Born Again: Skyscrapers finding a new life through refitting

Skyscrapers are finding a new life around the world, but one being reborn in Sydney is the most radical of all. We talk to partner of Danish architects 3XN, Fred Holt, about the transformation of the AMP Centre at 50 Bridge Street Sydney.

What do we do with a skyscraper when it is no longer wanted? One way is to flatten it using controlled explosions so that the building collapses on itself. This process, known as an implosion, looks impressive on the nightly news but isn’t without its problems. For a start, it’s incredibly time-consuming to prepare, and the clean-up afterwards is huge. And finally, as buildings are getting taller and cities becoming more crowded, implosions are considered rather risky propositions.

The other alternative is to pull the skyscraper down using a combination of manual labour and machinery. One method from Japan uses hydraulic jacks to lower the skyscraper one floor at a time. Another from the UK uses a 208-tonne excavator with a 65-metre reach, to claw down a building from the top.

But what if you didn’t demolish the skyscraper at all? What if instead you refitted or repurposed it? Not only does this solution usually make good economic sense, but it is also a more sustainable option.

Sustainably refitting skyscrapers around the world  

And it’s not an entirely new idea. In 2011, the Tour First in La Defence Paris grew an extra 66 metres. The tower was initially built in 1974 and topped out at 159 metres. Following a 4-year refit, it now stands at 231 metres and is France’s tallest building. Ditto, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower in Chicago, which started life with 33 stories in 1997 and gained an extra 24 stories in 2010.

While some skyscrapers grow during their lifetime, the AMP Centre at 50 Bridge Street Sydney, will not only grow in stature but completely transform. Designed by Peddle Thorp & Walker, when completed in 1976, it was for 12 months the tallest building in the city, standing at 188 metres.

Fast forward to 2014, and the building owner, AMP Capital held an international design competition to create a workspace for the future and revitalise an entire precinct. The winner was the Danish architect, 3XN; the same architect responsible for the plans for the new Sydney Fish Market

The design 3XN arrived at – Quay Quarter Tower – will see the lift core of the existing AMP Centre retained, and new floor plates grafted on to the existing ones, doubling the square meterage.

“There is an abundance of CBDs around the world that have high rises of a certain date that are being demolished because of the way corporations want denser floorplates,” says 3XN partner, Fred Holt. “We have been able to adapt an existing building to actually meet the demands of the new workspace setting.”

Photo credit: Quay Quarter Tower – AMP Capital

While most existing infrastructure loses value because of outdated floorplates, Holt says his team has been able to retain value through upcycling.

“One thing we’re most proud of with QQT is that we’re actually helping to create an urban sustainability. There’s already the value there, and there is infrastructure set up within the city, so we’re essentially revitalising that setting.

“What’s unique about QQT is that AMP Capital also own the neighbouring sites, so from an urban renewal point of view, we’re looking at upcycling the whole area. It’s a campus, or precinct, rather than just the one building.”

When completed in 2021, QQT will top out at a little over 200 metres tall and have 50 useable floors.

“Most of the growth isn’t up, but north,” says Holt.

Holt believes we will see more high rise upcycling in the future, but only if developers and city authorities can work together.

“Every site has a floor area ratio that can’t be exceeded, but thankfully the City of Sydney Planning Committee is quite progressive and they allowed for an area transfer from one site that AMPC owned, to the QQT site, enabling us to put more area on the Alfred Street site. It was a very smart move. For very little risk in terms of planning and overshadowing, the City of Sydney has allowed us to revitalise that entire precinct. It took everyone, from planning authorities to developers, and of course a creative solution by us to upcycle the building.”

About the Author: Stephen Lacey

Image source: https://www.quayquartersydney.com.au/

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