Saturday, 16 December 2017

Brutalism ten: Intercontinental Hotel, Sydney

This is the tenth in a series of blogposts about brutalist buildings in Sydney. The plan for this building originated after the election of the Wran Labor government in May 1976. From 1971 to 1975 the NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation – the union organising a significant cohort of workers employed on Sydney building sites – had prosecuted a series of “green bans” that had halted unfettered development undertaken to the detriment of Sydney’s built heritage under the dodgy Askin Liberal government. I wrote about the green bans in a blogpost earlier this month, and will write about them again. Under Wran, the Land and Environment Court was established, and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act passed in the NSW Parliament. So the Intercontinental Hotel was an early test case for a range of new measures designed to protect built heritage in the state. 

In a minute paper from the deputy city planner to the town clerk dated 9 February 1981:
Mr John Morris, Director of the National Trust, wrote to the Lord Mayor on 29th January, 1981, requesting him to meet with members of the Trust to discuss the proposed hotel.
The minute paper went on to complain that plans for the proposed building had not yet been seen by the council and that it had contacted both the architects and the NSW Department of Environment and Planning in order to secure copies of them.

In a report the city planning department noted that the development application (DA) had been received on 4 March 1981. The “description of premises and present use” section says:
The site is occupied by the “Treasury Buildings”, consisting of part two-storey with basement and part three-storey sandstone colonial buildings with various small structures at the rear, occupying a site approximately 4,000 square metres in area with frontages of 57 metres to Macquarie Street, 68 metres to bridge Street and 66 metres to Phillip Street.

At the top of the frame in the photo above you can see the Treasury Building on the corner of Macquarie and Bridge streets, and the property belonging to the Public Transport Commission below and to the right of it, with cars parked diagonally in it. The two pieces of land were combined to enable the new development to go ahead. (This photo was taken from a vantage point in the AMP Building at Circular Quay, and the recently-completed tower of 50 Bridge Street is visible to the right of the frame.) 

The above photo was taken at the time of the DA assessment process and shows the Treasury Building before the development took place. This photo was taken from the Royal Botanic Gardens to the east across Macquarie Street. In the background you can see 50 Bridge Street in its completed state.

The above image shows the Treasury Building at the corner of Macquarie and Bridge streets, with the recently-completed AMP Building (on Circular Quay) visible in the background. The central core of 50 Bridge Street is also starting to appear at the left in this photo.

The drawinga above, titled “Proposed lease to Intercontinental Hotel”, shows the subject site at the right, on the Bridge Street frontage, as well as other buildings on Phillip Street, Albert Street (toward the Quay) and Macquarie Street.

The above image most clearly shows the site for the proposed hotel, with the word “Yard” visibly written in the drawing fronting Phillip Street.

The above drawing shows where the site is located in relation to landmarks including the Royal Botanic Gardens, where Farm Cove is, and the Opera House, on Bennelong Point.

The city planning department’s report also notes the developer’s intention to spend $45,000,000 to build the new hotel.

From a minute by the town clerk dated 15 June 1981:
The site is covered by [Interim Development Order] No. 37 which the N.S.W. State Government removed from the Planning Control of this Council. Whilst Council’s views have been sought, the application does not require the Council’s approval. 
The proposal has been well canvassed in the major press and as a result of such, the original “L” shaped proposal has been modified to comply with expert and lay views expressed through the media. The Architects for the proposal are also in consultation with the National Trust of N.S.W. which has expressed opposition to the proposal. 
The reality of the matter is that the State Government is known to strongly favour the proposal and this Council should undertake to resolve its views on any aspects it would like considered or incorporated in the development at the meeting of the Planning and Development Committee on Monday, 6th July, 1981.
A telegram from the lord mayor, Douglas William Sutherland, to the town clerk, stamped 18 June 1981, says:
From a letter from the National Trust dated 24 June 1981 to the town clerk:
The Trust has considered the amended proposals for this building and on the advice of its Architectural Advisory Panel still considers the basic objections stated in its letter of 30th March 1981 remain. 
The rectangular tower is possible [sic] marginally less offensive than the previous L-shaped tower but any benefit so achieved would appear to be offset by the unfortunate scale of the elevations particularly that of the eastern façade. 
As I mentioned earlier the modifications are considered basically insignificant and the Trust would ask to continue to he considered as an objector to the scheme.
The state government’s influential Height of Buildings Advisory Committee wrote to the town clerk on 3 July 1981 with the news that the minister “has now concurred in the proposed development generally in accordance with the amended plans submitted identified as Scheme B2-SK 30 to 37 (May ’81) and subject to the final working drawings … being submitted to the Height of Buildings Advisory Committee prior to the carrying out of the development”.

