50 Martin Place: Contemporary Adaptation and Re-Use

Paul Van Ratingen
Johnson Pilton Walker, Sydney

50 Martin Place is a global financial headquarters, which has been uniquely shaped by contemporary workplace ideology and the decision to adapt and re-use a significant but neglected 1928 Inter-War Beaux Arts bank building.

Though a major 1980s refurbishment restored the exterior and banking chamber to pristine condition; the "modernization" at that time of the original office floor plates left them devoid of original proportion, congested by floor-by-floor plant rooms, cramped under low ceilings and bulkheads, and disjointed by new fire stairs duplicating heritage circulation. Limited glazing within the heavy masonry facade and a small, closed atrium restricted natural light and external outlook.

Despite these limitations, the original building’s underlying characteristics were well-suited to a contemporary workplace, including the prime Martin Place address, 20,000 square meters of large rear-core floorplates, a regular column grid and a central atrium.
The design team’s response was to strip out the 1980s interventions to reinstate the original building’s essential “bones,” and then provide a technically sophisticated, high-quality building performance of “world’s best practice” that remains “invisible” and allows the original architecture to dominate in planning, form, structure and material. Bespoke solutions without precedent were required, which continued the innovation and craft displayed in the original construction.

A steel and glass roof dome addition housing client and conference facilities finally and dramatically completes the original building. Connecting with the outside world and the city, it expresses the transformation of banking’s identity from fortress-like in 1928 to transparent in its contemporary guise.

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