Saturday, 2 December 2017

Brutalism nine: Hyde Park Square

This is the ninth blogpost in a series about brutalist buildings in Sydney. This post deals wtih the two buildings at 201 and 227 Elizabeth Street, one being the former T&G building and the other being the former Aetna Life building. They are located opposite Hyde Park.

Unusually for a development application (DA), the city council’s file contains a separately-bound report, which has been carefully typed out, and that details the new project.
This report briefly describes the proposed redevelopment of the whole of the block bound by Elizabeth, Castlereagh, Bathurst and Park Streets, Sydney for our clients the Australasian Temperance and General Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited and the Producers and Citizens Life Insurance Company Limited.
The report was prepared by Alexander Kann, Finch & Partners of 32-36 Martin Place with consulting architects Peddle Thorpe & Walker, who had their offices in the new AMP building at Circular Quay. While Alexander Kann, Finch & Partners worked as the main point of contact for the city council and other authorities involved in the discussions leading up to the construction, the report also notes that the architects for the P&C Tower (which would be renamed during the planning process the Aetna Life building after a company name change; US-based Aetna had bought a majority interest in P&C in 1968) were Roy Grounds & Company Ltd and Cheesman Doley Brabham & Neighbour, as joint architects.

The site was at 201-227 Elizabeth Street, 190-226 Castlereagh Street, 120-130 Bathurst Street, 37-53 Park Street, which would involve the demolition of nine buildings owned by T&G as well as eight buildings, at the Bathurst Street end of the block, owned by P&C. The report was enthusiastic about the prospects for building something meaningful in the city.
The site improvements generally are proposed to be completely demolished to permit reconstruction and a feature of the design will be to integrate the two sites so that although they remain under two separate ownerships, an ideal environment will be created for the various functions to be incorporated in the scheme. 
A major factor in considering the design of the proposed T. & G. Building and the proposed P. & C. Building arises out of the mutual desire of all concerned to achieve a solution which will provide not only the ideal environment from the Societies’ point of view, but also the ideal environment from the civic point of view.

The above drawing in the DA file shows the locations of the two proposed buildings on the city block.

The report notes that the DA was the second to have been submitted for approval, after the first had expired. The new DA “incorporates both ownerships in order to achieve maximum benefit with a common plan of development and the ideal from a community viewpoint with the integrated layout at and below ground level”. The motion to approve the DA was carried by council on 5 April 1971.

The DA proposes excavating the whole site to provide three basement levels, the two lowest of which would be for car parking, with 250 spaces under the T&G building and 64 spaces under the P&C building. The original plan specified the driveways being parallel to Castlereagh Street, and the footpaths brought inside the site boundary “to avoid their crossing both in and outgoing traffic routes”. This part of the design ended up taking a long time to finalise, partly because of the difficulty brought to bear on the plans by public utilities, such as water mains, which had to be significantly altered in order to accommodate the new driveways. The architects also didn’t want to position the ramps on opposite sides of the open space between the two buildings as it would provide “a ‘moat’ effect and visual separation of the Plaza and public areas from the footways and the public at large”. The solution the architects ended up with, in consultation with the city planner, J.J. Doran, the important Heights of Buildings Committee of the state government, and the Police Traffic Branch, places both ramps in Castlereagh Street.

The architects also secured a higher floor space ratio of 12:1 by providing for pedestrian movement, light and ventilation. To qualify for the greater FSR, a 15-foot plaza was incorporated in the design around the perimeter of the site at footway level.

The architect’s report also notes that:
All vehicles providing service to the buildings would be encouraged to enter the basement areas to be dealt with at goods loading areas (with goods hoists) to avoid, and if possible eliminate, the necessity for any kerbside parking.
The shopping arcade on the first basement level would connect with Museum station via a tunnel under Elizabeth Street. A second tunnel, connecting the site with the other side of Park Street, to the north, was also discussed, (although it never eventuated).
This through route for pedestrian traffic provides a substantial contribution to civic amenity and public safety and we commend the proposal to the [State Planning] Authority for their approval.
Another tunnel, under Castlereagh Street, to end up at the colonnaded area of the Park Regis, was also discussed but never eventuated. The city planner and the city engineer consulted with the controller of parks to decide on the final design of the tunnel entrance in Hyde Park. It appears that an entrance to the tunnel was planned to be built “immediately east of the Bathurst Street Obelisk”, but this plan seems to have fallen through and the entrance ended up going in just south of the obelisk. The Department of Railways had further agreed to demolish the Goulburn Street entrance to Museum station.

