Segenhoe Flats | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Segenhoe Flats

Item details

Name of item: Segenhoe Flats
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: Flat
Location: Lat: -32.928463 Long: 151.77902
Primary address: 50 Wolfe Street, Newcastle, NSW 2300
Parish: Newcastle
County: Northumberland
Local govt. area: Newcastle
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
50 Wolfe StreetNewcastleNewcastleNewcastleNorthumberlandPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

Segenhoe is of significance at the state level, as an early Inter War Art Deco building, designed by Emil Sodersten, one of Australia's first generation of modern architects. The block of flats is historically important in Newcastle, demonstrating the changing attitudes to housing in the 1930s, moving to a dense, high-rise apartment living.

Segenhoe is significant due to its association with prominent architect Emil Sodersten, one of Australia's foremost designers in the Inter War period, whose architecture developed in an ambitious search for modernism. The excellence he pursued in his design approaches is acknowledged in the annual Emil Sodersten prize given for interior architecture.

The apartment building is aesthetically important in demonstrating the transitional phase in Sodersten's design approaches. The building demonstrates the move away from Art Deco towards a modernist sensibility, overlaid with judicious decorative embellishments. The building is of technical significance as an early 1930s example of modern city living with refrigeration, hot water, automated elevator, garbage disposal and resident caretaker.

Segenhoe is rare as the only apartment building designed by Sodersten in Newcastle, one of the two known apartments in regional towns, and as one of the few buildings that contains elements that demonstrate the transition in Sodersten's design approaches.

The apartment building is representative of the 1930s development of Newcastle and the changing urban living practices. Segenhoe is representative of Sodersten's approach to designing apartment buildings and demonstrates his striving for excellence in design of both the building and its interiors.
Date significance updated: 13 Jun 19
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Emil Sodersten
Construction years: 1935-1937
Physical description: The site is located at an elevated section of Wolfe Street, across from the Christ Church Cathedral and Cathedral Park. The building, not far from King Street provides a convenient access to the city. The site has a commanding position in Wolfe Street, sheltered from the south, but has been designed to take the utmost advantage of the water views, which are extensive from the north east and west and every flat is designed to enjoy this view. The building is located in one of the best residential areas of the city (Sydney Morning Herald 1935).

Segenhoe is an imposing multi-storied brick building comprising 25 dwelling units including a caretaker's unit, described as Newcastle's most modern (The Newcastle Sun 1935) and convenient block of self-contained residential flats, at the time of its application. Seven floors in height, the stepped massing, resulting from the plan configuration; was nevertheless symmetrically arranged and permitted the maximum amount of natural light, sunshine and fresh air to each apartment. The whole building is capped by a complex pitched tiled roof. The roof was originally clad with terracotta roof tiles, which was modified later, replaced with decramastic tiles. The external wall cladding is Sodersten's characteristic textured face brick, as was the practice for all his apartment buildings (publicity booklet description used in the National Trust citation 1995, originally quoted in Lumby 1994: 13).

The approach to the building is from Wolfe Street, but the building's symmetrical plan faces north towards Newcastle harbour, taking advantage of the views in addition to sunshine and light. A semi-circular drive allows for driving up to the entrance, passing under a wide porch / porte cochere, on its eastern elevation. Masonry garage blocks are situated to the north and south of the building towards the eastern side of the site, the southern parking area is accessed through the main entrance while the lower blocks are accessed through a drive situated further down Wolfe Street. Common garden areas exist to the west and terraced gardens slope down, from the building, to the north.

A large brick retaining wall is situated along the southern boundary/Lee Terrace and brick fences with rendered capping exist along the extent of Wolfe Street to the east. The landscape of Segenhoe consists of informal planting around the edges of the building to the north and west, and a more formal terraced garden to the north. None of the current plantings appear to be remnants of the Brown's occupation of the site, however there is potential that some of the hard landscaping; brick fences, stairs and terracing to be part of the former residential use of the site. Also, retaining walls to the west and south are part of the site development associated with Brown (photographs of the Brown residence in 1930 and 1935 confirms this) (Heritas 2005: 15).

Vehicular access to the site is by way of a main circular drive which leads to the front entrance, under a porte cochere. The southern, or upper, garages are accessed off this drive. The northern, or lower, garages are accessed via a separate Wolfe Street entry further to the north. All driveways are concreted. The gardens around the building have had alterations, which included brick and rock boulder edging and tiled and paved areas (Heritas 2005: 15).

A stepped brick fence defines the boundary to Wolfe Street, with some bricks possibly from the original John Brown occupation phase, some from the original construction of Segenhoe and some being that used in the re-bricking of the exterior after the 1989 earthquake. The bricks used to replace are of the same texture as the original, but are a much lighter colour, and are easily distinguished from the darker original brick. Brick posts with lights mark each of the openings to the circular drive (Heritas 2005: 15).

