Architecture

180 Thomas Street

April 24, 2015

Bates Smart’s Thomas Street building sits diagonally across from Frank Gehry’s Dr Chau Chak Wing Building. So how should architects respond to such a flamboyant neighbour: challenge or ignore it?

Location: Sydney, Australia
Architect: Bates Smart
Review: Peter Mould
Photography: Brett Boardman

The Haymarket area sits on the south-west fringe of Sydney’s CBD and has been undergoing gradual change over the last thirty years. The City of Sydney and the State Government’s Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority control some of the land and, before 1998 the Darling Harbour Authority, resulting in variable built form and greatly varied height controls. Chinatown’s bustle and tight urban grain is located within the precinct, with Bates Smart’s 180 Thomas Street existing site to its west in a mixed urban context of institutional, residential and commercial buildings. Overall, aside from a number of Heritage remnants, the surrounding building stock is of mostly unremarkable quality.

The commission for the project was won through a City of Sydney Design Excellence Competition. This process awards bonus floor space if an architectural competition is held and design excellence, in the eyes of the jury and the City of Sydney, is achieved.

180-Thomas-Bates-Smart-3

A robust building that rises from the site boundary and is emphasised by subtle lighting at the mezzanine level.

 

The brief required commercial office space above an existing three-storey structure. Within this infrastructure, allowance had been made for future loads and vertical circulation, but with a central core constraining the potential layouts of the floors above.

Bates Smart’s winning entry responded to these constraints with a series of strategic moves. It placed large trusses above the structure, freeing the upper floors from the existing column layout and allowing much longer spans for the office space. It also allowed the building to cantilever beyond the structure and so increased each floor area by 300 square metres. The architects pulled the lifts to the western edge of the building, allowing an uninterrupted floor plate and, by glazing them, animated the adjacent public domain; this also pushed the escape stairs, amenities and service risers to the east, giving a visual buffer to the adjacent residential building.

Artistic spaces are both inviting and invigorating for users and passers-by

Artistic spaces are both inviting and invigorating for users and passers-by.

 

Finally, a lightweight steel frame and chilled beam cooling system allowed tighter floor-to-floor heights and the addition of an extra floor within the height controls.

The structure was clad in precast concrete panels to give visual weight to the building’s base. The new trusses were clad in metal and expressed in the architectural composition, with the new office accommodation reading as a simple glass box floating above a solid base, its horizontality interrupted only by the lift shaft.

The combination of shifted lift core and cantilever extension allowed for a full-length glass-enclosed lobby three levels below the offices. The lobby faces the Goods Line (featured in Under Construction, p018), Sydney’s version of New York’s High Line (everyone has to have one), allowing the building to engage with what will become a vibrant pedestrian link between Central Station and the new convention, exhibition and entertainment precinct to be built to the north. This gesture capitalises on the site’s best asset by recognising its urban condition. Its public nature is further enhanced by a major art installation by Lucas Grogan along the facing wall.

Sensitive use of glazing reflects the surrounding area interacting with the environment.

Sensitive use of glazing reflects the surrounding area interacting with the environment.

 

The building sits diagonally across from Frank Gehry’s Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, a highly sculptured composition in brick and glass. The Gehry project is located on a tight urban block in a constrained context, which will be greatly enhanced by the civic works of the Goods Line that will soon abut its eastern side, allowing it to open to a generous public realm and to be more visible from the east. City buildings need to respond to their context and fine though it is to have the fame and attraction of a Gehry building in Sydney, it is often not necessary to have a star turn on every corner.

So how should architects respond to such a flamboyant neighbour: challenge or ignore it? Bates Smart has taken a middle path by holding onto its Modernist aesthetic but enlivening it with external modulation.

The upper volume glass box has been modelled with a combination of alternating sheer glass and external vertical and horizontal louvres. This patterning follows no particular tenancy requirement and results in a busy facade treatment on the nine-storey office component of a building that is already strongly articulated by its expressed volumes.

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Generous internal circulation allows for informal gathering space and movement.

 

The building is a highly articulated architectural composition, and the changing rhythm of the facade does help to moderate its scale. This was, however, already cleverly achieved by the principal move of shifting the major volume to the west, offsetting it from its base and accentuating it with projecting trusses.

All the big moves are right. This is a finely detailed building, crisp, clean and volumetrically appropriate to its context. However as a response to their ostentatious neighbour, Bates Smart has stepped beyond its usual honed Modernism. It could have been a stronger building if it had ignored its neighbour and remained true to itself.

As featured in Architectural Review Asia Pacific.

Retraction: This feature was titled wrongly in AR139. On behalf of AR, ADR issues an apology to the individuals and groups who worked on the project. We endeavour as always to reflect all project information accurately.

Project Credits:

CLIENT: TransGrid

ARCHITECT AND INTERIOR DESIGNER: Bates Smart

PROJECT TEAM: Amy Watkins, Basil Richardson, Brad Dorn, Daniel Chieng, Jonathan Claridge, Julian Anderson, Jung Soo Kim, Marinel Dator, Mark Pellen, Merissa Lam, Olga Kambas, Philip Vivian, Sarah Gilder, Tommy Sutanto

PROJECT MANAGER: PwC

MAIN CONTRACTOR: Built

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Enstruct

MECHANICAL, ELECTRICAL, HYDRAULIC, ESD, VERTICAL TRANSPORT, ACOUSTIC, FACADE, ENVIRONMENTAL AND FIRE ENGINEERS: Arup

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Turf Design Studio

PLANNING CONSULTANT: Urbis

ACCESS CONSULTANT: Morris Goding

CERTIFIER: Steve Watson and Partners

COST CONSULTANT: Slattery

ARTIST: Lucas Grogan

ART CONSULTANT: Virginia Wilson

GRAPHICS CONSULTANT: Frost Design

FACADE: Sharvain / PRE-CAST CONCRETE: Hanson

VERTICAL TRANSPORT: Schindler

INTERNAL GLAZING AND PARTITIONS: Kingston Building Group

JOINERY AND INTERNAL SCREENS: H Dallas Industries

LIGHTING CONTRACTOR: Heyday Group

MECHANICAL CONTRACTOR: ACES – Air Conditioning and Engineering Services P/L

BUILDING SIGNAGE: Integrated Signage

ARTWORK: Event Engineering.

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