Post-It Notes: The 3M building

The two main roads that cut through Pymble cross over in a complex intersection. Ryde Road undercuts the Pacific Highway in a tunnel, with slip roads filtering traffic between them. To one side of the intersection the train line runs across on an elevated track. There’s a thin strip of land beside the railway, with such businesses as a drive-in dry cleaners and a mini-golf putting green, with a course of astroturf winding around a landscape, decorated by a jolly fibreglass elephant amid chunks of sandstone.

On the other side of the highway the land slopes downwards, leading into a valley. On the north west side there’s a screen of tall trees, and behind it a long, curved building, nestled into the corner, tucked down below the level of the road. Built in 1968 as the Australian headquarters for 3M, the five-storey office building combines pale concrete columns with darker panels of rough concrete aggregate, like two contrasting threads woven into a grid. Its design echoes some of the city office buildings that were built with a similar curved shape, the best known being the AMP building that faces Circular Quay and was, in the early 1960s when it opened, the tallest building in the city.

The 3M building was much smaller, but was nevertheless striking in its aspect, set as it is below the level of the road, so the upper storeys, visible from the highway, seem to hover in space. Whenever going past it I would look over towards the red 3M sign on the roof and imagine the plentiful post-it notes and rolls of tape that would be in their stationery cupboards. I would think of the story of the invention of the post-it note: a 3M scientist wanted to create a strong, tough adhesive, but instead created a weak one that could be peeled easily off surfaces. He didn’t know how to apply his invention until he spoke to another scientist at the company, who had the problem of keeping bookmarks from sliding out of his hymn book. From this the post-it note was born.

Now the sign has been stripped from the roof and the building has been empty for seven years, as the local council and Bunnings, the purchasers of the site in 2012, argue about whether the building is to be retained or demolished.

The longer is it vacant, the more it falls into disrepair. Graffiti has accumulated on the walls, and the first floor windows are cracked and broken where rocks have been thrown at them. It’s a building I’ve only ever seen through a car or train window, in motion, from afar. I feel a sense of unreality as I approach it, as if I’ve stepped into a photograph. All of a sudden the scale changes and I see the height of the building in comparison to my body, rather than the surrounding scene of the highway and the traffic.

The back of the building faces onto a high wall reinforced by concrete slabs, above which is the highway, hidden by a screen of gum trees, present only as a groaning rush of cars and trucks. Down herel the grass is long and the ivy at the bottom of the embankment grows thickly. As I advance a brown rabbit darts out from the ivy and bounces away, its white tail bobbing against the green. The garden is lush and vital compared to the still, solid presence of the building, heavy with the undisturbed air captured inside it.

On the far side is a path that leads up to the highway. A camellia tree is in full bloom, the smell of its pink flowers sweetening the air. The path continues down around to the entrance, and I realise that in seeing the building from the road, I only ever saw it from the back. From the front, the curve of the building has a gathering effect, like it has curled in on itself to hold its contents in tightly. Most of the windows have the blinds drawn down, but through those that don’t I see the outlines of office furniture inside, the square ghostly shapes of tables and cabinets.

I approach the front doors and look inside. In a pair of mirrored interior doors a few metres in from where I stand I see my reflection, a woman in a navy blue dress and spotted scarf.

It is as if I’ve come for a job interview thirty years too late, and found the building vacant. I’m here but everyone has gone. There’s only the rabbits and the birds now, and hedges grown into wild, irregular shapes, and tendrils of ivy inching up the building’s concrete ribs.

23 Comments on “Post-It Notes: The 3M building”

  1. nikkola1 says:

    As if I came to a job interview thirty years too late – love that sentence!

    Really quite an existential statement for those wondering where the revolution (and all the promises of modernism) have gone

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      True! The optimism of modernist architecture is a poignant point for reflection when these buildings fall into disrepair.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Reblogged this on Tasmanian Bibliophile @Large and commented:
    One of my favourite blogs: I love Vanessa Berry’s explorations of Sydney.

  3. Drove past the building many times in the early 70s when my mum worked in the office at PLC Pymble and helped me get a holiday job there as a groundsman. Did not know it was derelict and would be a shame to see it demolished, like so much of Sydney’s mid-century architecture.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks for your comment Phil, the building has been heritage listed on the local register, but there seems to be quite an ongoing dispute between the council and Bunnings about its fate…

      • Phillip Leeds says:

        Seems to be the standard corporate tactic. Delay and end up with demolition by neglect. Happened with the Regent Theatre in George Street, among others.

