The archive of power : Drawings and Wangi Power Station


The power station at Wangi Wangi, located on the edge of Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, is one of the largest and most ambitious pieces of architectural infrastructure in Australia’s post-war history and marks a key shift in approaches to both power production and industrialisation. Built across a decade of construction at the culmination of the Second World War, the power station was the result of a drawn archive of over 8000 architectural drawings, which meticulously document every element and fragment of the building: its siting, its detailing, the machinery and its eventual operation and connection with the state’s electrical grid. The intensive and technical nature of the project, which required over 1000 workers to complete, dramatically transformed the landscape of both Wangi, NSW and the nation. In 1985, Wangi Power Station was decommissioned, in part due to the completion of nearby Eraring Power Station, which offered significantly greater productivity and efficiency than the older plant. In the period since its closure, Wangi Power Station has become a site of ongoing dereliction and decay. In the 1990s, most of the station’s machinery was documented and removed and the shell of the building was progressively layered with a tapestry of graffiti and vandalism, which has continued up to today. These twin archives—the “constructive” and the “deconstructive” one— record two very different, but related cycles of industrialization: in the first, a mass mobilization of infrastructure, labour and technical innovation in the post-war period; and, in the second, cycles of social change, subculture and infrastructural obsolescence. Across these cycles, the imposing brick structure of the power station itself has faithfully recorded the delicate subcultures of its suburb and wider region, as well as signifying the economic cycles of capitalism which first catalysed and then ultimately condemned the building’s existence. As Achille Mbembe has argued, any archive is always both an epistemological and an architectural enterprise, in which the preservation and construction of knowledge about the past remains inextricable from the spatiality of its presentation. The discussion pursued in this paper therefore attends to Wangi Power Station as an archive that can reveal specific insights into a much broader architectural history of post-war New South Wales, as well as a more general history of Australian industrialization.


architecture, Australia, architectural history, Australian industrialization, post-war New South Wales, Wangi Power Station

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