Pages

Friday, 12 January 2018

Brutalism thirteen: Former Qantas International building

This is the 13th in a series of blogposts on brutalist architecture in Sydney. This building is now referred to as Suncorp Place and is owned by Memocorp, the company that owns the brutalist building at 1 Oxford Street, which I wrote about last year.

There are two development application (DA) files for the address 259 George Street in the city archives. One is for a 15-storey building planned to be built on the corner of George and Jamison streets that was granted council approval on 24 January 1966. In the same file, however, there is a letter dated 9 November 1966 from P.H. Morton, the minister for local government, to the town clerk, outlining a new plan for a much larger development on a significantly bigger site with the same street address. “Dear Mr. Luscombe,” the ministerial missive loftily begins:
I refer again to your letter of 31/8/66, regarding a proposal by Qantas Empire Airways Limited for the suspension under Section 342Y of the Local Government Act, 1919, of the provisions of the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme relating to the land bounded by Jamison, George, Grosvenor and Lang Streets, Sydney. 
In the light of a report submitted by The State Planning Authority of New South Wales on the proposal and the Council’s support thereof, I have now approved in principle of the suspension of the land from the provisions of the County Scheme to enable the consolidated development as envisaged by Qantas Empire Airways Limited to be carried out. 
An interim development order will be notified concurrently with the suspension which will provide for the use of the land for General Business purposes with the consent of the Council, in accordance with the draft land use tables of the City of Sydney Planning Scheme Ordinance as exhibited. Under the terms of the interim development order the Council will be designated as the responsible authority. 
The interim development order will contain a provision revoking Council’s approval (Town Clerk’s minute) 4949/65 of 13th September, 1965, to Donald Crone and Associates, Architects, on behalf of W.M. Investments Pty. Limited in respect of premises known as 259/259a/259b George Street and 34/36 Jamison Street, Sydney, and Council’s approval (Lord Mayor under delegation) of 24th January, 1966, to Donald Crone and Associates, Architects, on behalf of W.M. Investments Pty. Limited in respect of premises known as 259/259a/259b George Street and 34/36 Jamison Street, Sydney.
At the stroke of a pen, the state government overturned a decision made by the city council for a new development that had not yet been completed. Or even commenced. The site of the building that had its DA revoked backed onto Jamison Lane. The construction of this building that never went ahead was estimated to cost 725,000 pounds.

The whole city block discussed in the minister’s letter had a number of buildings on it at the time, as shown in the drawing below prepared in March 1967 by Colwell, Larcombe & Rein, registered surveyors, of 129 Pitt Street. The total area of the bigger site as described in the drawing was 94,772 square feet (8804.61 square metres).

The drawing shows Jamison Lane entering the block parallel to George Street and going along to the Union Steamship Company building at the corner of George Street and Grosvenor Street. Jamison Lane was incorporated into the site for the new building. The drawing also shows that Jamison Street was widened by 17 feet from 36 feet to 53 feet using land from the consolidated site. If you click on the image you can see a larger version of it.


A minute dated 20 June 1968 from the city engineer to the town clerk notes that Qantas “is the owner of most of the property and, it is understood, intends to purchase the remainder”. 

A minute from the city engineer’s department about a meeting held at the city engineer’s room on 15 August 1968, noted that the architect R. Gilling had said that, “Mr. J. McGregor, who owns a property on the northern side of Jamison Street, west of Jamison Lane, had said that he would not sell the property during his lifetime.”

The following properties were purchased by Qantas at the dates noted.

Wentworth Hotel
11 May 1967
Haughton House
20 February 1965
Pratten Bros.
1 June 1966
Harbottle Brown
13 May 1966
W.H. Lober
31 October 1967
Potter & Birks
17 May 1965

The drawing below shows the consolidated site with the red-marked areas to be donated to the city council. Carving out corners (called “splays”) from development sites for use in making council roads was conventional practice where large buildings were constructed on consolidated sites that had contained a greater number of smaller buildings.


