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MLC Building

Item details

Name of item: MLC Building
Other name/s: Campus MLC
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Commercial
Category: Commercial Office/Building
Primary address: 105-153 Miller Street, North Sydney, NSW 2060
Parish: Willoughby
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: North Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
105-153 Miller StreetNorth SydneyNorth SydneyWilloughbyCumberlandPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

The first high rise office block in North Sydney and the largest for a number of years after its construction, the MLC Building in North Sydney is a seminal building on subsequent high-rise design in Sydney and utilised construction and structural techniques not previously used in Australia. With the first use of a curtain wall design and the first use of modular units in Australia, its use of exceptional modernist building materials in the curtain wall facade and terracotta glazed bricks are representative of the Post-War International style of architecture that predominated in these early commercial high-rise buildings. The architect, Walter Osborn McCutcheon's desire for his buildings to integrate modern art within the fabric of the design is demonstrated by the inclusion of significant artists such as Andor Mészáros and Gerald Lewers. As a result, and despite subsequent modifications, the interior, exterior and landscape setting are of high aesthetic, technical and representative significance. The building is also of historical, associative and aesthetic significance as an important work by a significant firm of architects Bates Smart and McCutcheon, and master builders Concrete Constructions, and as a landmark site at North Sydney which signified the transformation of the centre of North Sydney from Nineteenth Century town to the second commercial hub of metropolitan Sydney from the late 1950s.

Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include information on landscape significance, interiors or the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are updated by Council as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conversation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Date significance updated: 21 Nov 19
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Bates, Smart & McCutcheon (Osborn McCutcheon); Hennessy, Hennessy & Co (Associate Architects)
Builder/Maker: Concrete Constructions; Julius Poole & Gibson (Elec Engineers); W E Bassett & Assoc (Mech Engineers)
Construction years: 1955-1957
Physical description: A fourteen storey cubiform office block of 450,000 feet of floor space designed in the Post-War International style and constructed on a rigid steel frame with hollow steel floors. Curtain walls of glass and anodized aluminium spandrels. Vermiculate plaster fireproofing, stamped metal ceilings. Double glazed using anti-actinic heat-resisting glass outer and plate glass inner, ten inches apart. Facing materials include terracotta, marble, granite and mosaic tiles. The building is prominently faced with blue glazed terracotta tiles. A bronze bas-relief sculpture of the company's logo 'Strength in Unity', depicting a man attempting to break up a bundle of rods, by Andor Mészáros, is on the building's southern tiled facade. The front garden on either side of the main entrance on Miller Street with seven shaped sandstone rocks, designed and sculpted by Gerald Lewers.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Intact with modifications.
Treated-aluminium bas-relief of the MLC 'unity in strength' symbol sculpted by Andor Mészáros is extant on the south tiled facade.
The front garden on either side of the main entrance on Miller Street with seven shaped sandstone rocks designed and sculpted by Gerald Lewers, remains in situ.
Modifications and dates: 2001 - major modification of interiors for "Campus MLC" project. Original main entrance stairs from Miller street to first floor entrance removed and replaced with ground floor entrance and an awning structure that hints at the original stairs.
Current use: Commercial office building, ground floor retail

History

Historical notes: By the early 1950s, the Mutual Life & Citizens Assurance Company Limited (MLC) had recognised that their existing 1938 headquarters on Martin Place was insufficient to their needs and in 1954 announced a new head office in North Sydney. North Sydney Council later approved the application from MLC to consolidate a site of 31 shops in the town centre of North Sydney at the Victoria Cross intersection to construct their new office complex. On the occasion of the approval the General Manager of MLC, Milton Cromwell Alder, noted the future division of MLC offices in Sydney as a result: "the position in the city is becoming intolerable because of traffic congestion, as well as the need to accommodate an expanding staff. The new building [at North Sydney] will become the head office, and will house most of the clerks. Most administrative and records work will be done there. The present building [on Martin Place] will be retained for executive headquarters and for dealing direct with the public" (The Newcastle Sun, 12/08/1954, p.5).

