After two years of construction and many more years of negotiations, the transformation of St Margaret’s Hospital into an urban village precinct is almost complete.

The Bourke Street site is set to become new retail, gallery and open space as well as housing hundreds of residents.

Alba, the most prominent of the four apartment buildings housing a combined total of 214 apartments, was opened to a small group of media and local identities this week.

The Alba building is a refurbishment of the original maternity hospital. While the building’s curved windows and original spiral staircase echo to the past, the SJB-designed interiors of the apartments are masculine, modern and stark in design. Most of Alba faces north, with the upper apartments featuring almost 360 degree views across Sydney.

About 300,000 Sydneysiders were born at St Margaret’s between 1951 and 1998, when the site was sold to developers.

Also on the St Margaret’s site is the new Object Gallery’s Australian Centre for Craft and Design, which will be housed in the other original building to be incorporated into the precinct, the Ken Woolley-designed circular chapel.

Woolley designed the chapel in 1955 when he was aged 22. The Object Gallery makeover was designed by Sydney architect Sam Marshall, who has removed most of the chapel-related interior and added a wall to increase the gallery’s exhibition space.

Both of the heritage buildings are strong forms, SJB Architects director Adam Haddow said.

From the expressive post-war horizontally banded public building of Alba to the circular introspective nature of Ken Woolley’s Chapel our design approach has been to reflect and build upon these conditions.

The first residents are due to move into Alba in the coming months. Two other buildings on the site, Ivy and Henry, will follow. The apartments in the fourth building, Jasper, have not been offered for sale and the 86-apartment building will operate as rental accommodation. Ivy, Henry and Jasper were designed to be modern complements to the site’s two heritage landmarks.

The development is being sold as an urban village, offering something for the wider Surry Hills community as well as the St Margaret’s residents. More than 2,200 square metres of north-facing open space will open the site up to the public, and 3,000 metres of retail and commercial space will be rented in 2004. Some apartments are available for sale and range in price from $450,000 to $4.9 million.

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