The drawing below was also in the DA file, showing that there were originally two towers planned for the block in question. The tower marked in green in the drawing is the building currently under discussion, and is labelled “Stage 1”. The other tower is labelled here “Stage 2”. The two towers were referred to together as the “World Trade Centre” in RP Data’s CityScope report although there is a photo of a scale model of the Qantas International building in the DA file that is labelled “Lang Park Centre”. Other documents in the file refer to the “Qantas Centre”.


You can see Lang Park outlined to the west of the site, across Lang Street. The new building would contain the following on each floor, as described. 

Level 1
Machinery area for Qantas Computer Complex
Level 2
Qantam Phase 2, Computer Centre
Level 3
Qantam Phase 2, Computer Centre
Level 4
Car parking area
Level 5
Car park, loading and unloading area
Level 6
Booking hall
Level 7
Lift terminal floor
Level 8
Podium
Levels 9-19
11 typical floors (low rise)
Level 20
Machinery
Levels 21-33
13 typical floors (medium rise)
Level 34
Machinery
Levels 35-45
11 typical floors (high rise)
Level 46
Machinery
Level 47
Observation
Level 48
Tanks etc.

In a minute from the acting city engineer to the town clerk dated 11 November 1968 that notes the attitudes of the city building surveyor to questions contained in a letter from architects Joseland & Gilling, there is reference to the street widening.
On 19th August, 1968, Council approved in principle, inter alia, the closing of Jamison Lane, a public road within the proposed development site. This information was made known to Qantas Airways Limited and the Architects on 27th August, 1968, by the Town Clerk. 
It is now necessary for Qantas to make application to the Minister for Lands for the closing of Jamison Lane, pursuant to the provisions of Sections 19 and 20 of the Public Roads Act, 1902, and Sections 252 and 276 of the Local Government Act, 1919. 
It is suggested that the site of Jamison Lane, after closing, might be granted to Qantas under the provisions of Section 20(2)(c) of the Public Roads Act, 1902, in exchange for the areas to be dedicated by the Company for splays and widening of Jamison Street.
There is also a letter from the town clerk, L.P. Carter, to the architects dated a decade later on 8 June 1978 about the widening of George Street using land that was part of the building site. The council at this significantly later date asked for Qantas to surrender 2.135 metres of land along the street frontage on the western side of George Street from Jamison Street to Grosvenor Street. The date of this letter is of particular interest as it illustrates the duration of the construction of the Qantas International building. CityScope, produced annually by RP Data Pty Ltd, says that Dillingham contracted for construction work in 1972 for the building.

Industrial action by the Builders Labourers Federation (NSW BLF) delayed construction and the new building was not finished until 1983. CityScope notes that its cost consequently went up from an estimated $32.4 million to $124 million.

Development approval was given on 19 August 1968. The estimated cost of construction at this point in time was $18 million. The floorspace ratio of Stage 1 was 8.72:1 and of the total development 10.61:1. Completion was expected to be in 1973 “with progressive occupation by Qantas up to 1983”. At the same time, in-principle approval was given to Stage 2. The applicant said that Stage 2 would be required “soon after 1980”.