The access to Segenhoe, from the porte cochere steps down and up to the entry foyer and steps up to the lifts and stairs. Internal features include decorative parallel horizontal rebates to wall render, moulded plaster cornices with geometric motifs and varnished timber doors, architraves and skirtings (Heritas 2004: 17).

The entry foyer contains timber and glass mailboxes and name board with painted gold lettering, stepped plaster ceiling and a decorative mirror panel. A circular fluorescent light fitting is recessed into the ceiling. Excepting the ground floor where the foyer is located, the layout is identical on each floor, with all units opening off a U-shaped corridor. Common areas are generally carpeted with different types in each area, reflecting various renovations made over time. Services are located to the centre of the building, the passenger lift and enclosed fire stair are located to the east and the access stairs to the west, both staircases are concrete with rendered balustrades and capped with timber to form the handrail. Each unit has one timber entry door that opens off the main corridor, featuring brass numbers and one breadbox. Original garbage chutes (two on each level), which led to two incinerators at the north base of the building, have been closed off and rendered over to match the interior corridor walls. Ceilings in the common corridors are rendered with a plain stepped cornice, excepting the top floor, which is a sheet material (Heritas 2005: 17).

Apart from three units, that have some modifications (not authorised by the Strata Committee), all the other units are considered to retain their original features. Kitchens and bathrooms have been updated to increase amenity value. One unit has retained its original fittings and kitchen from 1936. Many units have retained the original stained wooden doors, skirting boards and picture rails. Some have original baths and gas heaters (information provided by nominator).

A guide for owners and residents was prepared by Heritas in 2004 and is provided to any new owner or resident of Segenhoe. In addition, there is the SP 19837 Strata By-Laws that helps the Strata Committee manage the property.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The buildings are well-maintained and in an excellent condition, managed by a strata committee. Apartments are privately owned, maintained in a very good condition.
Date condition updated:13 Jun 19
Modifications and dates: The original terracotta roof tiles were replaced with decramastic tiles, sometime in the 1980s.

Following the damage to Segenhoe in 1989 due to the Newcastle earthquake, the building repair included re-skinning and re-cladding with a textured brick similar to the original, but lighter in colour, compared to the original brick.

The original porte cochere was replaced with a more modern structure to allow for the access of larger vehicles - date of this is unknown.

Due to the deterioration of the roof cladding, it was replaced with pre-coloured corrugated aluminium sheeting in 2012. The works carried out with assistance from NSW heritage grant funding allowed conservation works to the roof structure and windows.
Further information: A guide for owners and residents was prepared by Heritas in 2004. This document is provided to any new owner or resident of Segenhoe.

The Strata Committee follow a consolidated set of by-laws under the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015. All internal modifications to apartments must go to an Extraordinary General Meeting and receive 75% approval.
Current use: Apartments
Former use: Apartments


Historical notes: "The history and heritage of Australia's original inhabitants extends back over millennia and continues beyond 1788 to the present day. An underlying objective of the heritage process is to address the heritage of the Australian community as a whole. Aboriginal heritage is interwoven with the non-Aboriginal heritage of Australia and evidence of that heritage is found even in places commonly regarded as 'European', such as city buildings. It is important to recognise that Aboriginal people responded to European colonisation specifically and discreetly in their efforts to maintain links to their traditional lands and interests. Evidence of this is widespread, and the inclusion of forms of evidence relating to Aboriginal history and heritage is vital to the establishment of the historical context of a region or locality (NSW Heritage Office 1998)."

The Awabakal and Worimi peoples are acknowledged by the Newcastle City Council as the traditional custodians of the land and waters of Newcastle. These two Aboriginal groups inhabited the lower Hunter Valley with the river forming a rough boundary between the territories of the Woromi to the north and the Awabakal to the south. Three clans of the Awabakal lived in or near the site of Newcastle - the Five Islands people at the northern end of Lake Macquarie, the Pambalong clan on the western side of the river and the Ash Island people. In addition, the Garagal clan of the Woromi lived on the coastal strip from Stockton to Port Stephens. Although living in separate areas these people came together on ceremonial occasions and regularly visited each other's territories. From 1801 when the first settlement was made, the Aboriginal peoples of the area were exposed to white settlers with disastrous results. During the convict period they were not deprived of their lands on the massive scale that occurred elsewhere, but they fell victim to European brutality and diseases. (City of Newcastle Council website, Suters Architects 2007: 23, 24 & 25).

While the exact history of Indigenous use of the Segenhoe site is not known, it is highly likely that the property, located at an elevation, on the hill would have been used by the Aboriginal people prior to European occupation of the land.

