Liner House

Site Overview

site name:
Liner House
architect(s):
Bunning & Madden
date of commission:
1959
date of completion:
1960
address:
13-15 Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW
classification/typology:
Commercial: (COM)
protection status:
n/a
awards:
Sulman Medal of 1961.
editor fiche:
Jennifer Hill
download fiche:
Download Fiche (Pdf)

Description

Liner House was erected in 1959 to house the Australian headquarters of Wilh Wilhelmsen Agency Pty Ltd, Norway’s largest shipping organisation. The company decided to restrict the building to the company’s own use and the building height to that of the neighbouring properties and immediate streetscape. The external walls and ground floor shipping chamber were faced with stone to harmonise with the major part of the street. The RAIA awarded the building the Sulman Award in 1961. The building is dominated by the horizontal louvre framed facade which aligns with the adjacent facades. The facade is set back one metre and comprises aluminium curtain waft patterning and an aluminium panelled cantilivered awning.

Ph: David Moore

History of building

Structure and Services

The building is a steel column frame. The floors are constructed in a reinforced concrete ribbed system with clear spans of 35′. The building incorporates a curtain wall (set back 4′ from the building line) of anodised aluminium members with spandrel panels of navy blue coloured ceramic glass. All the glazing (in panels measuring 5’6″ wide by 7′ high) is fixed except for one sliding panel on each floor to provide access to the exterior surface.

The building was designed in harmony with the streetscape, which was predominantly of masonry construction (i.e. the Burns Philp & Co. Ltd. Building designed by McCredie and Anderson constructed in dressed and rusticated stone in 1900 and Scottish House designed by Spain and Cosh in 1926 with a dressed stone facade.) Accordingly, stone facings are applied to the street facing flanking walls and ground floor shipping chamber. The facing stone (English Portland) was selected to complement both the stone of the adjoining buildings and the stone for internal fitting (Perricot stone). The strong horizontal emphasis of the adjoining buildings is complemented by the use of 4′ deep louvered sun hoods and the use of a generous proportion of ‘Georgian character’ in the panel subdivisions of the curtain wall. The deep sun hood allowed for a reduction in the load of air conditioning system by projecting the north facing windows from the summer sun.

All office spaces were provided with a grid system of floor outlet boxes for power and telephone outlets. The fully automatic lift was installed which provided a capacity of 26 persons at a run of 300′ per minute. A PABX system and teleprinter was installed to satisfy the owner’s extensive electronic communication requirements. A pneumatic tube system was also installed for the delivery of material between departments.

Internal Finishes

Generally most of the office floor ceilings were fitted with Malley’s Ltd. perforated metal acoustic panels to provide for flexibility in lighting and air conditioning arrangements. Most of the floors were fitted with vinyl tiles in the corridor spaces, and linoleum to the office spaces. Exceptions were  qthe ground floor Shipping Chamber which was floored with a checker board pattern of scag-terazzo and the Directors’ Suite and Board Room fitted with Tasmanian Oak parquetry. The walls were generally rendered and painted except throughout the ground and mezzanine floors where panelling of Thailand teak was installed. The Directors Suite and Board Room were panelled in English Beech with insert moulded beads of Tasmanian Oak with insert moulded beads of Tasmanian Oak.

Prominent in the design of the Shipping Chamber are the mural screen and spiral staircase. The mural screen was designed by sculptor Douglas Annand and manufactured and executed by Z. Vesley’s Metal Products of Marrickville. Measuring 32′ by 11′ it forms the side wall to the former Passage Department located on the mezzanine floor. Supported by a structural metal framework hung from the floor above, it incorporates 160 different shapes in the materials of brass, copper, aluminium and stainless steel. Variety in the shapes is achieved by use of concave, convex, perforated, non-perforated and beaten patterns. The spiral staircase turns 360 degrees in a height of 12′ 6″. It is constructed of terrazzo-filled steel tread pans carried off two bracket supported structural steel carriage pieces. (Clive Lucas Stapleton 52-54:1997) Physical condition is excellent. Archaeological potential is low.

