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High-rise city buildings can often be relatively “steely” in their materials and street presence.
Many of these structures might be attractive to the corporate world but often create a chilly sense for visitors. However, that is certainly not the case with 60 Castlereagh Street, near Sydney’s Martin Place, where there is a real sense of welcoming inside its new glazed front doors.
The atrium at 60 Castlereagh Street, Sydney.
Originally built in the early 2000s in a relatively nondescript style, the two foyer areas (one fronting Castlereagh Street and the other Elizabeth Street) have been cleverly reworked by Aeta Studio for its client, Australian Real Estate Investment Trust Dexus.
Home to Paribas, Australia’s oldest French bank, which has been at the address since the building was constructed, now presents as a considerably less corporate entity.
The somewhat magical refurbishment earned Aeta the John Verge award for interior architecture from the Australian Institute of Architects (NSW chapter).
Unlike some architects and their clients, who are keen to rip out everything and start afresh, the project was a case of retaining as much of the original fabric as possible, respecting its architectural legacy.
“In years to come, this style of building could be attractive to a new audience, as with many architectural periods from the more recent past,” said architect Alex Matovic, director of Aeta Studio.
While the exterior of the high-rise building was lightly changed, replacing and renewing the sandstone at ground level, the major impact has been a reworking of its two atriums.
The curtain glass wall facing Castlereagh Street was repositioned about a metre closer to the street, and the atriums themselves were sightly decreased in size, although they still benefit from 13m high ceilings.
The curtain glass wall facing Castlereagh Street.
Lined with more than 3000 circular plywood forms, varying in width from 220mm to 300mm, there is a level of texture and depth that cannot often be achieved with large areas of marble.
“We wanted to diffuse the western light from Castlereagh Street,” Matovic said. “Previously, the sun would beat down through the glass and create a hothouse for those arriving”.
Matovic worked closely with lighting specialists Studio MG to ensure an extraordinary level of craftsmanship. It incorporated a series of linear up-lights to achieve a high quality of light.
At ground level, some marble walls were replaced and are now timber-lined. A number are curved to create a subtle backdrop for a new café in the Elizabeth Street foyer, as well as framing a new reception desk in the Castlereagh lobby, made from the same stringy bark timber but stained in black.
Aeta Studio was also mindful of creating a softer and more welcoming sense of arrival to both entrances, hence each of the plywood forms includes acoustic insulation to absorb the traditional city hum of passing traffic.
“Our clients loved the idea that entering would not be dissimilar to walking into a cathedral, a sense of the other worldliness,” Matovic said.
The architect was not only interested in celebrating home-grown timbers and artisans, but also local talent, in particular furniture manufacturers such as Jardin and Koskela.
There are curated groupings of furniture for the lounge areas, raising these pieces on slightly elevated plinths to create a level of division between the foyer and ancillary areas.
One of the prominent features is a large John Coburn tapestry in the Elizabeth Street foyer that was previously relegated to a side wall and not always noticed. Woven in France by one of Australia’s leading artists, it is now a befitting artwork.
For Matovic, conceiving the award-winning fit-out came with its challenges, not dissimilar to inserting a three-level timber-lined house into a corporate environment.
“Each plywood circle had to fit precisely, with barely any tolerance in getting it right,” he said – not dissimilar to the placement of each stitch in Coburn’s highly complex tapestry.
Stephen Crafti is a specialist in contemporary design, including architecture, furniture, fashion and decorative arts.
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