Site history
(Adapted with permission from the history compiled by Hunter History Consultants, sourced from the Draft Conservation Management Plan prepared by Heritas, 2005)
Segenhoe is located high on the hill on Wolfe Street; with land sloping down to Newcastle harbour, it replaced the home of coal 'baron' John Brown, whose family established the highly successful enterprise of J & A Brown. The house occupied by John Brown was built in the late 1850s on land granted to his father and uncle, James and Alexander Brown. Between 1850s and 1910, adjoining sites were gradually acquired to increase the site to its present size (Heritas 2005: 3).

Following John Brown's death in 1930, the house was demolished (Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner's Advocate 1935), and Sydney architect Emil Sodersten was engaged to design Segenhoe, named after J & A Brown's property in the Hunter Valley. The apartments were completed in 1937.

Wolfe Street Property (adapted from, Heritas 2005, p4-5)
The rail link from J & A Brown's Minmi mine to Newcastle, encouraged J & A Brown to establish a residence in Newcastle, close to their large stone office building in Scott Street and the railway station and wharves where their coal was loaded for export. The company was also developing its shipping interests during this period, owning a ship's chandlery and at least one ocean-going ship as well as a share in a tug based in Newcastle harbour.

In September 1856, James and Alexander Brown purchased Allotment 156, on the western side of Wolfe Street and by 1860 a three storeyed brick house with slate roof had been built. Containing ten rooms, it was one of the city's largest houses at the time. The brothers also purchased the adjacent vacant allotment, No.154, from William Moseley in the late 1850s. A high brick retaining wall was built across the eastern half of the site near the boundary of the two allotments, with the lower level probably cultivated as a garden.

In 1888 the property was enlarged following the purchase from Alexander McDonnell of part of Allotment 158, adjoining the northern boundary of Allotment 156. Included in the conveyance was a 'right of way along a reserved road twelve feet wide (Lee Terrace) from Church Street to the rear of the property.

Coal "Baron" John Brown
John Brown, was fabulously rich at the time of his death, leaving a fortune of (Pounds)10,000,000. Famously rich, he was a tough businessman, with a very private life (Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner's Advocate 1930: 7). The son of James Brown of the J & A Brown, John was appointed general manager of J & A Brown in 1882 following the death of his uncle in 1877 and the virtual retirement of his father. In 1886 James Brown transferred his coal interests to his sons but it was John who continued to manage and control the company's growing operations. John Brown built upon the foundations established by his father and uncle and spent a great deal of time abroad expanding the company's export trade and opening branch offices overseas. At home, he developed new collieries, built company railways and accumulated a fleet of colliers and tugs which plied the harbours of Newcastle and Sydney (Heritas 2005: 6).

Further additions to the Site: 1908-1910
Brown family continued to acquire when possible, land adjacent to the Wolfe Street property. This may be a reflection of John Brown's desire for privacy which, influenced the construction of a high brick wall around the site. It is believed that the wall, most of which remains today, contains bricks from the company's Richmond Main colliery (Heritas 2005: 6).

In 1908 the Wolfe Street site was extended westwards, with the purchase of a portion of Lot 157 from the O'Gallagher family. A weatherboard house which stood on the site in 1898, with a frontage to the present right of way, appears to have been demolished by this time. A plan created at the time shows that the brick boundary wall had not yet been built. However, when it was subsequently constructed, an access to the right of way in was maintained. Later adjustments to the levels rendered the access unusable but a bricked-in archway in the boundary wall remains to indicate its location (Heritas 2005: 6).

The last addition to the Wolfe Street site was made in 1910 when part of Lot 152, adjoining the northern boundary of the property, was purchased from Florence Hay. An old stone house which stood on the newly acquired site was demolished and an entrance drive created to the lower area of Brown's property. A break in the brick boundary wall shows the location of the entrance, where remnants of the gate hardware remain firmly embedded in the brick and concrete gateposts. It is possible that stone from the demolished house has been recycled and used in the construction of garden terraces and retaining walls on the site (Heritas 2005: 7).

There is also evidence of early windows in the retaining wall facing the southern boundary of the former drive, suggesting that stables may have been constructed in the area. If so, further remains would exist beneath the present driveway into the lower garages. No doubt the stables would have fallen into disuse following the advent of the motor car or may have been converted for use as garages although access may have been difficult for cars of that period. Later plans and photographs show a drive access on the upper portion of the site, leading directly to the house and a building adjacent to the house which was probably a garage. John Brown was among the first Novocastrians to acquire a motor vehicle. (Heritas 2005: 7)

1930: Segenhoe Flats
Following John Brown's death in 1930, the property was sold at auction in May 1933 on behalf of Mr Stephen Brown to Mr James Rutley, who sold it to Mr A.E. Cooper for (Pounds)2200 (The Newcastle Sun, 1934, p7). Cooper instructed for demolition and auction of the property. The property was auctioned for (Pounds)90 on 12 January 1935 (NMH & Miner's Advocate 1935). Sydney architect Emil Sodersten was engaged to prepare plans for a six-storey building of 24 flats to replace the seventy-year-old house. The Newcastle Sun reported on 8 May 1935 that construction had started on the building works.