Date condition updated: 04 Aug 97
Modifications and dates:
– late 1959 – construction commenced
– 1960 – construction completed
– 1965 – relocation and installation of PABX room to fifth floor
– 1967 – partitioning to second and third floors
– 1969 – partitioning to the ground and mezzanine
– 1970 – partitioning from the mezzanine, first to third floors
– 1981 – partitioning to the first floor
– 1984 – conversion of fourth floor Caretakers flat to office space and partitioning

Historical notes:

The subject building is located on part of the former Government Lumber Yard, established on the south-west side of the ‘Bridgeway’ (Bridge Street) over the Tank Stream and east of ‘High Street’ (George Street). Hughes developed the site by building a group of four single storey brick built hipped roofed buildings fronted by a stone colonnade. The complex was used primarily as shops and was known for a period as ‘Pauls Row’. Moore died in December 1840 and as with the bulk of his estate, the property was bequeathed to the Church of England. It seems probable that the site was redeveloped again in the mid-1850’s with the building of a one storey structure. The property remained in church ownership through a succession of trustees until November 1938 when it was purchased by Burns Philip Trust Ltd.

By the 1910s through to the 1930s, no.13 Bridge Street was leased by the well known sanitary engineers, Tylor & Sons Pty Ltd. No 15 Bridge Street was leased by Smith and Lane, printers and stationers. Towards the end of this period the premises at no.13 Bridge Street were known as ‘Roylt Chambers’.

By the commencement of the 1940s no.13 Bridge Street was leased by the Leyton Lantern Cafe, and no.15 Bridge Street by Norton & HubandSmith Pty Ltd, auctioneers and valuators.

The property was purchased by Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. in October 1945. At about this time the buildings were converted for use as the Qantas Cargo Terminal. This use continued until December 1957. The property was purchased by the Wilh Wilhelmsen Agency Pty Ltd in early 1958. The nineteenth century building was demolished in mid-1959. The new building was designed by Bunning and Madden architects for the Wilh Wilhelmsen Agency Pty Ltd. (Wilhelmsen at this time occupied an office opposite the site). The design for the new building was completed during early 1959 and construction commenced in late 1959. Construction time was about 49 weeks. The Wilhelmsen Agency was founded as the Wilh Wilhelmsen Line in 1861 at Tonsberg, then the premier port of Norway. The Wilhelmsen Agency was established in Australia in 1918 at the request of the Wilhelmsen Line as the Norwegian Australia Line Agency Ltd. The first office in Australia was at 36 Pitt Street. The following year the agency moved to 89 Pitt Street. In 1926 the name was changed to Wilh Wilhelmsen Agency Pty Ltd. In 1936 the agency moved to the old Phoenix House in Hunter Street.

The Agency then occupied the first three floors of the Bridge Street premises in 1960. At the time of opening of Liner House, the Wilhelmsen Line was Norway’s largest shipping organisation. Within two decades following World War II the number of Wilhelmsen sailings had increased twofold from 18 in 1947/47 to 30 in 1959/60. The building utilised the maximum floor area provided by the site (45′ wide and 90′ deep), but did not exploit the potential height maximum. The design philosophy being ‘to build a house for their (Wilh Wilhelmsen) own use rather than construct a tall narrow building to exploit the site for its maximum financial return’. In 1961 the building won the Sir John Sulman Medal for the most meritous building constructed in New South Wales for 1961 in recognition of its ‘consistent honesty in design and good taste for this building’ and ‘very good manners to (its) neighbours, indicating a strong civic consciousness.’

