GPT headquarters, MLC Sydney. Photo: Tyrone Branigan

13 September 2011 – The refurbishment of the GPT Property group headquarters at the MLC building in Sydney’s CBD was a unique challenge and could re-shape industry concepts of older buildings.

In today’s workplace environment the lack of commercial space within CBD precincts is forcing  stakeholders to think laterally about their accommodation.

The Property Council’s latest Office Market Report shows a total vacancy in Australia’s office markets decreased from 9.6 per cent to 9 per cent in the six months to July 2011 – the lowest level in two years.

The tight market conditions, coupled with high rents may be driving the rise of office refurbishments currently taking shape across major CBD precincts; yet if we scratch below the surface drivers such as culture, technology, sustainability and space-saving are powering the recycling of many assets.

The GPT Property Group fit-out presents a remarkable case study of regeneration of an asset. Today it is  a viable and modern sustainable workplace.

Located in the MLC Centre in Sydney, the new headquarters is a workplace for tomorrow.

NAB Adelaide. Photo: David Sievers

The journey was etched in August 2009 with GPT’s  chief executive Michael Cameron launching GPT’s reinvigorated business strategy – with part of this including transforming the way the company worked.

Enter the design challenge. The reinvigorating of an ageing asset and defying the conventions or idea that tenants and users alike had a dedicated workplace, was at the heart of the design challenge. So, how was this potential unlocked?

With staff previously separated over three floors, the key was connecting these separate floor plates and creating a three dimensional stack, that would promote vertical connections and cross “group” communication.

That being said, design finesse took place, and two stairs were introduced into the floorplate at the north-east and south-east facades – the northern side as part of the client experience, and the southern as part of the collaborative work zone – with the stairs being integral to the design as they promote interaction and collaboration.

This was further enhanced by a strong overlay of technological and behavioural changes, which truly support the physical changes in space.

The change in approach and typologies in workplace reflect the substantial changes in workplace design over the past 10 years.

This has seen spaces move from environments which supported the use of space as status to the real time working environments where we are creating environments that assign space based on task, with technology, mobility,trust and business performance are the key drivers for workplace design.

The solution understands the tasks at hand and uses technology to assist in business optimisation.

The environments we as designers now create are diverse, as we acknowledge the range of tasks in multi faceted businesses.

So, what have we delivered for GPT?

A new way of working has evolved through creative combination of new technology, new business processes and the optimal use of space and light, providing an excellent example of what can be achieved within an existing building.

Big Picture
Yet, if we shift our focus and use this new work environment as a case study – what’s the bigger picture?

In brief, it’s about combating the theory that large contiguous floor plates are the way of the future and dismissing that real time working environments can only be successfully implemented on large floor plates over 2000 square metres.

This myth was also dismissed in another Woods Bagot project – National Australian Bank’s Adelaide headquarters.

Amanda Stanaway

The consistent factor for all of these buildings were they were not premium stock: they were considered “small” floor plates by current industry standards.

Each of the buildings seem to have diminishing popularity with tenants who only see the buildings as restrictive, old and at times inflexible to a new generation office.

So, I put this to you – do we need to re-think the envelope?

If we dabble in it, perhaps it may help to open up existing stock to tenants enabling creative and new age spaces.

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