  4. jim says:

    Wow , another great find and story . Enjoy and admire your research into the story behind the picture . Will be travelling to Sydney again soon and intend to visit some of the sites you*ve posted as nothing like experiencing the real thing .If your ever around Yagoona , would love if you did a story on Analytical-laboratories building at Lidcombe on the corner of Joseph Street and Weeroona Road ..a piece of brutalist architecture. Thankyou again Vanessa for your postings . Kind regards and cheers , jim

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Jim – I’ll see if I can make it to Yagoona: hopefully the building’s still there, it’s surrounded by ominous fencing on google street view…

  5. Rosie says:

    I’m so happy that you wrote about this building! I’ve been past it quite a few times and it’s always intrigued me. I’d love to explore the area and take some photos myself.

  6. Thanks for this post. I drove past the building today and now have a new insight into a place I used to just drive past.

  7. sallykj says:

    Thanks again, Vanessa. I too have driven past the building many times, but did not realise it was curved. I now drive past every week, and like others, I ma saddened by the neglect.

  8. peter says:

    Hello Vanessa

    Thank you for your excellent website.

    Whilst reading your post on the 3M building it occurred to me that you may not be aware that the impressive Wentworth Memorial Church [32 B Fitzwilliam Road, Vaucluse, NSW 2030] is likely to be demolished.

    It has not been used as a church for more than a decade & was sold-off by the Anglican Church.
    It has recently been placed on the market again & approval for site sub-division & church demolition has already been granted.

    Your interest & keen eye might mean it is worth your while to visit –you may even get inside if you speak to the agent. The adjoining Wentworth Mausoleum is also worth a squiz.


  9. Mike Boyden says:

    More than 30 years ago I was invited to visit the Orpheum Theatre at Cremorne with Mike Walsh. The theatre had been gutted, the stalls converted into a dingy arcade and the dress circle into a pigeon coup. Mike’s vision was to restore this grand old lady. My task was to restore it.
    Mike Walsh is a man of vision. He plans with his head and his heart and funds with his cheque book rather than planning with it.
    Once we allow the value of our heritage, “those features belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages, or buildings, that were created in the past and still have historical importance” (Cambridge Dictionary), to be determined by a cheque book then that is when the value of our heritage is diminished to the value of the paper upon which the cheque is written.
    When something is sold there is always an intended use by the purchaser, even if that use is to do nothing with it but keep the item for capital gain, rather like a stamp collector. If that item is a heritage building then there must be some inkling on the purchasers behalf that the item has a greater value than the land value plus the brick and mortar value. That greater value is the responsibility value ……. the responsibility to maintain the heritage of the item. If the purchaser is not prepared to at least maintain the item but rather to ignore its heritage value and allow it to fall into disrepair then there should be an opportunity for the community to levee a rate for the heritage items preservation. Alternatively, the purchaser need not have purchased the item in the first place or the purchaser can sell the item to a willing party for its true heritage value. The last option, which should never be favoured should be to allow the heritage item to deteriorate to the point where it can be argued that it no longer has a value.
    My thoughts regarding the 3M site are that it should be preserved and if the owners are not willing to maintain and preserve it then they can sell it to someone who will.

  10. LoveOldBuildings says:

    I worked in the 3M Building around 1982-85. Still brings back memories

  11. Catherine says:

    I remember passing this building in the mid sixties thinking how huge and modern it was. My older sister pointed out the office she worked in on the 3rd floor. I have now worked across the road from this glorious building for the last 5 years and often enjoy a coffee on the grounds. Many of the local workers take time out there, stretch their legs and enjoy the peaceful sanctuary.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks for your comment Catherine – when I was there I did see some people from nearby offices having a stroll and thought how nice it must be to have some peaceful open space nearby.

  12. TG says:

    Did you get a look inside?

  13. Gordon Thorogood says:

    Nice story I did actually go for a job there 30 years ago, was successful and knocked it back

  14. Andy Clark says:

    It’s gone now ,such a shame

  15. David George Andrews says:

    there is a detailed heritage report ( inclusive of local historical notes) on line by John Oultram Heritage and Design

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