Growth of Newcastle
In the 1920s, stimulated by the steel industry, the population of Newcastle grew from 54,000 in 1911 to 84,000 in 1921 and 104,000 in 1933. The significant industrial and demographic development, influenced the growth of the town with a number of new commercial buildings, hotels and stores and the Newcastle City Council, constructed a town hall and Civic Theatre worthy of the State's second city in 1929 (Suters Architects 1997: 2/7). The growth, however, was halted due to the Great Depression, which halted the construction industry and caused high unemployment.

Although the State Dockyard closed in 1933, the steelworks gradually increased its production, leading the city out of the slump as the decade progressed (Suters Architects 1997: 2/7). The decade saw an increase in the number of new constructions. An article in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner's Advocate (30 September 1936) states the total value of constructions was very high, largely due to the construction of a number of big commercial buildings. In 1936, 34 new buildings were authorised within the city area, increasing local employment and economy. The decade also saw a huge increase in number of applications for multi-storied flats. Questioning the need to regulate the spate of new residential constructions, in a report to the Council, the town clerk stressed the need for regulating large blocks of flats, adjacent to existing cottages and the need for special attention to light areas and subdivisions.

Construction of Segenhoe
Plans for Segenhoe apartment block, named after John Brown's country property in the Hunter region, were submitted to Newcastle City Council in May 1935. Recommending the approval of the application, the city engineer for the Council commented that Segenhoe would be the largest building of its kind erected in Newcastle and of the 'most modern type' at that time (The Newcastle Sun 1935, p8). The flats were modern with stairways, lift, and patent incinerators. A plan produced in 1935 showed the location on the site of the old house, then being demolished, and the location of the proposed building. The block of flats, to be built as per A E Cooper's instructions following Emil Sodersten's design was to cost (Pounds)25,000 (The Newcastle Sun 1935: 2).

"Segenhoe, located high above the city near the famous Christ Church cathedral (Based on Horbury Hunt's walls started in 1883-95, work continued in 1909 by J. H. Buckridge of Brisbane, the completion of the Cathedral was down to F.G & A.C. Castleden (permanent nave roof, flying buttresses and crossing) in 1926 and raising of transcepts and great bell tower by Castleden & Sara in 1979), was designed to have 24 dwelling units, along with a caretaker's apartment. The publicity booklet produced at the time described Segenhoe as 'Newcastle's most modern and convenient Block of Self-contained Residential Flats'. Six floors in height, the stepped massing resulting from the plan configuration was nevertheless symmetrically arranged and permitted the maximum amount of natural light, sunshine and fresh air to each apartment. The whole building was capped by a mass of pitched tiled roofs. The external, wall cladding was carried out in Sodersten's characteristic brick, as with all his apartment buildings" (Lumby 1994: 13). While Segenhoe has much in common with its Sydney counterparts, it was designed at a time when Sodersten was "moving away from the Art Deco expression (as in Hotel Australia and City Mutual Life Assurance Building in Sydney) towards a modernist sensibility which was at the same time overlaid with judicious decorative embellishment" (Lumby 1994: 13).

The publicity booklet described Segenhoe "as 'a home in the city', where residents could enjoy the benefits of the site; its 'views, elevation and convenience of situation'. Refrigeration and hot water were important features, allowing city workers who chose to live in a Segenhoe flat to save on fares, city lunches, ice and hot water. However, the flats were regarded as homes for the elite, for the captains of industry, who could afford the relatively high weekly rents of (Pounds)5 and (Pounds)3/15/- for the two and one bedroomed flats respectively" (Heritas 2005: 11)

"To live in this new building was to capture something of metropolitan life in the modern Art Deco world - 'Home in the City' offered inestimable benefits, it was inferred that the scarcity of land and 'other factors' had previously prevented. Some of these included excellent views, sound proof construction, garbage service, furnished kitchens, 'latest appointments', refrigeration, hot water system, power and radio points, balconies to each flat, furnished vestibule, automatic electric elevator, garages, resident caretaker, and a tennis court. The flats themselves were described as 3 or 4 room flats, the main difference being that they were either blessed with one or two bedrooms. The descriptions referred to main living spaces, for the flats also included a relatively spacious kitchen, rather cramped bathroom, hall, cupboards and a 'sun balcony'. Detailing such as that in cornices, skirtings and door hardware was refined and minimal in the manner of the late 1930s. Indeed, in such light filled surrounds with wonderful views over the city and waterways any further decoration would have seemed redundant." (Lumby 1994: 13)

The tennis court on the lower section of the site, advertised on the initial booklet did not materialise. Instead, the area was used for providing the garages and landscaped grounds. There is a high possibility that the landscaped grounds may contain elements of John Brown's terraced gardens and front staircase (Heritas 2005: 12).

