Morphosis’ Hanking Center Tower

Three buildings were in a tight competition to be named the world’s most innovative building at Bentley Systems’ Be Inspired Awards in London last week, including Sydney’s own 5 Martin Place designed by Johnson Pilton Walker and Tanner Kibble Denton Architects.

5 Martin Place. Image: Brett Boardman
5 Martin Place. Image: Brett Boardman

JPW associate Wayne Dickerson talked the Bentley audience through the redevelopment of the historic 5 Martin Place, which due to heritage controls needed some seriously innovative design solutions to get the go-ahead.

The building, a partnership between Cbus and DEXUS, is based in the financial heart of Sydney. Known as the “Money Box” Building, 5 Martin Place was originally built in 1916, with additions in 1933 and 1968. According to Dickerson it is “one of the most significant sites in Sydney”.

“Naturally the significance of the urban context was always going to generate intense scrutiny, not only from the Sydney City Council but also the heritage departments,” Dickerson said.

Part of the scrutiny related to managing some of the “undesirable” planning controls, including view lines and sun access planes. This led to set backs of 25 metres from Martin Place and 36 metres from Pitt Street, which meant there was just a 700 square metre footprint for the planned tower, which Dickerson said was “highly restrictive” when developing a commercial building.

“It was a challenging development that required a unique solution,” he said.

“Our approach to this was to design a tower that responded to the existing scale and proportion of the existing building. This meant increasing the floor plate size to maximise the commercial viability, but also reducing the height of the building to relate more to the existing heritage building.”

The project required a change of heritage controls, made possible through extensive consultation and the development of site-specific controls. This allowed for the demolishment of the 1968 addition, which has now been replaced with a new 20-storey building.

The big design feat, making it one of the most complex buildings constructed in Australia, is that to maximise floor space, half of the building – from level 11 to 20 – is cantilevered 22 metres over the 1916 and 1933 heritage buildings, allowing for an additional 8000 square metres of floor space. This was done due to a commitment to council that there would be no additional loads placed on the original heritage building, so half of the new tower is essentially floating above the heritage building. It’s a world-first structural solution that was developed by Aurecon.

Along with the impressive engineering feat are a range of sustainability features including a revitalised atrium providing extensive natural light, a high-efficiency full-height glass façade, multi-service chilled beams, sensor lighting controls, re-use of materials and a regenerative power system, all helping the building to reach both 5 Star Green Star and 5 Star NABERS Energy ratings.

Key to approval, Dickerson said, was software that created animated fly-throughs from Martin Place and Pitt Street, visualising the impact of the building and providing “the ability to demonstrate to planners and heritage councils with confidence that the proposed changes to the envelope were going to be successful”.

But also competing for the top gong were two buildings in China, a growing giant in the BIM space.

First up was the Inner Mongolia Ethnic Minorities Cultural Sports Center by China Aerospace Construction Group. Representing the first ever use of Building Information Modelling in the region, the 73,000 square metre, $138 million project will feature sports arenas, ethnic group performing arts facilities, grassland sightseeing, leisure and entertainment facilities, and an international horse racing arena.

Inner Mongolia Ethnic Minorities Cultural Sports Center
Inner Mongolia Ethnic Minorities Cultural Sports Center

With a tight deadline of the 70th Anniversary of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which will occur on 1 May 2017, BIM is being used to speed up construction while reducing materials needed, cutting costs, optimising building efficiency and ensuring high quality. In one instance, BIM optimisation technology reduced earthworks from 370,000 to 70,000 cubic metres, saving around $4 million.

Finally there was US design firm Morphosis’ Hanking Center Tower in the tech hub of Shenzhen, Guangdong, a 350-metre-tall high-end mixed-use commercial building with some stunning design features, including a faceted facade, a detached core minimising the building’s structural footprint while maximising open space, “sky gardens” every five floors and a massive atrium filling the building with natural light.

Hanking Center Tower, Shenzhen
Hanking Center Tower, Shenzhen

According to Morphosis director of design technology Cory Brugger, the building “rethinks the traditional commercial office building through an innovative approach to circulation, social and work spaces, offering flexible tower office space anchored by high-end retail and dining spaces”.

The offset core allows for an uninterrupted floorplate, increasing flexibility, important for the start-up tech firms the region is attracting, and offering increased airflow and natural lighting, which promises a healthier working environment.

According to Brugger, the building facade meets “aesthetic criteria” but was also driven by performance, daylighting and heat gain outcomes.

“It’s kind of a mixed building because it has a lot of drivers from the client for creating an iconic building while still trying to make something that’s somewhat sustainable and really ties back into social agendas of how we operate and how an office layout can change the way people interact or how businesses build their workforce,” he said.

On the night it was the dramatic, soaring steel super tower by Morphosis that won the gong. But all was not lost, as back in Australia at around the same time, 5 Martin Place took out the National Award for Commercial Architecture at the Architects Institute of Australia’s awards.

It was called “a sophisticated and expertly resolved” commercial office building that had used Sydney’s iconic 1916 “Money Box” as its base “and embedded it into its program to repurpose the building and its historic interior spaces”.

“Complex urban, heritage, structural, commercial and procurement imperatives are all addressed with apparent ease, resulting in a refined and proud new addition to Martin Place’s streetscape and Sydney’s skyline,” the jury said. “The project has turned the constraints often associated with heritage buildings into a commercial asset through the provision of contemporary space, suitable for the twenty-first-century tenant, which also reveals, celebrates and reinterprets the original architecture.

“An important benchmark for the conservation of our city’s history has been set by 5 Martin Place through repurposing, redefining and extending the built fabric to create relevance for a new age.”