MLC commissioned their preferred architects, Bates, Smart & McCutcheon, who had also designed their 1938 head office and with whom MLC would collaborate on the majority of their new office expansion programme, designing buildings in Brisbane (1955), Wollongong (1956), Shepparton (1959), Ballarat (1954), Geelong (1953), Adelaide (1957), Perth (1957), Newcastle (1957), North Sydney (1957), and Canberra (1959). The North Sydney MLC Building design, a 59 metre-high tower complex in the Post-war International style, was the result, with noted inspiration coming from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's (SOM) 1952 Lever House in New York and coming at the same time as the firm's design of ICI House in Melbourne, which is listed on the Victorian State Heritage Register and the Australian National Heritage List. McCutcheon spent time with SOM’s offices immediately after the end of the war, and was greatly influenced by the work of the American modernists embodied in the United Nations Headquarters building completed in 1952 (Goad 2016, p.368).

In the 1950s Bates, Smart & McCutcheon, led by Principal Partner Osborn McCutcheon until 1977, was one of Australia’s largest architectural firms and the firm's designs often reflected McCutcheon's desire to link architecture with the broader arts, often including major works of art like painting, tapestry and sculpture. This is demonstrated in the design for the MLC Building with a treated-aluminium bas-relief of the MLC 'unity in strength' symbol (derived from a fable attributed to Aesop, it depicts a man unsuccessfully trying to break a bundle of sticks) sculpted by Andor Mészáros, a prominent Hungarian-Australian artist known for his public sulpture commissions, and the front garden on either side of the main entrance with seven shaped rocks designed by sculptor and engineer, Gerald Lewers. Other works designed by the firm at this time included Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) buildings in Sydney (1956; demolished 1996) and Melbourne (1955-58), the Monash University masterplan (1960-61), and the Australian Embassy, Washington DC (1964). The project builders, Concrete Constructions Pty Ltd, were a prominent Sydney building and engineering firm that was established in 1916, and examples of their work include MLC Building Martin Place (1938), King George Memorial Hospital (1939), Royal Canberra Hospital (1942), Qantas House (1957) and Centrepoint Tower (1970). The consulting engineers were Julius, Poole & Gibson and W. E. Bassett & Associates.

It was noted on the approval of the design in 1954 that the MLC Building marked the change of North Sydney as a second CBD of metropolitan Sydney. The Mayor of North Sydney, William Henry Brothers, commented that "The northern side of the harbour will eventually develop into the commercial centre of Sydney", while MLC General Manager Milton Alder agreed: "I am of the opinion that in years to come Sydney will be a twin city - like Buda and Pest and Brooklyn and New York" (Construction, 21/07/1954, p.1). The construction of the MLC Building in North Sydney began just as the smaller modernist AMP Building on Miller Street, North Sydney, designed by Stephenson & Turner and built by Concrete Constructions Pty Ltd, was completed. In January 1955, preparations of the site began and the demolition of all the buildings on the site was completed by November 1955. Excavation works removed more than 50,000 tonnes of of soil and rock, which was used by the Municipality of North Sydney for improvements to parks and gardens.

The MLC Building's modernist design was noted for its first use of a curtain wall design, the first use of modular units in Australia and was the first high-rise building in Australia to have a public plaza. The design was one of the first commercial development to include extensive staff facilities such as a staff canteen, lounge, billiards room, theatrette, squash courts and roof gardens (Rodrigo 2016, p.89). Other elements of the design were no less impressive: 3000 occupants, 3,556 tonnes of steel, 9,775m² of curtain walls, a gross floor space of 41,806m², and ten 23-passenger lifts. As the first building in Sydney with a fully rigid steel frame and hollow steel floors, the steel framing, providing maximum width and the first-use of steel pan flooring, allowed natural light to permeate to even the centre of the building. The glass too was a innovative inclusion, with the use of a double layer of anti-actinic glass to the curtain walls that filtered light but prevented heat transfer, and was supplied by F. W. Gissing Pty Ltd of Newtown. 'Glass in Australia' praised the building's design as "an outstanding example of Australia's trend towards greater utilisation of glass in modern constructions" (Glass in Australia, June-August 1957, pp.6-7) and by any account, the new building "exemplified slick corporate America transplanted to Sydney" (HeriCon, 2013, p. 87). As a mark of its position as the tallest building in North Sydney, a weather beacon was installed on the roof by Standard Telephones and Cables, which remained in place until 1987 when the building was no longer the tallest tower in North Sydney. Construction work was stopped temporarily in February 1957 when an electrician fell to his death from the 14th floor, and his fellow workers later presented his widow and children with a cheque for £1,200.