A minute from the city planner and the city engineer to the town clerk dated 3 September 1976 notes that the consent had “substantially” commenced. It also notes that Jamison House at 259 George Street was first listed by the National Trust of Australia in April 1973, “as a building of considerable interest, the preservation of which should be encouraged, then known as category ‘C’.”
The National Trust’s Register of Historic Buildings as at the 11th February, 1974, listed “Jamison House” as “recorded” which has the same identity as category “C” buildings referred to in the beforementioned paragraph. It is understood that the subject building was placed on the classified list in April, 1976.
A minute from the deputy city planner to the town clerk dated 27 May 1977 quotes from a letter from Keith Whatman Is Wrecking Pty Ltd of 187 New South Head Road, Edgecliff, dated 3 May 1977, asking for approval to do work on Sundays.
As the demolisher on the above project I have had to scale down the progress of the work because we have found it most difficult and at times a potential danger to continue with the work to remove the top portion of the building because of its location on the corner of the busy streets, George[,] Jamison and Grosvenor Streets, and the adjacent Dillingham Site, which is in operation six days a week. 
To remove some of the top parapets, beams and steel framework will possibly require the closing of the streets for short periods because of the potential danger, subject to Police approval, during normal working hours. Because of the busy location this would cause unsatisfactory and unnecessary traffic congestion. 
To overcome this problem in a considered much more sensible and essential way, it is requested that permission be granted for work to be carried out on the next four Sundays from 7.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. which will allow us to remove this dangerous section without any risk or interference to persons of the city generally.
There is a minute in the DA file from the city planner dated 21 October 1977 noting that demolition of buildings on the site at 11/17 Grosvenor Street, 1/23 Lang Street and 18/30 Jamison Street had been completed.

In the DA file there are a significant number of documents detailing a quantity of discussion held earlier than this between different parties on matters to do with “grade separation”. This involved government at two levels as well as the architects of the respective developments going on in the area at the time. 

I discussed grade separation in relation to 1 Oxford Street, which I wrote about last year. What it means is that you create separate pavement grades (or levels) for foot and vehicular traffic, for example by constructing pedestrian tunnels and bridges that remove foot traffic from places where vehicular traffic passes. To illustrate the kinds of discussions that were happening, there is a minute in the DA file from Peddle Thorpe & Walker, architects, of a meeting held at the Council of the City of Sydney on 25 October 1972:
  1. The subject for discussion was the location of the proposed pedestrian bridge over Jamison Street linking the Qantas Development with the Grosvenor/Margaret Street project.
  2. The Architects, Joseland & Gilling for the Qantas Development (currently under construction) have Council and State Planning Authority approval to provide a pedestrian link from the development’s plaza level (R.L. 87’0”) connecting with the North-East boundary of No. 17 Jamison Street.
  3. Peddle, Thorp & Walker prepared a drawing indicating what was felt to be a more practical position for the pedestrian link between the two developments. This drawing was presented for consideration to Joseland & Gilling a few days prior to the meeting.
  4. Joseland & Gilling indicated by telephone to Peddle, Thorp & Walker and the City Council that as the link had been approved by the Authorities concerned they would not be inclined to reposition it to the location indicated. Mr. Doran the Chief City Planner substantiated the fact that the Council was powerless to force the issue.
  5. In conclusion the Council requested Peddle, Thorp & Walker to show the link for development application purposes as indicated on their drawing to Joseland & Gilling. The link as shown on Joseland & Gilling’s drawings will be built when the site adjoining the Grosvenor project is developed.
The Qantas International building’s architects were more willing to give priority to requests from the City of Sydney, which had published an action plan (“Action Plan No. 3 – City Pedestrian Movement Network – Wynyard Precinct”) prepared for the council by its consultants, Urban Systems Corporation Pty Ltd. (The company prepared the city’s noteworthy 1971 Strategic Plan. Noteworthy because it was the first strategic plan produced in the council’s history.)

In a motion passed on 19 July 1971, council decided to give the plan to Qantas “and, in order that the subject block might be merged into the pedestrian network, be earnestly requested for the betterment of Sydney to incorporate in the proposed development provision for – ”
  1. A pedestrian footbridge over Jamison Street,
  2. A pedestrian footbridge over Grosvenor Street to connect to the Rocks Redevelopment Scheme,
  3. A connection between the footbridge over Lang Street and the ramp to the Mall proposed to be included in the Rocks Redevelopment Scheme.
In a motion carried by council on 20 December 1971, it was decided to thank Qantas Airways Limited and its architects and for amending the design of the proposed development to conform with the action plan. 

The bridge over Jamison Street went ahead and despite all the good intentions involved in its planning and construction it was dismantled and removed in early 2006 as part of a major refurbishment of the building. 


