Sandstone spectacular

The story of Barangaroo Reserve’s sandstone foreshore is one of unique design, exceptional engineering and groundbreaking landscape achievements.

Sydney is a city built on, and from, sandstone. For thousands of years, Aboriginal rock carvings have survived because of the durable qualities of the sandstone that lies up to 6km deep beneath Sydney Harbour.

Some of the city’s most beautiful landmarks, including the Queen Victoria Building and the Australian Museum - and now the award-winning Barangaroo Reserve - are constructed from Sydney sandstone.

The story of the Reserve’s sandstone foreshore is one of unique design, engineering and landscape achievements in the history of NSW. No project in history has used more Sydney sandstone than the creation of Barangaroo Reserve with more than 10,000 blocks used to create the extraordinary reimagined headland on the city’s doorstep.

Approximately 93% of the blocks came from Barangaroo itself, painstakingly extracted from beneath what is now the Cutaway, a dynamic and oversized cultural space beneath the headland. 

This unique achievement is a tale of traditional craftsmanship, industrial know-how, ground-breaking initiative, and teamwork at its finest, led by the Barangaroo Delivery Authority and its contractor Baulderstone (now Lendlease Engineering).

Barry Murphy was Project Director when Baulderstone won the contract to design and construct Barangaroo Reserve in 2012. The biggest risk, he says, was how to extract the sandstone from under the headland.

“We didn’t know the quality of the sandstone beneath Barangaroo, how to get it out, or how to cut it into the right shape. Using extracted sandstone to build a naturalistic foreshore had never been attempted on this scale, or in full view of a city, before,” says Barry Murphy.

Troy Stratti, an expert on extracting yellow block from Sydney development sites, was brought in by the Authority as a consultant and then asked to join the project team.

Barangaroo sandstone fast facts:

  • The design of the sandstone foreshore follows the natural Sydney fault line (roughly 20 degrees north west), so the new headland is in line with natural Sydney Harbour headlands.
  • 93% of the sandstone used at Barangaroo Reserve was sourced from the on-site extraction pit. The remainder was acquired from Bundanoon Quarries, Capricorn Quarries and Gosford Quarries.
  • The sandstone was extracted from the headland using traditional stonemason techniques coupled with pioneering Australian-designed multi-bladed saws.
  • Three grades of sandstone block were identified in the extraction pit: dry, wet and tidal. The strongest stones are those which are exposed at low tide and submerged at high tide.
  • Every grain of sandstone extracted from Barangaroo Reserve was used. Offcuts were ground up and mixed to become the sandy top soil required by the 75,000 trees, plants and shrubs of the headland.
  • The extraction process took a year - from December 2012 to December 2013.
  • Almost 300 different sizes of sandstone blocks have been used in the construction of the foreshore.
  • Each block was given a “barcode” (either a plastic tag or spray-painted number) to identify where it should go in the foreshore.
  • A custom-made 12D computer modelling program was created enabling each part of the foreshore to be mapped out precisely in advance, meaning every individual block could be slotted perfectly into place like a giant 3D jigsaw.
  • A custom-made piece of equipment, known as “the block handler” or “the grab”, was designed to allow the perfect placement of each block with no gap between neighbouring blocks.
  • A mobile phone app was developed to keep track of exactly how many blocks of different sizes were on site at any one time.
  • Not a single worker suffered any serious injury during the construction of Barangaroo Reserve.