What helps a building stand the test of time

Article4 min11 July 2017By Angela Young

It’s a good question to ask. The enduring appeal of Harry Seidler’s Australia Square tower turned 50 this year – proof that good design has staying power.

When scanning Australian cities, it’s not difficult to pinpoint the commercial buildings that stand out for all the right reasons – they’re the landmark buildings that are also home to productive workers.

But what fundamental elements go into ensuring a building will stand the test of time?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Australia Square, one of the most famous creations of modernist Austrian-Australian architect Harry Seidler.

Australia Square is a retail and commercial complex in the centre of Sydney’s CBD that consists of two office towers, one low-rise and one high-rise, set on either side of an open plaza.  It is most celebrated for the 50-storey tower with distinctive round sides that Seidler designed to minimise any adverse impact its surroundings.

Australia Square welcomes hundreds of visitors daily, not only to work within its offices, but also to admire the architecture (it features as a case study for several architectural courses), or gather in the plaza to eat lunch or socialise after work.

Quality, distinctiveness and character are some of the features that help to prolong a property’s life

5 Martin Place, Sydney

View from an architect’s office


Futurespace architect Stephen Minnett explains what gives an office building long-lasting appeal.

He believes many of the buildings in both Sydney and Melbourne have become functionally obsolete due to small floorplates or inadequate services.

“That’s particularly true in the Sydney CBD, [which] is very constrained by the street pattern and size of available sites.”

Sydney’s Grosvenor Place, he says, is still seen as desirable because the “large, efficient floorplates make it worthwhile to continue to refurbish and occupy nearly 30 years after it was constructed”.

Similarly, 101 Collins Street in Melbourne has stood the test of time, he says, primarily due to its location and quality.

But even in a city’s centre the character of a particular location can change markedly, leading to changes in the use to which buildings are put.

For example, “the centre of the Sydney CBD in Martin Place was once the financial centre of Australia,” Minnett points out. “But increasingly the buildings in that area are being taken by tech companies including Atlassian, Facebook, WeWork, Linked-in, IRESS, Tesla, Apple,etc. They’re taking the space because of the location rather than the buildings, and in many cases are spending a lot to change the buildings to suit their requirements.”

Quality, distinctiveness and character are some of the features that help to prolong a property’s life, Minnett says, ensuring they can still be relevant to ever-changing workplace needs.

Making an old building modern


He cites Macquarie Bank’s 50 Martin Place, which he describes as having been “reinvented” to become relevant to the 21st century. There’s also its neighbour, 5 Martin Place, the ‘Money Box building’ that has been given a new lease of life through award-winning design and development by Dexus.

The ability to expose the character of older premises by stripping them back to reveal aesthetically interesting features, such as concrete floors in what seemed like a bland space, can be crucial in securing a building’s prolonged appeal.

The flexibility to add to a building’s core design in order to meet emerging trends is another crucial factor in extending a building’s life. Introducing supplementary elements to an office block – end-of-trip facilities, for example, or connecting floors vertically to enable better communication between large teams – can greatly improve the functional value to tenants. Australia Square, in fact, offers great examples of this, including Dexus’s offices in which a staircase connects three floors of workspace.

Certain aspects, of course, don’t really change over time – they’ve always been important and always will be. Access to natural light, the ability to subdivide for quality of space, plenty of light penetrating the floorplate: such things should be present in any office space hoping to stand the test of time.

Successful combinations of history and practicality, a meshing of modern features and those of a bygone era, are also pretty much guaranteed to extend a structure’s appeal and ensure its ongoing popularity, along with increasing tastes for connectivity and community facilities.

Evolving with changing trends is what keeps offices relevant, and there are several examples of this happening all over Australia’s cities. As we watch new buildings appear on our city skylines, it’s interesting to assess how our cities adapt, and which buildings will manage to hold their own in the fight for popular and commercial longevity.

Read on for more insights

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