When Stanmore’s legendary Olympia Milk Bar was forced to close due to safety and structural concerns, many locals despaired. The ramshackle shop, run by reclusive owner Nicholas Fotiou, was regarded as one of Sydney’s oldest milk bars – it even retained its original shopfront signage, including its “Smokes and Sweets” awning sign from the 1930s. Set on a busy stretch of Parramatta Road, it was something of a time capsule.

At a new exhibition at the Australia Design Centre, the famous shop has been immortalised – in miniature form.

Urban Decay: Joshua Smith features 1:20 scale intricately crafted, mini replicas of overlooked buildings in Sydney by artist Joshua Smith. As well as the Olympia Milk Bar, he’s recreated the facades of the Karim Building on Wentworth Street on the city fringe, and the Chinese Ginseng and Herb Co shop in Haymarket. Using a mixture of medium-density fibreboard, cardboard and plastic, Smith has also included Lilliputian versions of row of shops in a street in Adelaide, his home town, and a bodega in Brooklyn, New York.

The exhibition is an exploration of urban grime and graffiti, dust and decay, but it also invites viewers to see the beauty in these crumbling buildings. “Our abandoned derelict buildings have such a story to tell – people walk past them without a second thought. I want to capture [the buildings’] history and heritage and stories, and give more of a focus to things that [people would ignore],” Smith told Broadsheet.

Adelaide-based Smith didn’t visit the Sydney venues he reproduced before constructing his tiny versions. Instead, he relied on supplied photos and images from Google maps. Now he’s seen the ginseng shop and the Karim Building in real life and says, after working intricately on a building for two or three weeks, it’s “bizarre” to see a building in real life.

Smith’s exhibition has been supported by City of Sydney and the NSW Architects Registration Board. In an official statement, Dr Deborah Dearing, president of the board said, “Architecture is so much more than just physical materials – our buildings bear the imprint of past lives which make them so much a part of our social and cultural heritage too. Joshua Smith has taken buildings we might regard as non-descript and elevated them to art pieces – bringing into focus our own history, told in a new way through buildings.”

Urban Decay: Joshua Smith is on display at the Australian Design Centre, 101–115 William Street, Darlinghurst, until September 26. He will also be holding two masterclasses on miniature art in September.