The property was purchased for $5.8 million by Clute Holdings Pty Ltd in February 1986. Prior to this an Interim Conservation Order (ICO) (No. 391) had been gazetted by the Heritage Council of NSW in April 1985. This action complicated matters for the new owner when a lease was made to James Richardson Pty Ltd for the whole of the Ground and Mezzanine floors from June 1986 for the use as a duty free retail outlet and office and store. The Clute Holdings application was withdrawn but the screen and stairs were subsequently blocked out and a neon sign erected on the stairs. The Heritage Council subsequently sought to have these alterations removed and charged the architects Richard Mann and Associates and lessees James Richardson Pty Ltd with offences under Section 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977.

Following the expiration of the ICO No. 391 in May 1987 a new ICO (No. 737) was gazetted. In April 1988 a further ICO (No. 845) was gazetted and notice given of a proposal to make a Permanent Conservation Order (PCO) for the building. This was the first time a modern era premises was subject to a Permanent Conservation Order. James Richardson Pty Ltd who continued as the lessee at the time objected to the making of the PCO under Section 41 of the Heritage Act of 1977 in that it would render the premises incapable of ‘reasonable or economic use’. This issue was addressed at the subsequent Commission Enquiry. The extent of the unauthorised building work was described as:

– a plasterboard on a metal frame partition structure placed in front of the Douglas Annand mural;
– a wooden enclosure around the spiral staircase;
– a neon light attached to the wooden enclosure around the spiral staircase; and
– a glass covered showcase below the spiral staircase.

The Commissioner of Inquiry, William Simpson, found in October 1988 in favour of upholding the making of the PCO. The alterations were subsequently removed. The current owner purchased the property in February 1997 (Clive Lucas Stapleton 1997:51-57)

Original Brief/Purpose

Commercial Building

Dates: Commission/Completion Completed
1959-1960

Architects
Bunning and Madden

Others Associated With Building
Douglas Annand

Significant Alterations With Dates
Late 1959 – construction commenced
1960 – construction completed
1965 – relocation and installation of PABX room to fifth floor
1967 – partitioning to second and third floors
1969 – partitioning to the ground and mezzanine
1970 – partitioning from the mezzanine, first to third floors
1981 – partitioning to the first floor
1984 – conversion of fourth floor Caretakers flat to office space and
partitioning with insert moulded beads of Tasmanian Oak.

Current Use
Commercial

Current Condition
Excellent, Physical condition is excellent. Archaeological potential.

Description

General Description

The building is a steel column frame. The floors are constructed in a reinforced concrete ribbed system with clear spans of 35′. The building incorporates a curtain wall (set back 4′ from the building line) of anodised aluminium members with spandrel panels of navy blue coloured ceramic glass. All the glazing (in panels measuring 5’6″ wide by 7′ high) is fixed except for one sliding panel on each floor to provide access to the exterior surface.

The building was designed in harmony with the streetscape, which was predominantly of masonry construction (i.e. the Burns Philip & Co. Ltd. Building designed by McCredie and Anderson constructed in dressed and rusticated stone in 1900 and Scottish House designed by Spain and Cosh in 1926 with a dressed stone facade.) Accordingly, stone facings are applied to the street-facing flanking walls and ground floor shipping chamber. The facing stone (English Portland) was selected to complement both the stone of the adjoining buildings and the stone for internal fitting (Perricot stone).

The strong horizontal emphasis of the adjoining buildings is complemented by the use of 4′ deep louvered sun hoods and the use of a generous proportion of ‘Georgian character’ in the panel subdivisions of the curtain wall. The deep sun hood allowed for a reduction in the load of air conditioning system by projecting the north-facing windows from the summer sun.

The fully automatic lift was installed a complex PABX system and teleprinter and a pneumatic tube system

Internal Finishes

Generally, most of the office floor ceilings were fitted with Malley’s Ltd. perforated metal acoustic panels to provide for flexibility in lighting and air conditioning arrangements. Most of the floors were fitted with vinyl tiles in the corridor spaces, and linoleum to the office spaces. Exceptions were the ground floor Shipping Chamber which was floored with a checker board pattern of scag-terazzo and the Directors’ Suite and Board Room fitted with Tasmanian Oak parquetry. The walls were generally rendered and painted except throughout the ground and mezzanine floors where panelling of Thailand teak was installed. The Directors Suite and Board Room were panelled in English Beech with insert-moulded beads of Tasmanian Oak.