Above: This photo from the city archives was taken from a vantage point across Jamison Street facing the site in a north-easterly direction. It shows the pedestrian bridge over Jamison Street.


Above: This photo taken from the top of Lang Street at the corner of Jamison Street looking down the hill toward George Street shows the completed pedestrian bridge.


Above: Another view of the pedestrian bridge.

The bridge over Grosvenor Street never went ahead, nor did the bridge over Lang Street. And it was at least partly the state government’s scheme to remodel the Rocks that led to a “green ban” being placed on the Dillingham’s Qantas International building site by the NSW BLF. In an interview I conducted with her in December, the NSW BLF’s historian, Meredith Burgmann, told me that the Qantas site was very militant because a large number of organised workers were congregated there at a single location. My interview will be published soon on this blog. 

But that union strike was all still very much in the future for Qantas and its architects. Still to settle in the building’s plans were other grade separation proposals. At a meeting held at the offices of the State Planning Authority on 11 November 1968 that the architect R. Gilling also attended, Qantas Airways Limited’s A.A. Woodroof “pointed out that provisions of the Development Application included provision for a tunnel access point from Wynyard. Indicated that Qantas would be prepared to assist and contribute to provisions for such access point within their own site. Indicated, however, that previous efforts to provide pedestrian access tunnels had fallen through owing to lack of a principal co-ordinator.”
Meeting agreed that provision for pedestrian traffic was of the utmost importance and that in a situation such as this there would be no doubt that tunnels would be widely used.
The DA file contains minutes of a meeting held on 24 September 1969 involving the State Planning Authority, Lend Lease, the Department of Railways, Sydney City Council and the architects for a number of different buildings, including R. Gilling from Joseland & Gilling. In the minutes lie traces of the conversations that took place:
Mr Gilling stated that if a connection were feasible between Australia Square and Wynyard Square he felt Qantas would be interested in extending a pedestrian sub-way at R.L. 26 from the Qantas site to join Australia Square/Wynyard Square arcade.
R.H. Byrnes of the State Planning Authority also outlined a plan for a pedestrian underpass at the corner of Grosvenor, George and Bridge streets that could connect with the Qantas development. His colleague J.R. Snodgrass requested those present to examine the feasibility of the pedestrian subway from Australia Square to Wynyard Square at R.L. 29 approximately midway between Margaret and Jamison streets.

A minute by the city building surveyor to the town clerk dated 19 February 1970 refers to a letter from the State Planning Authority dated 5 February in the same year that had presented an urgent plea for action on the Wynyard-to-Australia Square tunnel:
At the request of the County of Cumberland Passenger Transport Advisory Committee, the Authority has convened a series of conferences to discuss ways and means of providing grade separated pedestrian routes between the abovementioned development sites. Those represented at the talks convened to date included Mr. R.D. Stevenson and Mr. J. Doran from the Sydney City Council. Copies of the proceedings of all meetings have been sent to Mr. Stevenson. 
The conflict of vehicles and pedestrians in the vicinity of Wynyard Station is, of course, of considerable concern. It is considered that in view of the magnitude of building development envisaged in this part of the city, it will be essential to ensure that adequate facilities are provided so that conflict between pedestrian and vehicular movement is avoided. 
It has been hoped that the block bounded by George, Margaret, York and Jamison Streets would have been comprehensively redeveloped. Provision could then be made for pedestrian arcades at approximately R.L.31 from the Wynyard Station concourse under Margaret Street to the block bound by George, Jamison, York and Margaret Streets (Wynyard Square development”) and then on under George Street to link in with the shopping arcade in Australia Square. Escalators could be incorporated in the Wynyard Square development to enable pedestrians to travel to a podium area where there would be a pedestrian place. 
A pedestrian bridge is proposed across Jamison Street to the Qantas building. This arrangement would allow pedestrian movement between the Qantas buildings, Australia Square, the proposed Wynyard Square and Wynyard Station without conflict with motor traffic. 
It is now understood, however, that comprehensive redevelopment of the block bounded by George, Margaret, York and Jamison Streets is unlikely and the Architects for the Commercial Banking Company have been instructed to proceed with working drawings for a new bank to be constructed at 265-273 George Street opposite Australia Square.
This project incorporates a bank vault in the basement right on the most desirable alignment for the pedestrian arcade at R.L. 31 mentioned above. Unless some arrangement can be made quickly for an alternative site for this vault, the opportunity to provide the much needed pedestrian underpass from Wynyard to Australia Square will be lost. 
It is further pointed out that if the Australia Square link is excluded from the Scheme, the viability of a pedestrian arcade from Wynyard Square development could also be threatened on economic grounds, because of the loss of pedestrian traffic. 
The Authority is most concerned about this situation and would appreciate the whole question of pedestrian/vehicular conflict in the Wynyard-Qantas-Australia-Square – Wynyard Square area being given urgent consideration by Council. It is felt that advantage should be taken of the current redevelopment proposals to incorporate a system of pedestrian/vehicular grade separation.
In a letter dated 7 April 1970 from the architects to the town clerk, reference is made to the pedestrian subway link to Wynyard.
Condition 3 of the City Council’s Interim Development required provision for a connection from a possible subway connection to Wynyard Station. 
Furthermore, the State Planning Authority placed a similar condition on their approval. 
We advise that we have had meetings with the State Planning Authority at which the City Engineer, Mr. R.D. Stevenson and the Chief Building Surveyor, Mr. Doran, represented the City Council.
Meetings were held on 26th June, 10th July, 24th September, and 27th October, 1969. The letter notes only that minutes of these meetings were circulated. 