A council decision dated 13 July 1981 was in favour of a proposal submitted by Kann, Finch & Partners (N.S.W.) Pty Ltd with the authority of the NSW government for permission to erect a multi-storeyed hotel building incorporating the existing Treasury Buildings. The new building would comprise five levels below Macquarie Street, a ground floor and 31 upper floors containing 549 suites, function areas, health club, staff facilities, loading docks and car parking facilities for 130 cars. Council referred the DA to the Department of Environment and Planning with the advice that, subject to the concurrence of the Height of Buildings Advisory Committee, council favoured the proposal with conditions.

However, an environmental impact statement (EIS) made by the city council dated 3 July 1981 for the DA – “Intercontinental Hotel with 610 guest rooms in a 32 storey building” – concluded:
The deveopment [sic] of a 32-storey building containing an international hotel is considered to be an overdevelopment of the site. The close location of tall office buildings means that the proposal is not well accommodated within the site. 
The proposal will destroy the historic nature of this area of Macquarie Street and will also contribute to a “wall of buildings” effect on the City’s skyline when viewed from the harbour and the park complex along the eastern side of the City centre. 
Accordingly, it is concluded that the development proposed by D.A. 44-81-[01]75 is UNACCEPTABLE.
The EIS summary says:
The subject of this report is a proposal to construct a 32-storey international hotel on the site of the State Treasury Building. The site is bounded by Macquarie Street, Bridge Street and Phillip Street. 
The lower levels of the hotel make use of the historic Treasury building by incorporating it into the foyers and entry ways of the hotel. The hotel will contain 610 guest rooms and provide car parking for 130 cars. The proposal has a [floor-space-ratio, or FSR] of 9.3:1. The proposal conforms with the current planning policies and controls applicable. 
The N.S.W. Heritage Council, the Royal Institute of Architects and the National Trust have all supplied written objections to the State Government regarding the proposal. The main points of the objections are as follows:-
  • That the hotel is unrelated to the Old Treasury Buildings in form or in scale;
  • The tower block being directly north of the original Colonial Secretary’s building and other historic buildings, will cast shadows over these and most of this part of Bridge Street;
  • The tower is too close to Macquarie Street;
  • And the proposal would destroy a valuable precinct of historic buildings.
There is also in the DA folder a letter dated 15 July 1981 from a member of the public named S.R.B. France addressed to the lord mayor:
I write to protest in the strongest terms at the Sydney City Council’s approval of the construction of an Intercontinental Hotel incorporating the Colonial Treasury Building. 
The great disservice your Council will be doing the City of Sydney if this project is completed will be only to [sic] apparent to future generations of Sydney dwellers and visitors to this city. 
Please reverse the development approval and pay heed to the advice submitted by such bodies as the National Trust and the Heritage council [sic], whose interests are dedicated to seeing the city improved and not defaced.
From a letter from the National Trust to Terry Sheahan, the acting NSW minister for planning and development, dated 23 July 1981:
I refer to the Trust’s letter to the Honorable Eric Bedford, dated 9th February 1981 and to Mr. Bedford’s reply thereto dated 13th March. 
The Trust understands that the matter has been before the Sydney City Council and has now been referred to you to determine pursuant to Section 101 of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act. 
The Trust has in its earlier correspondence both with Mr. Bedford and the Sydney City Council requested that a hearing be conducted. I would be grateful it you could advise the trust as an objector under Section 101 (4) of the Act, as a matter of urgency, if you are prepared to hold such a hearing. If you are not prepared so to do would you please advise the Trust on what basis you have reached this decision. 
If you are not prepared to afford the opportunity of such a hearing I would be grateful if you would indicate how you propose to deal with the application.
On 24 July 1981, the Trust’s solicitors, Allen Allen & Hemsley wrote to Sheahan (copying the town clerk):
We understand that the development application lodged with Sydney City Council by Apsley Park Hotel Company Limited for a proposed hotel has been referred to you for decision, apparently under s.101 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979. 
Our client has written to both the Sydney Council and to you objecting to the development and requesting a public inquiry: a copy of each of the relevant letters from our client is enclosed (dated 24 June, 1981 and 23 July, 1981, respectively). 
We are instructed to request you to commission a public inquiry into this development application. If this matter is determined by you without an inquiry we are instructed to initiate proceedings against you.
The lawyers subpoenaed documents from the city council on 21 August 1981. In a minute paper dated 1 December 1982, the city solicitor forwarded to the town clerk the judgement of Cripps J. of the Land and Environment Court. The minute paper reads, in part:
I forward herewith a copy of the Judgement given by Cripps J. in the Land and Environment Court in the matter of The National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) v. The Minister Administering The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979, and Kann Finch & Partners (NSW) Pty. Limited. 
Kann Finch & Partners (NSW) Pty. Limited had submitted a Development Application seeking permission to erect a multi-storey building on the northern and western frontages of land bounded by Macquarie, Bridge & Phillip Streets, Sydney, and to connect this building with the ground, first and second floors of the building known as the “Treasury Buildings” and to use the whole complex as an international hotel. The Development Application was referred by Council to the Department of Environment and Planning in accordance with a direction which had been given pursuant to Section 342V(3) of the Local Government Act, 1919, directing certain classes of Development Applications to be referred to the former Planning and Environment Commission. By virtue of Clause 8 of Schedule 3 to the Miscellaneous Acts (Planning) Repeals and Amendment Act, 1979, such a Direction was deemed to be a reference to the Minister pursuant to Section 101 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979. The National Trust, claiming to be an objector, applied to the Minister to hold a public inquiry in accordance with Section 101(4). The Minister did not accede to this request but proceeded to grant development consent to the proposed development subject to a large number of conditions. The National Trust applied to the Court by way of Class 4 proceedings seeking certain declarations and orders, the general effect of which, if granted, would be to declare the consent granted by the Minister void and of no effect. The substantive grounds on which the National Trust relied were as follows:-
  1. The development application was not in law a development application complying with Section 77 of the EP & A Act because the “owner” had not consented in writing;
  2. That the development application was not an application which ought to have been referred in accordance with the direction issued pursuant to Section 342V(3);
  3. That there was an obligation on the Minister to afford the National Trust the status of an objector within the meaning of Section 101(3) of the EP & A Act and to hold a public enquiry; and 
  4. The consent purported to have been granted by the Minister was invalid because conditions 30 and 31 were beyond his power to impose and were not severable.
In the end, the court found against the National Trust. In respect of item 1, above, Cripps J. said in his judgement:
It is clear … that by December 1979, at the latest, the Premier of New South Wales was aware of the proposed development, knew part of the land was Crown Land and was seeking the cooperation of the Minister for Transport for the development of the site. In December 1979 the Premier wrote a letter to the Minister for Transport containing the following paragraphs: 
“Intercontinental are aware that three of the buildings on the site are classified – the old Treasury Building, the old Health Department building and the Police Station and Traffic Courts complex. Their intention would be to utilise the remaining area for hotel and car-parking purposes (approximately 4,400 square metres). This is the area indicated on the attached diagram. This would involve the demolition of the existing Public Transport Commission Building. 
"The present site is considerably underutilised at the present time particularly considering its prime location. I understand that a proposal for redeveloping the site was considered with the Public Transport Commission in 1974 although it was not proceeded with at that time. 
“Title to most of the land in question was transferred to the Public Transport Commission in 1978. Therefore I would appreciate your views on this land being utilised for these purposes. I appreciate that this proposal would involve the provision of alternative accommodation for the P.T.C. employees presently accommodated on the site.”
As for item 3 above, the judge found that the National Trust could not be classed as an “objector”. I won’t go into the arguments for this and other parts of the judgement; those interested in the finer details of the ruling can refer to the public records for the case in question, which are available online on

