Project Director Chris Callaghan was interviewed by Home By 5 on his experience in the project management of heritage buildings and why this field is so unique. Chris has worked on numerous heritage projects, including the Locomotive Workshops in South Eveleigh, 5 Martin Place, 100 Harris Street in Pyrmont, and The Sandstones Precinct on Bridge Street. Chris is passionate about the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings, and in this interview, he tells us why.

What makes the project management of heritage projects such a specialised field?

‘Project management of heritage projects is a highly specialised area as often there are layers of complexity to understanding a building’s historical and cultural significance, its physical condition, and the most feasible planning, approval and construction pathway.

A building’s historical past, structural fabric, cultural location, moveable items, archaeological finds, and public surroundings contribute to its heritage significance. The qualities of these values must be carefully considered and captured in the project brief early in the process as they are crucial to driving the overall solution for the site and forms the basis of the Conservation Management Plan.

Authority approvals will only be successful if it is evident that the proposals show a detailed understanding and appreciation of the historical significance of the building and the parties involved have a sound technical knowledge of the building’s construction and the materials used. In addition, projects that do not have appropriate regard for cultural heritage values might also face considerable resistance from the public and other stakeholders.

As project managers, the key to success in the initiating phase is to uncover and communicate conservation values, integrate them into the project goals and objectives, ensure all stakeholders are aligned and procure the most suitable consultants to meet project goals.

For example, the Locomotive Workshops at Eveleigh was the largest and most technologically advanced workshop in the southern hemisphere and operated for over 100 years. Therefore, a carefully considered plan was required to achieve the (State Significant) DA necessary to revitalise the workshop, bringing it up to today’s codes and standards while preserving and celebrating its unique history.’

What is the most challenging aspect of managing heritage projects, and how do you minimise the risk?

‘Without a doubt, the most challenging aspect when dealing with heritage buildings is countering the unexpected. Unknown factors which can come to light during construction can result in delays, contractor claims & variations, and unexpected repairs.

The key to minimising these risks is the investment of time and resources for a detailed survey of the building, a thorough investigation of concealed areas, and testing of any existing materials to be reused. Even with a thorough investigation, there is still potential for finding undetected contaminants, hazardous materials, archaeological finds or previous poor-quality repairs or alterations which may impact a carefully prepared construction programme.

Managing approvals can also be a challenge, particularly in cases where there are multiple stakeholders involved. It is crucial to achieving the right balance between development profitability and heritage conservation – often, a middle-ground compromise is necessary for the plans to be approved. Identifying who the stakeholders are early on and understanding what is important to them whilst considering the project’s needs is essential to reduce delays in approvals.’

What are the main factors that impact costs associated with heritage projects?

‘Undetected complexities are much higher in heritage projects and can extend construction programmes and increase costs. Upfront specialist investigations can also be costly, and there are fewer opportunities to utilise standard building components as many conservation specifications and techniques are bespoke.

Projects must be planned and managed well so that resources contribute effectively and efficiently to the project’s stated aims and objectives. Therefore it’s imperative to engage the right team from the start, such as archaeologists, heritage consultants, moveable heritage specialists, conservation specialists, and architects who are experienced with heritage projects and can provide appropriate solutions and insights from previous experience.’

What disciplines are involved in heritage projects?

‘Like any other building project, a heritage project is interdisciplinary. The project team generally comprises professional experts; such as conservation specialists, architects, engineers, historians and archaeologists – whose role is to diagnose the building’s condition and find solutions to repurpose and upgrade the building whilst maintaining and showcasing as much of the building’s heritage fabric as possible.

The project manager’s role is to mediate each discipline’s aim and find solutions without diverging from the project’s primary goal.’

Where does your passion for heritage come from?

‘Although many project managers would run a mile from a heritage project, I have always been passionate about these buildings as they provide a unique window into our past.

Giving an underutilised, underappreciated building a new lease on life, and showcasing its beauty for future generations, is truly satisfying.

In addition, heritage buildings typically have an inherent character that a new building cannot replicate, as it would cost prohibitive or skilled labour for traditional construction techniques are no longer available. Therefore, conserving these buildings is essential to preserving our history.

The Locomotive Workshops, The Sandstones Precinct and 100 Harris Street have played a significant role in our city’s history.

The Locomotive Workshops (circa 1887) served as an industrial workshop to manufacture steam engines, housing weapons during WW2, a temporary location for Paddy’s Markets, a function and office space, and now a museum, food & beverage, educational & retail precinct.

The Sandstone Lands building (circa 1882), built in the Italian Renaissance style, was the largest building in Sydney at completion and is one of the city’s most intact late “Victorian-Edwardian” style buildings. It was also one of the most innovative of its time, with a fully fireproof ‘Strong Room’ that housed over one million plans. It also had speaking tubes that reticulated throughout the building and one of the first hydraulic lifts in the city.

100 Harris Street is an original wool store building built in the 1890s and expanded in the 1910s & 1920s. The building represents Sydney’s successful pastoral period when Australia depended on wool for its wealth. The redevelopment of the building, which exposed the original building fabric and celebrated the robustness of the original features, has set it up for the next 100 years of use.’

What has been your most interesting experience with a heritage project?

‘The Locomotive Workshops is a 250-metre-long building split into 16 bays. Two of these bays contained the largest Victorian-era blacksmith workshop in Australia. As part of the redevelopment, the workshop required an upgrade to meet BCA standards and a complete reconfiguration to suit its future use as a food and beverage outlet.

Over 6,000 individual tools and machines were tagged, recorded, protected and transported to a storage facility to allow construction works to occur. On completion of the works, the items were transported back to the site, refurbished and placed into their new location for public display. This preservation process was extraordinary and something I was excited to be a part of.’


100 Harris Street, Pyrmont
Locomotive Workshop, South Eveleigh
The Sandstones Precinct


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Project managing
heritage buildings

Project Director Chris Callaghan was interviewed on his experience in the project management of heritage buildings and why this field is so unique. Chris has worked on numerous heritage projects, including the Locomotive Workshops in South Eveleigh, 5 Martin Place, 100 Harris Street in Pyrmont, and The Sandstones Precinct on Bridge Street. Chris is passionate about the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings, and in this interview, he tells us why.


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