The controller of parks sent a note to the town clerk on 27 July 1973:
The Minute and comments by the City Planner on the Hyde Park Square Pedestrian Underpass have been noted. 
It is reported that funds are not available in this Department’s current Revenue Estimates and no provision has been made for expenditure in the draft estimates for 1974, as this type of work would be normally charged to capital.
The report is enthusiastic about the shopping arcade:
Above the car parking decks a shopping mall is indicated, and the whole of the space at this level is devoted to retail facilities and public movement. 
The shopping or retail areas are designed to provide a “balanced” facility to the community with a good cross section of retail facilities, which, it is hoped, will cater for the lack of service shopping created by the growth of the many large buildings in the city. The extensive open spaces will themselves be landscaped and planted, they will be provided with fountains and seating, all with the intention of giving to the general public a pleasant atmosphere in which to shop or stroll and with shelter from the hot sun or winds. The Plaza at ground level is integrated with the shopping levels below and provides a maximum of open space between the two buildings.
The T&G building would be designed in two parts. One section of the building, comprising the lower six floors, would house the offices of dentists currently using space in the existing buildings, and also dentists “from other buildings being demolished in the city”.
The Dental Section of the building is completely self-contained and is provided with lifts solely for the use of its tenants and their patients. These lifts serve the shopping level (in addition to the escalators) as well as the car parking floors, but do not proceed above the sixth (6th) level. 
The remaining 32 occupied floors have been planned with two rises of lifts, all as shown on the plans and with plant areas provided at the appropriate levels to cater for lift machinery and air conditioning equipment.
T&G made plans to enable the dentists operating in the existing building on the site to continue their practices undisturbed while the “low rise section” of the new building was completed. They were then moved into the new building while it was still under construction, so that the old building could be demolished.

The total cost of the entire development was estimated at $25 million. Dillingham Constructions Pty Ltd was contracted to prepare the site but Ford Excavations Pty Ltd, of 28 Stanley Street, Peakhurst, also worked on the site. A noise complaint emerged:
On the 29th February, 1972, Mrs. Jeanette Simpson, Unit 321 Park Regis rang to complain of work being carried out at this site up to 11.00 p.m. the previous night. 
Upon investigation I was informed by Mr. Mills of Mills and Broadhead Pty. Ltd., who are demolishing the premises, that not any demolition work was carried out the previous night but that this company did remove demolished material from the site[. W]hen Mr. Mills was advised that not any work could be carried out beyond the approved hours with Council’s consent he stated that he would immediately instruct his workmen to this effect. 
On the 1st march, 1972, Mrs. Simpson again rang to complain of jack hammers operating at 6.00 a.m. that morning. Mr. Mills was again interviewed and he was very upset to know that his instructions had been disregarded. He stated that when he arrived on the site at 6.50 a.m. that morning he found that two new Australians had commenced work without his authority and in consequence he felt that he was not responsible for the noise. He further stated that he immediately stopped the compressor and sacked the two workmen involved. 
There have been no further complaints of noise emanating from this site and Mrs. Simpson has confirmed that she has no further reason for complaint. 
In view of Mr. Mills obvious attempt to carry out work within the specified hours further action was not taken.
Thomas Anderson & Partners, consulting engineers, made mechanical drawings for the T&G building. Concrete Constructions (N.S.W.) Limited was also employed. In a letter to council from the company, a request was made to extend the permissible working hours for the site:
We have been contracted for construct for Producers Properties a new building on the corners of Bathurst, Elizabeth and Castlereagh Streets, Sydney. 
We understand that your approval for construction of the works included a restriction of working hours applied to buildings approved after June 30th, 1969. 
We appeal to your Council for dispensation of these limitations. The nature of the work involves some complex load bearing precast concrete units and we envisage that we may need to transport and off load these outside of normal working hours. 
As you are probably aware the building is 27 floors and the volume of this work will span over the time needed to complete its structure. The structure itself is concrete and with this comes the problem of deliveries and planning, particularly pours. 
On this basis we ask Council to consider an extension of the working hours from 6.30 A.M. to 8.30 P.M.
It appears that permission was granted, but in a letter to the town clerk dated 22 January 1974, a project administrator for the company again asked for permission to extend the hours available to deliver materials to the site, this time on Sundays.
Further to your communication dated 17th August, 1973, Ref: 827/71:SFB, acknowledging receipt of our letter dated 14th August requesting an extension of working hours from 6.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, we also would require employing our men on some Sundays between the hours of 7.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. 
Having already commenced precast erection on site, your decision on these matters is urgently required and your early consideration of this would be greatly appreciated.

Above: The former Aetna Life building on Bathurst Street. The former T&G Building is visible behind it.

Above: The former T&G building as seen from Hyde Park near the War Memorial.

Above: The two buildings seen from Elizabeth Street, looking north.

Above: The entrance to the former T&G building on Elizabeth Street.

Above: Looking down into the shopping plaza on the first basement level.

Above: The exit from the underground parking garage on Castlereagh Street, looking north.

Above: The period wall decorations in the tunnel underneath 227 Elizabeth Street. You can also enter the lower-ground floor of the building at 231 Elizabeth Street from further down in the tunnel, using escalators.

Above: The tunnel leading under Elizabeth Street to Museum station. There is an entrance on Elizabeth Street next to Hyde Park to the tunnel and the station.

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