The drawing above shows how the hotel’s new dormitory tower fits into the old 19th century buildings on the ground and lower floors. The Bridge Street boundary is marked on the right-hand side of the drawing.

A stray detail of the deal was that the developer paid $1 million toward the city council’s Public Housing Trust Fund. From a letter dated 9 July 1981 sent by Management Contractors (U.K. and Overseas) Ltd to the town clerk:
I confirm on behalf of Apsley Park Hotel Company Limited that such a project is unusually labour intensive and that in addition to the exceptional employment opportunities created by construction, fitting-out and furnishing there will be the requirement for over 500 permanent hotel staff on completion.  
We appreciate the need for additional housing within the City in order to accommodate the workforce for projects such as ours (as evidenced by your Council’s Public Housing Trust Fund) and for the provision of open space and the related costs to be borne by Council. 
Acting on behalf of Aspley we are agreeable to remitting $1 million to the Council upon the opening of the hotel following the issue of the 317A certificate of completion of the building. 
Labour relations are considered to be of paramount importance therefore we valued the suggestions of Alderman Reeves in this regard and look forward to meeting the leaders in this field as the result of your initiative.
I’m not sure if there have ever been 500 employees staffing the hotel at any one time, but the intention of the city council is important to note these days, when the cost of living close to CBD workplaces purportedly exercises the best minds in the state government.

The above photo taken recently on Bridge Street outside the Museum of Sydney shows the hotel in the centre of the site rising up above the 19th century façade on the street frontage. Rising up on the left-hand side in the frame is 50 Bridge Street, which is owned by AMP, and which will soon be demolished to make way for a new building.

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