In 1942 ownership of Segenhoe passed to Norman McIndoe Morriss, master printer (2/3 share) and Nathaniel Eric Clark, colliery manager (1/3 share). Morriss sold one of his shares to Burnett Guy Littler in 1951. Following Morriss's death, his share passed to his widow in 1953. In 1956 County Subsidiary Pty. Ltd became the owner. The building was converted to Strata Plan 19837 in 1983 (Heritas 2005: 12). The Strata Committee made up of residents from Segenhoe manages the property and regulates development within the various units in Segenhoe.

The basic structure of Segenhoe remains largely unaltered since its first tenants took up residence in 1937. The most obvious external changes include modification to the original porte-cochere, which originally featured a roof echoing the form of the main rooflines. This alteration, involving the construction of a flat-roofed, metal carport, was probably due to the need for improved access to cater for large vehicles. Also significant was replacement of the original brickwork following the 1989 earthquake. The replacement bricks are lighter in colour, compared to the original. Sections of original brickwork are clearly evident due to the colour difference. The incinerators are no longer functional. Internally, the common areas remain unaltered. According to the Strata Committee, three units have made internal modifications (not authorised by the Strata Committee) - one on the fifth floor, one on the third floor and one on the ground floor.

Internal modifications; largely associated with upgrading of kitchens and bathrooms, have been carried out in many of the apartments. A 'guide for owners and residents' was prepared at the time of the draft CMP, which helps in informing new home owners and tenants on their obligations regarding the property. Information relating to the body corporate, common areas, unit interiors and exteriors are provided including what can and cannot be done to the individual units. The Strata By-Laws for SP 19837 provided under the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 provides regulations for residents and owners of the various units. All internal modifications proposed for the different units must go to an Extraordinary General Meeting and receive 75% approval prior to seeking Local Council approval (information provided by nominator).

During the 1970s and 1980s a group of residents devoted considerable time and funding to maintenance of the gardens, creating a colourful display of roses, annuals and shrubs. Pink and white camellias planted on either side of the entrance driveways were donated by residents May O'Shea and Heather Woodgate (Heritas 2005: 13). Residents continue to maintain the garden.

Emil Sodersten (1899-1961)

Emil Lawrence Sodersteen, was born in Balmain on 30 August 1899. Of Swedish ancestry, he was the second of seven children, born to Emil Gustavus Sodersteen and Julia. He and his brothers changed their names to Sodersten on 19 November 1943 by deed poll (Becarra & Reynolds 2002; Lumby 2006).

Emil Sodersten studied part time at Sydney Technical College in 1915 where 'he received traditional Beaux Arts oriented education' (Stapleton & Stapleton 1981), while employed by architects Ross & Rowe. Sydney Technical College provided instructions in drawing, construction and historical styles. In 1921 (or 1919?) he attended lectures by Leslie Wilkinson at the University of Sydney and form, proportion and historic styles formed the basis of his training (Becarra & Reynolds 2002).

Sodersten joined Hall & Prentice along with C. Bruce Dellit and helped design and document the Brisbane City Hall. On returning to Sydney in 1923, Sodersten registered as an architect and joined the established firm of Tate & Young, where he achieved his first success in an architectural competition, for remodelling the Queen Victoria Building. Although this scheme did not materialise, the Manchester Unity building completed in 1924, is credited in part to Sodersten (Lumby 2006; SHI record for Manchester Unity Building).

Sodersten and Bruce Dellit, his contemporary, pioneered the Art Deco style in Australia (ANZAC Memorial website). Art Deco architecture is a difficult concept that refers to a decorative style, often traditional and innovative, with a wide range of absorbed influences, sources and movements, which introduced a whole new vocabulary of architecture (Bayer 1992: 7). "Originally coined to denote the modern decorative art of the interwar years, the term Art Deco embraces the promiscuously and inextricably eclectic style that drew influence from modern art, ancient Egypt, American Indian art, the Aztecs and the machine aesthetic" (Stapleton & Stapleton 1981).

Stapleton & Stapleton (1981) describe the works of Dellit and Sodersten as a "fusion of traditional and modern vision, a resolution of decoration and technology, expression and function". They both belonged to the first generation of modern Australian architects.

Sodersten set up as a sole practitioner in 1925, he was 24 years old at the time, the youngest architect in the state at that time to have started a sole practice (Art in Australia 1934; Lumby 2006). Two years later, he was elected to the Council of the Institute of Architects (1927-28). Over the next fifteen years, Sodersten's office was responsible for the design of quite a large number of architecturally significant buildings in Sydney.

