Sub Base Platypus

  • 2022

  • Architectural
    Place Design

Commissioned By:

Harbour Trust

Designed In:


Opened to the public for the first time in over 150 years, Sub Base Platypus provides a rich overlay of its industrial and naval history. lahznimmo architects and ASPECT Studios were engaged by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to complete a master plan and adaptive reuse of the site.

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Image: Ben Guthrie
Image: Ben Guthrie
Image: Florian Groehn
Image: Ben Guthrie
Image: Ben Guthrie
Image: Simon Wood
Image: Simon Wood
Image: Ben Guthrie
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  • The main design challenges were: •Open the site for safe public access and passive recreation; •Improve connections between the site levels, the surrounding area and public transport, and maximise opportunities for public access to the foreshore; •Conserve and interpret the site’s rich industrial history and protect the environment and amenity of the local area; •Create a vibrant waterfront precinct through the adaptive re-use of buildings to suit low-impact cultural, commercial and community uses; and •Create opportunities for a complementary mix of activities to generate a sustainable return to the cost of maintaining the site.

  • The bones of Platypus were there; a precinct of industrial buildings suitable for adaptive re-use. However, it was introverted and cut off from the city. Now it is knit into its locale; a series of interlinked public parks and plazas, pedestrian bridge to Kesterton Park, grand stair climbing the cliff face to Kiara Close, a passenger lift campanile and ‘Razzle Dazzle’ camouflage graphics. Strategic removal of parts of the existing buildings has improved permeability and accessibility. The industrial buildings have been subdivided along structural bays into a variety of spaces, and fitted out ready to be occupied by commercial tenants.

  • This site could so easily have been cleared of its 200 years of industrial history and turned into another harbourside public park - and many local residents might have preferred that. By retaining and adaptively reusing the buildings, the history of the working harbour is not lost whilst ensuring that a place cutoff from public use for over 150 years is now open for all to use and enjoy. This is an important environmental story as well; the site has been decontaminated and the embodied energy of the existing building preserved and reused.

  • Formerly known as HMAS Platypus, Sub Base Platypus is located in North Sydney on the shores of Neutral Bay on Cammeraygal Country. It has been a gas works, a Naval Base providing torpedo maintenance facilities and ultimately as HMAS Platypus submarine base; before passing to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. Prior to that the Country had been occupied by the Cammeraygal clan of the Eora nation for many thousands of years. The industrial buildings are respected but treated in a robust manner in their adaptive reuse. Services, structure and raw finishes are left exposed, and the palimpsest of many years of modifications and accretions are for the most part left on show in all their awkward glory. Conceptually, all architectural injections into the site aim to be non-invasive, retaining the existing industrial language. Minor interventions to assist in the accessibility and orientation around the site such as a new lift, cliff side walkways, stairs and bridge links are all imagined as a lightweight framed and clip-on family of forms – clearly modern, but taking their cue from the structural expressive of the industrial buildings. Planting references the site’s pre-industrial state, utilising indigenous, harbourfront species to create a resilient community.