Earlier this month I was invited to be involved in this year’s Sydney Open. In case you missed it, I photographed the Newington Armory Gun Powder Magazine to help promote the all-new After Dark Tours. I, along with hundreds of other Sydneysiders then made a day of it and crammed as many of Sydney’s most interesting buildings as I could into the First Sunday of November. Here are some photos of some of the places I visited for Sydney Open. Special thanks again to Sydney Open and Sydney Living Museums for having me on board.
Located in Circular Quay at the gateway to Sydney’s CBD, 33 Alfred Street has been a prominent feature on the Sydney skyline for more than 50 years and remains the home and headquarters of AMP (the Australian Mutual Provident Society) to this day.
Opened in 1962, the AMP ‘Sydney Cove’ Building, designed by Peddle Thorp & Walker (now PTW Architects), was Sydney’s first to break the city’s 150-foot (46-metre) height limit, imposed from 1912. At 117 metres, it was Australia’s tallest building, almost double the height of anything else in Sydney at the time. It is also considered of state heritage significance.
But the building courted controversy for more than just its scale; its postwar International style was unlike anything Sydney had seen before. The twin crescent towers soared 26 storeys, linked centrally into an H-shape and set free from their podium. They symbolised an emergent new culture, that was dispensing with traditional ties. An observation deck on the top floor was open to the public, offering Sydneysiders and visitors views of the city and harbour from a never-before-seen angle.
Aluminium and glass curtain walling was used to capture magnificent harbour and district views. It was also one of the first buildings to use seawater air conditioning, requiring an onsite ‘frogman’ to maintain its water-intake pump house.
Part of this new building language was the use of public art. A Tom Bass sculpture on the western facade depicts the Goddess of Plenty watching over a family, to invoke AMP’s founding principle: ‘Amicus certus in re incerta’ (a true friend in uncertain times).
Behind this Sydney Cove treasure, AMP Capital will be transforming the precinct where 50 Bridge Street currently stands. The new Quay Quarter Tower, designed by Danish architects 3XN, represents the first major project in Sydney designed by a Danish architect since Jørn Utzon designed the Sydney Opera House in the 1950s.
A Development Application (DA) has been received to revitalise the AMP Building, with the sensitive renewal of the building’s facades, reinstatement of lost building features, refurbishing internal spaces and significant improvement to the environmental performance of the building to bring it in line with premium commercial office standards.
It follows two years of consultation and will restore the building to its rightful status as a premium-grade office tower in keeping with its history, and its prominent place at Circular Quay.
One of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Sydney, complete with towers and castellation, Government House Sydney is the official residence and office of Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC, 39th Governor of New South Wales, and Mr Dennis Wilson.
The building was designed in England by Edward Blore (architect to William IV and Queen Victoria), modified by Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis to suit its Sydney location, and constructed between 1836 and 1845.
Over the years the building has been extended, refurbished and modernised to suit the tastes and needs of successive governors. Visitors will be able to view the restored grand historic interiors, replete with exquisite hand-stencilled original ceilings. The House also showcases a significant collection of portraits, furniture, decorative arts and gubernatorial (governor-related) memorabilia, many produced in NSW and of heritage significance.
Government House Sydney is a busy ‘working House’, which is host to many vice-regal and charitable events, royal visitors and state functions during the year. Set in a beautiful landscaped garden, with views over Farm Cove and the harbour and an unusual perspective of the Sydney Opera House, visitors are warmly invited to view the State House of New South Wales.
Chief Secretary’s Building
From its imposing position facing Government House in Macquarie Street to the exquisite detail of its sandstone colonnaded facade, the Chief Secretary’s Building is, by design, a symbol of power and politics. Completed in 1881, it was designed in the Victorian Free Classical Style by Colonial Architect James Barnet for the Colonial Secretary – the most senior official in the colony after the Governor and Chief Magistrate. Within a decade it was expanded by Barnet’s successor, Walter Liberty Vernon, who added an elaborate attic and dome in French Renaissance style and a six-storey wing along Phillip Street – much to Barnet’s horror.