In 1925, he participated in the international competition to design a national war memorial and museum in Canberra. Of the sixty-nine entries received, John Crust's design was within the budget and Sodersten's scheme was preferred by the judges because "the layout is so attractive and the sequence so good that it has been classified as one of the best submitted" (Building 1928, quoted in Lumby 2006). Sodersten and Crust worked together to produce a joint-plan. Crust managed the project and Sodersten took control of the design. The composite Sodersten-Crust design owed much to both architects, but, in style, the distinct leanings to American modernism was that of Sodersten (ibid; Becarra & Reynolds 2002; Stapleton & Stapleton 1981).

According to his niece Kristine Sodersten, "he was also extremely successful socially", an outstanding sportsman in skiing and polo. He had a great relationship with his colleagues, he was well-respected and admired by all. "He was a painter of considerable merit and also an extremely efficient businessman and organiser" (Sodersten 1967: 2, quoted in Lumby 2006).

Since his success with the War Memorial, Sodersten applied "his skill to architecture of all types; churches, theatres, hotels, factories and domestic work, though perhaps his most remarkable successes have been in the field of flat buildings, his most recent designs being delightful essays in brickwork, a material which he handles in masterly fashion. In his love of this versatile medium Emil Sodersteen is a worthy successor to the late Horbury Hunt, who has so many beautiful brick buildings as his undying memorial" (Art in Australia, 1934: 92).

Sodersten designed a number of apartments in Sydney including 7 Elizabeth Street, Braemar, Miramar and Mirradong in Aston Gardens, Bellevue Hill, Cheddington, Birtley Towers in Elizabeth Bay and Werrington, Wychbury in Potts Point, Segenhoe in Newcastle and a block of flats in Wagga Wagga (the only two known apartments in regional towns of New South Wales). These were built between the years 1928 to 1936. Sodersten's architecture "developed in an ambitious search for modernism. His Art Deco work is a limited but significant part of his career. With an assured vitality and powerful form, it spanned a period of some nine years, from Canberra War Memorial competition in 1927 to the mid-thirties, whence it was abruptly discarded in favour of a more overtly modern form" (Stapleton & Stapleton 1981: 125). For Sodersten, the American skyscraper signified efficiency and perfection. The expressive form, facade zoning, integral decoration and rationalised embellishments provided inspiration for his distinctive and unique Art Deco style, manifest in his works. Birtley Towers, a remarkable block of flats at Elizabeth Bay, established this theme in 1934. Amongst one of the earliest block of flats, it resulted in a spate of imitations and helped popularise the red texture brick. Sited atop a hill, Birtley Towers is a free standing sculptural brick pillar, overlooking Sydney Harbour and was Australia's largest block of flats in 1934 (Stapleton & Stapleton 1981).

Sodersten is also credited with a number of innovative office buildings that were 'advanced' and 'modern' at the time of their construction. Marlborough Hall is an important building in Sodersten's career. Influenced by European modernism, it is an outstanding example of Post War International Style of architecture. The City Mutual Life (CML) Building, 1936 with a base of glossy granite and bronze window sashes and sculptures by Rayner Hoff was one of the first office buildings in Sydney to incorporate fully ducted air conditioning and automatically controlled lifts. CML was the culmination of Sodersten's Art Deco work. Considered one of Sydney's finest modern office block with a powerful expression on a corner site. The tower, vertically modelled with recessed bands of windows and thin mullions, with a base of modernistic black granite entrance with metallic bas relief and simple embellishments draws the attentions of the pedestrians. Internally, the streamlined space is defined by high windows. The ceiling is a fluted sweep of plasterwork and the floor was a glossy track of patterned marble (now covered?) (Stapleton & Stapleton 1981).

Sodersten travelled across Europe in 1935. The trip proved a milestone in his career influencing his ideals dramatically. He returned, impressed with functional modernism of the continent and his work entered a distinctively new phase and he tested the variety of modern European styles. In particular, he was the most impressed with Sweden, appreciating the good taste and artistic appreciation of the Swedish (Lumby 2006; Stapleton & Stapleton 1981). He was inspired by the functional architectural style of Dutch architects Willem Dudock and H. P. Berlage (Becerra & Reynolds 2002). Returning to Sydney, he abandoned the Art Deco style. He designed Nesca House (1937-9) in King Street, Newcastle, an uncompromising Functionalist building.

Although the evolution in Sodersten's design approaches was largely stimulated by an overseas visit in 1936, its beginnings are evident in the design of Segenhoe which is "reminiscent of a range of later unbuilt projects which he designed in the later 1930s such as those in Phillip Street, Sydney," for example (Heritas 2005: 11). Other projects undertaken in Newcastle by Sodersten are NESCA House (now University House), in collaboration with local architects Pitt & Merewether, completed in 1939. He prepared plans for a seven-storied addition to the Newcastle Tattersall's Club, however, due to war-time restrictions, this did not materialise. Following a membership increase to the Tattersall's Club, an extension was reconsidered by the committee, which was designed by Sodersten, completed in 1959.

