Burley Griffin Incinerator

Operating 1937–1971. Demolished 1992.

In the mid-twentieth century, a visitor to Bank Street – a busy thoroughfare bordered by small enterprises – would be amazed by a substantial building on the eastern side, not far from CSR.

The building’s massive rectangular form, decorated with patterned pre-cast concrete tiles, could only evoke fantasies. One glimpse of its 40-metre smoke stack, however, and the possibilities narrowed. This extraordinary structure was an incinerator, constructed by the City of Sydney to dispose of 1100 cubic metres of rubbish per day.

Designed by American architects, Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahoney Griffin, the Pyrmont Incinerator represented both the old and the new. The shape and exterior decoration combined ancient Mayan architecture and ultra-modern cubist forms. And its processes boasted the latest technology: no longer was rubbish shovelled into an open furnace, but gravity-fed by a travelling crane into chutes connected to furnaces on the floor below. Best of all, the products of the combustion were simply ash, clinker, and a colourless, odourless vapour. No longer would operators have to drag partially burned items out of noxious piles of fine grey ash.

It is a curious irony that, in 1968, air quality tests conducted under the NSW Clean Air Act found the emissions from the Burley Griffin Incinerator (along with its neighbour, a smaller relic from 1910) did not meet the current standard. Various remedies were mooted and some tried, before both incinerators were shut down in September 1971.

In May 1992, after twenty years of protest and indecision, Sydney City Council approved its demolition. By then the site had been bought by Meriton Apartments, which constructed the residential buildings seen today on the corner of Bank Street and Quarry Master Drive.

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