Advising on the building’s statuary, paintings, decorative arts and furnishings was Henry Parkes, an early Colonial Secretary, keen to ensure they were of a calibre befitting the aspirations of the colony. Indeed they were. The Colonial Secretary’s offices and Executive Council Chamber played a pivotal role in Australia’s formation as the main Sydney venues for the political congresses leading to Federation in 1901.
The Chief Secretary’s Building served as the seat of government administration for 120 years, and following a refurbishment, today houses a variety of tenants including the Justice Department of NSW and the NSW Industrial Relations Commission. Heritage-listed as a building of both state and national cultural significance, it falls within the group of early buildings on Macquarie Street collectively called ‘a poem in stone’.
Among its treasures are the heraldic crest above the main entry, and the regal figures placed (in 1884) in each of the three foyers. Parkes had commissioned Italian sculptor Giovanni Fontana to carve three imposing statues in marble, representing Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, and an allegorical figure called New South Wales – crowned with a wreath of waratah, nature’s bounty at her feet, symbolising (in Parkes’s view) NSW as the ‘mother of the Australian colonies’.
STATE LIBRARY OF NSW
The State Library of NSW is the oldest library in Australia. It started out as a small subscription library in Pitt Street in 1826 for colonials who were desperate to read books. From these early beginnings it became the world class, global library it is today.
In 1869 the NSW Government purchased the library, then located on the corner of Bent and Macquarie streets, to form the Sydney Free Public Library, the first truly public library for the people of NSW.
In 1898 David Scott Mitchell promised to bequeath the NSW Government his extraordinary collections of Australian books and art (40,000 items), on the proviso that a new building was constructed to house them. Designed by the NSW Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon, the Mitchell Library was opened in 1910 on the corner of Macquarie Street and Shakespeare Place. Sadly, DS Mitchell died before the building was completed.
In 1919 another benefactor, Sir William Dixson, offered the Library an extensive collection of historical paintings. The Dixson Wing, completed in 1929, was added to the south side of the Mitchell Wing to provide storage and gallery space for Dixson’s collection.
To rationalise the Library’s growing collections, the building was again extended in 1942. Cobden Parkes, the NSW Government Architect from 1935 to 1958, added the portico, the ornate vestibule with its reproduction of the Tasman Map in marble mosaic, and the main reading room. The name was changed to the Public Library of New South Wales.
In 1964 the Domain Wing was added to the southeast corner, and in 1975 the name changed again to the State Library of NSW. A final round of changes saw the Macquarie Wing addition in 1988 by Government Architect Andrew Andersons, bringing a new reading room (now the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room), as well as upgrades to the public space and amenity.
Visitors should keep an eye out for the statues of Matthew Flinders and his faithful cat Trim, located outside the Library on the Macquarie Street forecourt.
The Mitchell Building has recently undergone a remarkable transformation. Heritage areas never before open to the public have been reimagined with beautiful new galleries, a learning centre and casual seating. Six new exhibitions stretch across the entire first floor of the Mitchell Building, including an impressive salon hang of over 300 paintings on permanent display for the first time.
The Mitchell Building has been a prominent Sydney icon since 1910, so improving public access to it while respecting its heritage features remains a priority for the Library. The building project uncovered some lovely heritage elements which have become features in the new spaces. Beautiful arch windows now provide previously unseen views onto The Domain. Ornate 1940s wooden doors removed from the Level 1 northern corridor of the Mitchell have been repurposed, and will now open up into the Michael Crouch Room.
50 MARTIN PLACE
When 50 Martin Place opened in 1928 as head office for the Government Savings Bank of NSW, it was the city’s tallest, most expensive building with the world’s largest banking chamber. It has since been transformed as the global headquarters of Macquarie Group.
From the street, the building’s Beaux-Arts facade showcases a solid red granite base, topped with four Ionic columns and pilasters, clad in pink-glazed ceramic tiles. Twelve storeys in height, it was crowned originally with a two-storey attic and, intriguingly, a rooftop rifle range.