The tunnel never went beyond this planning stage although the state government did seek the city council’s support in achieving the grade separation. 


Above: A scale model of the building is shown in this photo from the DA file. The photo is captioned “Lang Park Centre”. 

There were still yet other things to be decided apart from grade separation. Vehicular access for the new building was discussed at a meeting held on 15 August 1968 in the city engineer’s room, at which that architect R. Gilling was present. 
At this conference Mr. Gilling proposed that the vehicular entrance and exit to the Qantas Development should be on the north side of Jamison Street, west of George Street. This entrance and exit would have involved a “U” turn into the Qantas site. 
At the conference at the State Planning Authority it was pointed out that Jamison Street was an off-loading street from the Expressway and that it would be advisable to give consideration to the entrance and exit to the Qantas site being in Lang Street.
This is what eventually happened. In the same meeting, Gilling also said that seven floors of the Stage 1 development would be available for tenants. The building was envisaged to have parking for 150 to 200 cars. 

In a minute from the city building surveyor to the town clerk dated 28 June 1971 it was noted that council had resolved on 24 February 1969 to allow Qantas to build a spiral vehicle access ramp to the underground parking area of the new building underneath the part of Jamison Street that had been given to the council for the street widening. The application had been submitted by P.O. Miller Milston & Ferris, Consulting Engineers, on behalf of Qantas. The same minute noted that the access ramp would lead to the service floor at lower-ground 2 level, the car parking area at lower-ground 1 level, and the air-cargo despatch centre on the ground floor of the new building.

