05 July 2024

History has a way of helping us design the future. In 1955 then Premier Joe Cahill launched an international design competition to select the design for Sydney’s most recognisable “house” - the Opera House.

The competition attracted more than 230 entries from more than 30 countries. Rules were outlined for building requirements regarding size, parking, ventilation and the like and designers were encouraged to let their imagination do the rest.

Unbelievably, when the design was first unveiled, the reception was mixed. A “nun’s scrum”, “a sink stacked with plates” were just two of the reactions. But with the benefit of time the Opera House story demonstrates that competition can drive great outcomes for the city.

Another design gave us a housing type that's now considered quintessentially part of our city – the Sydney terrace. It was created by taking a Georgian terrace taken from a UK pattern book and modifying it to better suit Sydney’s climate and culture.

It has stood the test of time with those early designs among our most sought-after homes in suburbs like Paddington, Glebe and Balmain. Since the earliest days of Sydney’s settlement, pattern book designs for all types of buildings have provided a guide to builders on types and styles of homes ranging from humble workers cottages through to stately mansions.

The first pattern book was part of Mrs Macquarie’s library, and the Carolyn Simpson Library in the Mint has a collection of pattern books from Sydney’s earliest days through to the 1970’s.

Amid a housing crisis in NSW the Minns Government is taking the good ideas from the past and adding a modern touch. We’ve launched an international call for good designs to develop a new pattern book of terraces, semis and mid-rise apartments for Sydney and NSW.

For the architects and architectural students of the world this is a chance to help shape the future of housing in our state.

For people looking to get a good, secure home this is a means to accelerate building. Because in addition to good designs, anyone who uses a pre-approved design from the new pattern book will get access to a fast-track through the planning system so building can get underway more quickly.

That means more keys in more doors faster – speed of delivery with high standards due to the NSW Government Architect’s approval stamp. It means more diversity of housing types in your suburb, so that young families can choose a house for their growing families, while downsizers have more choice to stay in the communities they love and have helped build.

The pattern book will not only build houses. It will build communities as more people get into homes that will suit them through the different stages of life.

My challenge to the architects and students of NSW and the world is to embrace this competition.

Work with the natural assets of the city. Help us create the diversity we need to grow the city. Give us your best ideas and imagine how the city could look in the future.

Think about function but give us form and character. Think about how your designs can improve sustainability and improve energy, thermal and water efficiency. Sydney and NSW need affordable, quality and sustainable homes.

This international design competition will contribute to a modern pattern book producing designs and houses that will stand the test of time - just like our most famous house on the Harbour – but without the delays and budget blow-outs that accompanied it.