At ground level, the grand hall and banking chamber are lavishly detailed in the Neoclassical style, featuring marble and scagliola – a form of plaster – on massive stylised columns. The award-winning adaptive re-use of the building in 2014 under a team led by Johnson Pilton Walker (JPW) sees old and new beautifully enmeshed.
Inside the atrium are two futuristic circular glass lifts. An extraordinary eight-storey-high installation by artist Nike Savvas, Colours are the country, can be seen during the lift journey. Straddling the atrium is a new steel-framed glass dome, designed as a fifth facade to be seen from neighbouring buildings as a shimmering lantern.
The refurbishment of 50 Martin Place won a string of awards, including the 2015 Harry Seidler Award for Commercial Architecture and Best Adaptive Re-use from the Urban Design Institute of Australia. It is also Australia’s largest heritage building to be given a Six Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.
SYDNEY MASONIC CENTRE
The Masonic Centre, on Castlereagh Street, is one of Sydney’s most enigmatic pieces of architecture. Its mystique lies not just in its imposing concrete form straddling Goulburn and Castlereagh Streets, nor in the 24-storey Civic Tower that seems poised above the podium on a pinhead. It is because these two dramatically interlocking elements were built some 30 years apart.
Architects Joseland & Gilling designed both podium and tower in the early 1970s, as headquarters for the United Grand Lodge of NSW and the ACT of Ancient, Free and Accepted Freemasons. But from 1974 to 1979, only the podium was erected.
Decades later, the air space above the podium was sold to a developer, along with plans for a glass curtain-wall tower. The new owner saw beauty in the original plans, as did PTW Architects, who completed the tower faithfully to the former design, while giving it a new defining feature — that precarious balancing act. The illusion made Civic Tower Australia’s first building to be fully supported on a central lift core, without perimeter columns extending down to footings.
During the tower addition, the podium was also amended at street level with a geometric awning of suspended glass, which tempers the elements while leaving the structure visible.
SYDNEY TOWN HALL
Sydney Town Hall has been the seat of the city’s administration and the Lord Mayor’s office for over 120 years. It is also the public stage for civic celebration and entertainment and a meeting point for the people of Sydney and its visitors.
Built on the site of Sydney’s first European cemetery, Sydney Town Hall is a striking blend Neo-Classical revival and French Second Empire architecture and the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, with its mansard roofs and wrought-iron cresting.
The design is derived from a competition-winning entry by architect John Henry Willson, interpreted and embellished by successive architects and engineers. Willson did not live to see its first stage completed (1880), leaving city architect Albert Bond to be credited with its execution. Despite its name, the main (Centennial) hall wasn’t completed until 1889. Mostly the work of architect George McRae, it features the first large Wunderlich (pressed zinc) ceiling in Sydney and the largest pipe organ in the Southern Hemisphere.
Sydney Town Hall is linked to an office building, Town Hall House, which houses City of Sydney staff. Designed by Ancher Mortlock and Woolley, the building opened in 1977. In sharp contrast to the ornamented Town Hall, this modern concrete office building with its striking repetitive angular geometry has been identified as an important local example of Brutalist architecture. As the last project before his death in 2015, architect Ken Woolley provided advice to company Smart Design Studio, who refurbished the public areas of Town Hall House.
THE BUSHELLS BUILDING
The Bushells Building was built in 1924 as a seven-storey factory for Bushells Tea and designed by the prominent Sydney architecture firm Ross and Rowe. The factory housed innovative new tea-blending, packing and dispatch methods under one roof. It has local historical associations as its location in The Rocks provides evidence of the working history of the area.
The offices of HAVAS will be open to the public, and offer two perspectives. One is a journey through time to learn about the history of Bushells interpreted through the original equipment used by the factory. Alongside this is the intelligent re-use of the building as a commercial home to a modern innovative communications company. Visitors will be able to access three levels of the building to view the original timber structure, tea extractors, packing slides and lift shafts. The top floor still retains evidence of where the official tea tasting was done!