Sunday 3 November
264 GEORGE STREET, SYDNEY
Architect: Harry Seidler, Harry Seidler & Associates
Awards: 1967 AIA (NSW) – Sulman Medal for Public Architecture; 1967 RAIA (NSW) – Civic Design award
Australia Square broke new architectural ground when it was completed in 1967. At 50 storeys high, it was both Sydney’s tallest building (until 1976) and the world’s tallest reinforced concrete structure, yet it occupied less than a quarter of the site, which it shared with a low-rise retail Plaza Building.
Initiated by Lend Lease founder Dick Dusseldorp, Australia Square capitalised on some major changes in city-making at the time, including the lifting of height restrictions, and the consolidation of smaller sites into larger blocks for high-rise towers.
A young Harry Seidler designed Australia Square around the same time as he and wife Penelope were completing their now iconic home in Killara. The two concurrent buildings coined a new architectural language in concrete, a language of which Seidler was a master. The building was an instant success and won the 1967 Sulman Medal for Public Architecture, cementing Seidler’s influence on the city and its skyline.
Australia Square was not only a building of international standing, but a global collaboration as well. Seidler delivered his round tower with the help of world-renowned engineer Pier Luigi Nervi. The tower’s circular form and street setback helped to avoid what Seidler called the ‘dark canyon effect’ of conventional rectangular towers. Its external vertical supports left large, column-free office floor plates. The dramatic transparent lobby was designed as a grand circular promenade, with glass walls open to the street and soaring ceilings on which Nervi’s interlocking concrete ribs were exposed.
The lobby displayed artworks by Le Corbusier and Victor Vasarely to the street; these tapestries were replaced in 2003 (for fear of fading) with a mural by New York artist Sol LeWitt. For the plaza – an ‘open but contained space’ based on the medieval city – Seidler commissioned a sculpture by Alexander Calder, Crossed blades.