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Sydney Is 

Sydney Is Beautiful is a competition to promote beautiful architecture and urbanism in Australia.

Sydney Is Beautiful 2022

The Sydney Is Beautiful architecture and urbanism competition was established to celebrate beautiful architecture and promote the design and development of buildings that will be cherished by generations to come. The prize is intended to lift the expectations of Australians for new buildings and inspire a new generation of architects to embrace the timeless principles of new traditional architecture and urbanism.

The 2022 competition focused on a vacant block in Woolloomooloo in Sydney,
114 William Street. The brief was to design an architectural scheme for this site that the community will love and which responds to the judging criteria. The competition closed on 16 January 2023 and entries were exhibited at a prize show near Woolloomooloo on 31 January.

Competition entries closed on 16 January 2023


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We are grateful to the entrants into Sydney Is Beautiful competition. Both Australian and international practices entered the competition including Historical Concepts (USA), ADAM Architecture (UK), M.J.Suttie Architects (Australia), Hector Abrahams Architects (Australia), Place Lab and Craig Robert Nener of Grotto Studio (Australia). We encourage you to check out these practices‘ full portfolios on their websites.

Youth Prize

Thanks to the sponsorship of M.J. Suttie Architects, the Sydney Is Beautiful competition is also open to primary and high school students in the Youth Category. The recommended submission deliverables for entrants to the Youth Prize are 1⁠⁠–2 elevations. First prize in the Youth category is AUD$300 and there are two runner-up prizes of AUD$100. 

Competition brief

This year’s Sydney is Beautiful competition seeks urban design proposals for a vacant site in Woolloomooloo, Sydney. The subject site is located at 114 William St, Woolloomooloo in the state of New South Wales in Australia, and includes adjacent lots as delineated in the satellite image above (including 100–128 Palmer Street and 126–132 William Street).

The existing site is a largely vacant paved area closed to the public. The site adjoins William Street, Palmer Street, Bourke Street and Egan Place and comprises a down-ramp entryway to the underground Eastern Distributor motorway. A small traditional building is situated on the south-east corner of the site on William Street and Bourke Street.

The site is situated on the southern edge of the Woolloomooloo Heritage Conservation Area, an historic area with a relatively high proportion of Sydney’s social and affordable housing. The site is a blank canvas for architects to reimagine a new use, or mix of uses, conducive to community and individual flourishing.

The brief is to design a holistic proposal for a new mixed-use development including residential and commercial space, and public space devoted to community use. Proposals should:
  • Complement the beauty of the most enduring and loved local architectural precedents
  • Incorporate improvements to the adjacent urban fabric to promote walkability
  • Be commensurate with the scale of the surrounding urbanism
  • Address the street and engage passers-by, by incorporating beautiful and inviting façades at the human scale
  • Incorporate quality, locally sourced, sustainable natural materials
  • Incorporate the use of local design traditions, ornamentation and traditional design principles
Entrants are also welcome to consider Sydney’s rich migrant history and multicultural context. This is a competition to inspire everyday Australians to build more beautiful and popular architecture and, for that reason, entries that take care to demonstrate the aesthetic appeal of their designs for the general public are welcomed. 
Site information
An site plan, sections and elevation, 3D site view and LiDAR and aerial photograph for CAD (.dwg) can be downloaded hereThe site comprises a down-ramp tunnel entrance to the underground Eastern Distributor motorway, which is situated on the eastern side of the subject site (see annotated photographs here). Entrants should consider how best to provide a resolution to this design obstacle in a manner they see fit in accordance with the brief. 

We recommend that entries include a set of plans, sections and elevations, a perspective or an axonometric drawing or 3D render, and a 300-word description of their design choices. The minimum deliverable is one perspective/axonometric drawing or 3D render. Entrants should provide their entry on an A1 sheet size.

Anyone is welcome to submit a design proposal, regardless of their academic and professional background. Team submissions are also welcomed. Entries are open to Australian and international entrants. Competition terms are here.

Judging criteria

Beautiful Designed in traditional language to a high standard of technical proficiency and aesthetic beauty, and demonstrates an understanding of the relationship between these.  Demonstrates a human-centric approach by supplying a pleasurable and convivial experience to locals and passersby.

Contextual Complements the highest longevity buildings in Sydney, upholds a strong sense of place and fosters community belonging and social integration with response to the genius loci of Woolloomooloo. 

Contribution to local neighbourhood Demonstrates a contribution to neighbourhood character and urban space

Sustainable Designed to endure (to last hundreds of years) and incorporates quality, locally sourced, natural materials to ensure an overall low-embodied-carbon design
Please note
This competition is for an hypothetical redevelopment only. This competition is neither solicited nor officially endorsed by the state or local government, site owner, site occupants or any parties associated with the site. Competition entrants are to exercise discretion in process of designing and submitting their entries.

Street Level Australia Incorporated is hosting and running this event. Street Level is a grassroots membership organisation which is completely volunteer-led and run. The event is self-funded by organisers and small donations from individual members. It is a bipartisan organisation and is not affiliated with any political party. This event is not funded by industry groups or representatives and all our sponsors are publicly named.