At a meeting held at the offices of the State Planning Authority on 16 July 1968 the architect R. Gilling was present as was B.W. Friedman of J. Rudd & Partners, engineers. At this meeting it was revealed that the 747 aircraft was scheduled to fly at a certain time and this required a $10/11 million computer complex to be housed in the Qantas section of the project. “Middle 1970 for installation of the equipment.”
It was indicated that Qantas would make use of 60% of the second building the rest being let. The building was not intended to be used as a terminal the feeling being that any terminal would be better located at the southern end of the City.
This is despite another document, schedule “B” to the original DA, describing the new building as a terminal. 
The location close to the Western Distributor Expressway proposed by the NSW State Government will bring international travellers to within 15 minutes of Sydney Airport Terminal by road.
The building was touted as attractive to the city council for its civic amenities.
Qantas will add more than 2 acres of public park, plazas and walkways to the inner city when it develops its new Head Office complex in the heart of Sydney’s business district. 
The total development embraces the city block bounded by George, Grosvenor, Lang and Jamison Streets. It will be dominated by two high-rise towers in a setting of parks and plazas which will be open to the public at all times. 
The park area, taking up two-thirds of the George Street frontage and extending a similar distance up Jamison Street, will lead into a street-level shopping arcade including a number of boutiques and a restaurant-bar.
The new building would also contain a theatrette. It was estimated that approximately 10,000 people per day would be finally housed and making use of the buildings. 
The Qantas development will overlook the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge and will be the focal point of the major development proposed for Sydney’s Rocks area to the north of the Qantas site.
In the DA the architects did more than just spruik the new building’s benefits for people using the city on a daily basis, they also emphasised the novelty of the building’s physical embodiment.
The architects for the project are the Sydney firm of Joseland and Gilling, who have sought a more logical system of construction for the tower than the conventional method of columns and beams. Heavy wind loading on very tall buildings was a major design consideration which, if not satisfactorily solved, imposed a serious loss of flexibility in the owner’s use of the building, because the structural engineering component became too dominant in relation to other vital considerations. Therefore a system will be employed which, although new to Australia, has the same engineering principles principles [sic] as the Eiffel Tower, whereby the wind overturning forces are counteracted at the four corners of the structure. 
Conventional columns will not be used, but the floors of the rectangular office block will the suspended from large concrete piers [page torn here] 60 feet long and 5 feet thick, at each of the corners.
In his Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship research paper on brutalist buildings in Sydney, architect Glenn Harper describes the building from a technical standpoint:
Innovative concrete technology within Sydney saw the integration of insitu concrete with precast concrete for both structural and cladding elements. Consider the most significant concrete structure to be built in Sydney at the time. This was the 48 floor Qantas International Centre (1970-1982) by Joseland and Gilling with structural engineering by Miller Milston and Ferris, an engineering practice that was associated with Sydney’s most celebrated Brutalist buildings. Having a structural floor of precast beams these were supported by cast concrete blade walls and then hung off insitu cast concrete truss beams (3 per elevation) to enable a column free window edge. With this project featured in the Sydney based journal Constructional Review in 1982 (a journal published by the Concrete Association) both architects and structural engineers alike could [keep] abreast of such innovations in concrete, and without ever referencing the term, keep up to date with Australia’s very own Brutalist ideology.
The 48-level building was bought by the Commonwealth Bank Officers Superannuation Corporation in April 1986 for $200 million. The foyer and forecourt were refurbished in 1994. It was valued at $275 million in September 2000. The building was refurbished again in 2007, including new commercial space and a new retail and food court podium. In December 2008 it was valued at $380 million. In 2011 it was bought for $395 million by Memocorp Australia Pty Ltd; the sale represented an initial yield of 6.30% on annual net income of $24,885,000. Memocorp is owned by Vanessa Tay of Kensington, and Tee Peng Tay, Chwan Yi Tay, Chwan Shih Tay, Peo Soeng Tan, Pik Giok Tay and Nina Tay, all of Singapore.


Above: The building’s striking external appearance visible from a vantage point directly outside the site in George Street, facing west.


Above: Photograph of the building taken from a vantage point in Grosvenor Street, facing south.


Above: The street frontage of the building on the corner of Grosvenor Street and Lang Street.


Above: The building seen in the background in this photo taken from George Street, facing southwest. The building on the left in the foreground is what became “Stage 2” of the World Trade Centre development planned by Qantas. This building, now known as National Australia bank House, was completed in 1985.


Above: A stairway off Jamison Street leading to the former Qantas International building.


Above: The building’s underground carpark entrance on Lang Street, taken from the street and facing northeast.


Above: The courtyard that lies between the two buildings on the block, which you can access, as shown here, approaching from Lang Street in the west. If you walk around the tower on the right – the former Qantas International building – you arrive at Jamison Street.

No comments: