," Quek says.

Now, Kensington Street is a "vibrant melting pot of contemporary design and historic charm," Quek says.

Since opening in September 2015, the project has gained quite a bit of attention. Now, nearly a year after its debut, Kensington Street has won accolades for overall architectural design as well as urban design and public spaces with the 2016 edition of the Good Design Awards, a program that has rewarded design excellence and innovation since 1958.