Entering? See our database of precedent images

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Judges (A–Z)

Nir Haim Buras, Principal, Classic Planning Institute
Dr Nir Buras is a leading architect and urbanist, founder of the Classic Planning Institute, and author of The Art of Classic Planning. Dr Buras helps cities cut through complexity and tap into community aspirations and preferences to achieve beauty and resilience in the built environment. See his full bio here.
Mike Day, Partner, Hatch RobertsDay
A co-founder of RobertsDay, Mike has led urban renewal projects and new townships throughout the world. He is a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia and a recipient of the Russell Taylor Award for Design Excellence and recipient of the FIABCI 2015 World Prix d’Excellence for the world’s best master-planned community. See his full bio here.
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Richard Economakis, Professor, Notre Dame Indiana
Richard Economakis received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture from Cornell University. After years of practice in New York, New Haven and London, he joined the faculty of the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture in 1996, and is now Professor and Director of Graduate Studies.  Since 2007 he has realised a number of buildings for the new town of Cayalá in Guatemala, in collaboration with the firm Estudio Urbano of Guatemala City. See his full bio here.
Elizabeth Farrelly, Urbanist, Journalist, Educator and Author 
Dr Elizabeth Farrelly is a Sydney-based author, essayist and columnist, a Director of The National Trust (NSW) and Writer in Residence at the University of Sydney’s Henry Halloran Trust. Trained in architecture and philosophy, she is a trenchant critic of the destructive effects of neoliberal policies and laissez-faire planning in cities. She is a former City of Sydney Councillor, holds a PhD in urbanism from the University of Sydney and is a former professor at UNSW. She is a Walkley-shortlisted writer, an internationally awarded architecture critic, former Assistant Editor of The Architectural Review, London, and a regular commentator on urban affairs. Her most recent book is Killing Sydney; the fight for a city’s soul (Picador 2021). See more here.
Milly Main, Founder, Street Level Australia
Milly Main is the Founder of Street Level Australia. She is passionate about the built environment as a means to human flourishing and believes that it is one of our best levers to address climate change, the mental health and loneliness crisis and social fragmentation. Milly is a former consultant at BCG with a background in service design. She also works with the Classic Planning Institute in Washington, D.C. 

Why we are doing this

At home in our local Australian communities, more and more frequently we see new buildings that are displeasing and do not complement the existing beauty of our cities. We might reimagine those buildings and envision an alternative that fits into the existing neighbourhood and is more peaceful, more inviting, more beautiful, more hand crafted or ornamented and more locally and sustainably designed.

Often after a few decades, the buildings we never wanted in the first place come down as they are out of fashion, are considered ugly, and become dilapidated. Meanwhile, we cherish and enjoy traditional buildings, from humble old pubs and terrace houses to fancy buildings like the state library. Heritage buildings are treasured by communities and it’s not just because they are old – they are in fact, beautiful. We hope that this competition might encourage new buildings to be designed in a more sustainable, beautiful and contextual way.

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  • Beauty. We exist to advance beauty in the built environment.
    We exist to advance beauty in the built environment. It is the natural state of humanity to seek out beauty. When something is beautiful, we are more likely to treasure it as something to be protected and celebrated. Beauty creates community and belonging. Beauty in the built environment is characterised by exquisite architecture and successful city planning. Ugly buildings, on the other hand, invite disdain, resentment or indifference. ‘People do not only want beauty in their surroundings. They are repelled by ugliness, which is a social cost that everyone is forced to bear. Ugliness means buildings that are unadaptable, unhealthy and unsightly, and which violate the context in which they are placed. Such buildings destroy the sense of place, undermine the spirit of community, and ensure that we are not at home in our world.’ — Living with Beauty report, UK Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
  • Longevity. We advocate for buildings and developments that will last hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
    It is commonly asserted that to construct exquisite buildings would be too expensive or impractical. We assert that this is not true — that it is actually more expensive to build a large volume of cheap, ugly and disposable buildings of little intrinsic value. Beauty offers the best value for money in the long run. We advocate for buildings and developments that will last hundreds, if not thousands, of years, just like the heritage buildings we work so hard to protect. We need sustainable, human-scale development that uses land efficiently, uses low-carbon materials and is less dependent on cars.
  • Tradition. We believe that there is an abundance of wisdom, knowledge and technology that our culture and institutions must rediscover.
    Traditional development is the approach to building and development that humans have used for thousands of years across different countries, cultures and climates. It means building public spaces to a human scale, where a person on foot can feel comfortable and safe, and a fine-grained mix of uses were homes and businesses are in the same place. We believe that there is an abundance of wisdom, knowledge and technology that our culture and institutions must rediscover from the past and apply to modern development to drastically improve our built environment, with all the associated benefits. By looking back, we can look forward. We change the world to fit the vision, instead of constantly changing what the vision is.
  • Localism. We believe that decision-making should take place at the most local level possible.
    We believe that decision-making should take place at the most local level possible. When development and planning decisions are imposed on communities by a centralised authority that is removed from the consequences of those decisions, we create fragile, unsustainable cities and neighbourhoods built on shaky foundations. When local power is removed from planning, unintended consequences magnify the risk of failure and harm and the likelihood of moral hazard increases. This approach created our sprawling suburbs and failing modernist public housing estates. This does not mean we are opposed to all forms of planning, we just believe it should be conducted at the appropriate scale and resist imposing standardised solutions on local communities, especially when utilitarian goals such as profit and efficiency are prioritised over beauty, health and wellbeing. While infrastructure is important, our built environment should not be a mere byproduct of it.

What is traditional architecture?

We have selected a series of local Sydney buildings and new traditional architecture from around the world in the gallery below. A range of architectural forms, typologies and styles are provided from places with different climates and contexts to demonstrate the beauty of traditional architecture. See also Street Level’s Inspiration page. Click or tap for details.

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Street Level Australia Incorporated, 2021

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