Sodersten died on 14 December 1961, leaving behind an impressive architectural legacy, a career that started at a very young age of Twenty-Four.

Nineteen of Sodersten-designed buildings are listed on the Australian Institute of Architects' Register of Significant Architecture in NSW in recognition of their significance. The Art Deco Society of NSW has included eight of Sodersten's buildings on its online Building Register for Sydney. A number of his works are recognised on the Local Environmental Plans of various local governments including Canada Bay, Newcastle Sydney and Woollahra.

Every year, the Emil Sodersten Prize is given by the Australian Institute of Architects for excellence in Interior Architecture in his honour.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Interwar Art Deco-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Emil Sodersteen, architect-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Segenhoe completed in 1938 is one of the earliest, multi-storied apartment buildings, built in Newcastle. The building demonstrated the changing attitudes to housing in Newcastle, and the growth of Newcastle, which developed from a series of small coalmining villages to a major industrial centre. The apartment block replaced John (Baron) Brown's house of the J & A Brown fame, once one of New South Wales' largest coal producing and shipping companies. Segenhoe block of flats has retained its original plan form, site plan and configuration and a large number of the individual units retain a large number of original details and features, which helps in maintaining a continuity in its use as an apartment.

Segenhoe is of historical significance at the state level, for an early Inter War Art Deco building designed by Emil Sodersten, one of Australia's first generation of modern architects. The block of flats are important in demonstrating the changing attitudes to housing in Newcastle in the 1930s and for demonstrating the growth of Newcastle, illustrating the growth of a significant regional town in New South Wales.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Segenhoe Flats is of significance at the state level due to its association with Emil Sodersten, one of Australia's first generation of modern architects.

Segenhoe, designed by Emil Sodersten, an important Australian architect of the early twentieth century, was one of Australia's foremost designers in the Art Deco style. Starting his private practice from 24 years of age, he left an unsurpassed legacy of architectural works in Sydney (Lumby 1994: 13). Segenhoe is one of the few buildings and the only apartment, designed by Sodersten in Newcastle. At 27 years, he jointly won the design competition for Australian War Memorial, Canberra, with John Crust. The joint design was the first national architectural monument in Australia, and it embodies Sodersten's "visual Byzantine imagery, with its solid mass culminating in a domed shrine" (AIA citation on Nationally Significant 20th Century Architecture).

In the late 1930s, Sodersten's design philosophy moved away from Art Deco towards a streamlined functionalism of European origin (Stapleton & Stapleton 1981). Segenhoe, described as an example of Inter War Art Deco also demonstrates his move towards functionalism and modernism, with its minimal internal detailing and external decorations. His was an architecture that was described as a "fusion of traditional and modern vision, a resolution of decoration and technology, expression and function" (Stapleton & Stapleton 1981).
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Segenhoe apartments is of significance at the state level under this criterion for demonstrating Sodersten's changing design approaches from Inter War Art Deco to streamlined Functionalism and Modernism. Segenhoe apartments is significant as it demonstrates his move towards a modernist sensibility with judicious decorative embellishment. The restrained use of decoration is contrasted by the emphasis on the staggered form of the building, symmetrically arranged which allows for maximum amount of natural light, sunshine and fresh air into each flat.

Segenhoe is of technical significance, as an early example of modern city living in the 1930s with a resident care-taker, refrigeration, hot water, garbage service and an automated elevator. A number of the original service features, retained in the building demonstrate the technical significance of early twentieth century apartment living.

Segenhoe retains a high degree of integrity with few modifications to the internal arrangements of the flats and the building complex as a whole.
SHR Criteria f)
Segenhoe is of state significance for its rarity in regional New South Wales, as the only block of apartments designed by Sodersten in Newcastle; as one of the few apartment buildings by Sodersten in regional towns in New South Wales (the only other known example was in Wagga Wagga) and as one of the few Inter War Art Deco buildings that demonstrate the changes in his design approaches.
SHR Criteria g)
Segenhoe, built in the late 1930s is demonstrative of the growth of Newcastle, the changing trends to city living in the move to apartment living with modern conveniences.

Sodersten has designed a number of similar apartments in Sydney and Segenhoe is representative of Sodersten's approach to designing apartment buildings and it demonstrates his striving for excellence towards design in achieving best light, ventilation and orientation for the individual units and his attention to detail in the design of the building and the individual flats.

