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The Art of Transformation
March 5th, 2024

The Art of Transformation

In the bustling heart of Rozelle, an exciting transformation has taken place. One of the most recognised landmarks in Sydney’s Inner West, The White Bay Power Station (WBPS) has been brought back to life by FDC after lying dormant for more than 40 years.

One of the longest-serving power stations in Sydney, it was constructed between 1912 and 1917 to power the tram system and the later rail network, supplying power to the electricity grid until it was decommissioned in 1984. But in a milestone turn of events, the WBPS is powering up again, as a beacon of art, culture and creativity, and will open its doors to welcome the public as a pivotal destination for the 24th Biennale of Sydney.

A current of creativity

FDC was awarded the expansive WBPS project by CBRE Development & Infrastructure and Placemaking NSW and commenced the transformation of the 30,000sqm monument in 2022. This project is one of many in FDC’s expanding portfolio of projects that contribute to Sydney’s vibrantly evolving arts and cultural landscape, including Phoenix Central Park, Chau Chak Museum and Artspace at The Gunnery.

Awakening this sleeping giant was no mean feat. The project required a tonne of scaffolding and daily innovation to tackle unforeseen structural challenges. FDC partnered with heritage architecture firm Design 5, who had been working on the site for 16 years. Conservation measures included storing and cataloguing heritage items uncovered onsite, reinstating heritage items, preserving machinery and structures, and providing urgent structural and conservation support to existing heritage-protected fabrics.

Chief among them was The Boilerhouse, with its immense 45-metre height, which required structural enforcement with steel remediation, brickwork repair, reconstruction of balconies and walkways and the installation of new handrails, balustrades and staircases to enable exploration of the space. The two towering chimneys, an iconic symbol of Sydney’s industrial heritage, also underwent extensive reinforcements. To better understand the repair works needed, FDC created a special, bespoke gantry lift and support structure that was hoisted up externally by cranes, enabling the conservation team to have access to the chimneys and preserve both chimney structures.

Igniting inspiration

The restoration of WBPS was more than just a construction project; it was a rediscovery mission. With no blueprints to guide them, FDC's team unearthed rooms and spaces untouched for decades. "Given its enormity and its untouched state when we first took over the site in 2022, we had to be agile and innovative with many unforeseen challenges and finds from bygone eras,” recounts Ben Dircks, Operations Manager, FDC Fitout & Refurbishment NSW. “From pumping more than 1 million litres of water out of the basement, to the removal of approximately 600 tonnes of waste across its restoration, each day would bring a larger, more unique challenge. White Bay Power Station’s strong structural foundations were its most impressive asset however, and to contribute to its history and its repositioning in the community has been a proud exercise.”

Bricks repointed, steel girders strengthened, and heritage items catalogued throughout the WBPS project tells a story of meticulous conservation, respect for the past and optimism for a future where creativity and community thrive. With WBPS reopen, it will be generating power of a different kind; reinventing itself from a source of electrical energy to a powerhouse of cultural enrichment and inspiration.

24th Biennale of Sydney

From 9 March – 10 June 2024, WBPS will host the 24th Biennale of Sydney, one of the world’s leading contemporary art events showcasing dynamic contemporary art from around the globe in Sydney’s most iconic cultural institutions. 

Titled Ten Thousand Suns this year’s Biennale promises to be a carnival of rays and radiance, a free-spirited journey through contemporary art, music, and culinary delights, all set against the backdrop of the iconic White Bay Power Station as its hero.

With artist talks, live music, panels, performances, workshops and family days the program caters to all ages and offers unmissable experiences. 

From Chau Chak Wing Museum, Phoenix Central Park, Artspace at The Gunnery and White Bay Power Station, FDC is proud to have delivered these sites as key contributors to the Biennale.

A full program of events is available here.

Image credit: Toby Peet