Prominent in the design of the Shipping Chamber are the mural screen and spiral staircase. The mural screen was designed by sculptor Douglas Annand and manufactured and executed by Z. Vesley’s Metal Products of Marrickville. Measuring 32′ by 11′ it forms the sidewall to the former Passage Department located on the mezzanine floor. Supported by a structural metal framework hung from the floor above, it incorporates 160 different shapes in the materials of brass, copper, aluminium and stainless steel. Variety in the shapes is achieved by use of concave, convex, perforated, non-perforated and beaten patterns. The spiral staircase turns 360 degrees in a height of 12′ 6″. It is constructed of terrazzo-filled steel tread pans carried off two-bracket supported structural steel carriage pieces.

Aesthetic

Sulman Medal of 1961.

Public Art Program by Annand.

Shows the influence of Terragni on Australian work. The building is significant as possibly the finest post-war example of a sympathetic modernist component as part of a significant streetscape.

Construction

Context
Physical condition is excellent. Archaeological potential.

Evaluation

Social

The social value of Liner house is demonstrated through an ongoing recognition of the building’s aesthetic and historic value at the time the building was constructed through the awarding of the Sulman Medal, and more recently through legislative powers aimed at protecting the cultural heritage.

Liner House is of social significance for its ability to exemplify by its modest scale the deliberate decision made by the client not to exploit the site for its maximum financial return but instead to erect a building which was modern and yet sympathetic to the nineteenth and early twentieth-century stone-faced adjoining buildings.

Cultural & Aesthetic

Liner House is an outstanding and relatively intact example of an International Style, curtain walled office building, distinguished particularly by the quality and consistency of its design, the fineness of its finishes and its sensitivity to its contemporary neighbours and streetscape. Liner House incorporates curtain wall construction; Liner House incorporates a number of interior design and material details, which are typical of a late 1950s curtain wall building. Liner House makes a substantial contribution to the streetscape of Bridge Street that retains extant examples of late 1950s architectural detailing such as light fittings, the circular staircase, wall finishes, Boardroom fittings and panelling. Liner House retains the Douglas Annand screen, considered by the Society of Sculptors as ‘a considerable artistic advance in commercial building and public sculpture.’ Liner House is associated with the Wilh Wilhelmson Agency and the historic use of Bridge Street as the hub of offices/agencies associated with shipping. It was constructed at the close of the 1950s – an era of unprecedented commercial building activity in central Sydney. It is a building designed by the notable post second world war architectural practice of Bunning and Madden.

Documentation

Principal References

Documentary Reference

  • Council Sheet – National Trust, The RAIA, 444 Sydney Buildings p15,
  • Architecture in Australia (Mag) Dec 1960 p68-71, Qantas House conservation appendix of Early curtain wall buildlings in Sydney,
  • Australian Sculpture (Scarlett_ p15-18,
  • Good Weekend (SMH) 2.7.88 p24-31, Post WWII multistoried office, Buildings in Australia (1945-1967)
  • Taylor Identifying Architecture, Sydney Cityscope Map 5 Page 1,
  • Sydney Morning Herald 27.10.1959 p.28, 16/08/ p24.

Fiche compiled by Jennifer Hill

David MOORE Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1927 – 2003 Foyer of Liner House, Bridge Street, Sydney, with Douglas Annand metal screen 1959 c. Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph Dimensions: printed image 23.0 h x 30.4 w cm sheet 24.2 h x 30.4 w cm Acknowledgement: Purchased 1989 Accession No: NGA 89.11.356 Image rights: © Lisa, Michael, Matthew and Joshua Moore

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