Segenhoe is of state significance as a representative example of Sodersten's design.
Integrity/Intactness: Sodersten's design has been preserved and the apartment complex retains a high degree of integrity and intactness. The original lift is in place and in working order. The lobby and the common areas are retained in their original form, intact with detailing and fixtures.

One home unit is considered to be in the most original condition and is classified by the National Trust (information from nominator).
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions HERITAGE ACT 1977


Segenhoe Flats
50 Wolfe Street, Newcastle

SHR No. 02038

I, the Minister administering the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, in pursuance of section 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, do, by this my order, grant an exemption from section 57(1) of that Act in respect of the engaging in or carrying out of any activities described in Schedule “C” by the owner, mortgagee, manager or lessee of the land described in Schedule “B” on the item described in Schedule “A”.

The Hon. Gladys Berejiklian MP

Dated at Sydney, 26th Day of June 2020


The item known as Segenhoe Flats situated on the land described in Schedule “B”.


All those pieces or parcels of land known as Part SP 19837 in Parish of Newcastle, County of Northumberland shown on the plan catalogued HC 3237 in the office of the Heritage Council of New South Wales.


Exemptions Reason/ comments
1. All Standard Exemptions These cover a full range of activities that do not require Heritage Council approval, including Standard Exemption 7 which allows consideration of additional unspecified types of minor works for exemption.
2. All works permitted in the “Segenhoe – A guide for owners and residents”.
3. All works permitted in the By-Law 24 of the SP19837 Strata By-Laws (June 2019), provided the proposed works do not materially impact on the identified heritage values of the Segenhoe Flats.
4. Works and activities associated with the maintenance and upkeep of landscaped gardens and grounds including mowing, tree surgery, removal or pruning of trees considered a danger to the public or considered necessary for the health of the tree.
5. Maintenance, repair and renewal of existing paths, steps, garden edges, lighting, retaining walls, parking spaces and gates. The work will follow a ‘like for like’ approach to repair in terms of materials, paint schemes and planting types, where required.
6. Works and activities associated with the maintenance repair and renewal of services, public utilities and upgrades of services and public utilities including communications, gas and electricity where it is demonstrated that they use existing conduits and fixings where possible these activities do not materially impact on the identified heritage values of the Segenhoe Flats.
7. Works and activities associated with the ongoing surfacing and maintenance of roadways, verges, drainage, pedestrian pathways and steps where these do not materially impact on the identified heritage values of the Segenhoe Flats.
8. Works and activities associated with the repair of damage to the landscape within the curtilage caused by storm or other weather events. The work will follow a ‘like for like’ approach to the repair in terms of materials, paint schemes and planting types.
9. Works and activities associated with the day-to-day maintenance and repair of the buildings, provided these do not materially impact on the identified heritage values of the precinct.
10. Works and activities associated with roof maintenance, repair and renewal. The work will follow a ‘like for like’ approach to repair in terms of materials and paint schemes.
Jun 26 2020

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0203826 Jun 20 1323051/2
Local Environmental PlanNewcastle Local Environmental Plan 2012I47815 Jun 12   
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Newcastle Heritage Study1990239Unknown  Yes
Newcastle Archaeological Management Plan  Suters Architects et al.  No
Newcastle City Wide Heritage Study1996 Suters Architects Snell  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenArt in Australia1934Emil Sodersteen
WrittenHayes W Swan1995Segenhoe
WrittenHeritas Architecture2005Conservation Management Plan - draft
WrittenHeritas Architecture2004Segenhoe: A Guide for Owners and Residents
WrittenHeritas Architecture2004Segenhoe - A guide for Owners and Residences
WrittenNewcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate1935Demolition Begun View detail
WrittenNewcastle Morning Herald and Miner's Advocate1936New Buildings - First Nine Months Exceed 1925 Record - Newcastle City Area View detail
WrittenNewcastle Sun1935Big Block of Flats View detail
WrittenNSW Heritage Office1998Heritage Information Series - Aboriginal History and Heritage: A Guide View detail
WrittenPatricia Bayer1992Art Deco Architecture
WrittenPoppy Biazos Becerra & Peter Reynolds2002Emil Lawrence Sodersten View detail
WrittenRoy Lumby2006A latter day Horbury Hunt: Emil Lawerence Sodersten
WrittenRoy Lumby1994Emil Sodersten in Newcastle
WrittenThe Newcastle Sun1935Regulation of Building - Effect of Flats on Cottages - Report to Council View detail
WrittenThe Newcastle Sun1935Block of Flats for Hill on site of Brown Residence View detail
WrittenThe Newcastle Sun1935City Building Applications: Flats in Wolfe and Church Streets View detail
WrittenThe Newcastle Sun1934Big Building for Hill View detail
WrittenThe Sydney Morning Herald1935Building and Construction; Twenty-Four Flats, Building at Newcastle View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5061284
File number: EF11/11669

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