Completed at a final cost of £4.5 million, the MLC Building was officially opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies on 22 August 1957, who expressed that "The view [from the top floor] gives me such a new conception of Sydney that quite frankly I'm beginning to like the place" (The Cumberland Argus, 11/09/1957, p.15). The deocrative finishings echoed the prestige of the building when it opened, with the use of marble, granite, glazed terra cotta tiles, mosaic feature murals, and indoor tropical gardens, all being used to "add to the attractive resentation of Australia's concept of a modern building in keeping with world standards" (MLC, 1957). The treated-aluminium bas-relief of the MLC 'unity in strength' symbol by Andor Mészáros, was placed high on the southern blue-grey tiled wall, with a yellow-tiled background helping it to stand out against the blue grey tiles (MLC 1957). At the time of its opening, the eastern section of the building was also leased by Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, while MLC occupied the top five floors of the west block. The eighth floor was completely taken up (1,300m²) by office machinery and an innovative computer, the whole plant being described as "the biggest single plant of its kind in Australia" (MLC, 1957). With the ground level occupied by 13 shops, the southernmost section was occupied by the North Sydney Branch of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney from 1957 to 1977. The frontage of the west block along Miller Street was setback to allow for landscaping, consisting of six plane trees, New Zealand Browntop grass (Agrostis tenuous) lawns, and a decorative sculpted sandstone and river rock garden on either side of the central entrance ramp designed by Gerald Lewers.

In 2000, the facade was restored by Bates Smart (as it was known from 1995) following a conservation management plan prepared by Peter McKenzie alongside extensive interior renovations for a project termed "Campsus MLC" by Bligh Voller Nield, which were completed in 2001.

REFERENCES
"New Head Office For M.L.C.", The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 March 1954, p.9. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18416563
"New Building For M.L.C. Company", The Newcastle Sun, 12 August 1954, p.5. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163291569
"Bates Smart Timeline - MLC Building, North Sydney", Journal Bates Smart, March–April 2012. URL: https://www.batessmart.com/2012/mar-apr/bates-smart-timeline/
Goad, Philip (2016), 'Importing Expertise: Australian-US Architects and the Large-scale, 1945–1990', Fabrications, Vol. 26, No.3, pp. 357-391.
Willis, Julie (2012), 'McCutcheon, Sir Walter Paul Osborn (1899–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. URL: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mccutcheon-sir-walter-paul-osborn-15066/text26265
"The M.L.C. Building, North Sydney", Architecture in Australia, July/September 1957, Vol. 46, pp. 40-46.
M.L.C, 'The MLC Head Office Building - Nth Sydney', Adelaide: Griffin Press, 1957.
Hickey, Denise (1982), Gerald and Margo Lewers, their lives and their work, Mosman: Grasstree Press, p. 124.
"Twin Cities On The Harbour?", Construction, 31 March 1954, p.4. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224515260
"North Sydney Expansion Continues", Construction, 21 July 1954, p.1. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224516728
"Big Office Block In North Sydney", The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 April 1954, p.7. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18421429
Rodrigo, Russell (2016), 'Banking on Modernism: Dr H.C. (Nugget) Coombs and the Institutional Architecture of the Reserve Bank of Australia', Fabrications, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 72-101.
"Glass at Work: Gigantic New Building", Glass In Australia (Special Journal of the Federated Glass Merchants' Association of Australia), June-August 1957, Vol 1, No. 1, pp. 6-7.
HeriCon Consulting; Morris, Colleen and Spearritt, Peter (August 2013), The Modern Movement in New South Wales: A Thematic Study and Survey of Places, Heritage Council of New South Wales, p. 87.
"WEATHER BEACON", The Canberra Times, 13 March 1957, p.1. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91236418
"Workers Stop When Electrician Falls To Death", The Canberra Times, 22 February 1957, p.1. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91234965
"NATIONAL ROUND-UP", Tribune, 3 April 1957, p.11. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article236326278
"Mr. Menzies To Open New M.L.C. Building", The Canberra Times, 22 August 1957, p.5. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91596557
"P.M. Sees New View of Sydney", The Cumberland Argus, 11 September 1957, p.15. URL: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article132135579

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural Styles - The Post-War Period, c. 1940 - c. 1960-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The MLC Building that was built in 1957 as MLC’s state headquarters to the design of the architects Bates Smart McCutcheon, is a seminal work in the development of high-rise buildings in Australia. Significant on a local and state level as it was marked as beginning the transformation of North Sydney from low-scale commercial town to the high-rise second CBD of Sydney. It used construction and detailing techniques not previously seen in Australia with the use of curtain wall design and the first use of modular units.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The work is an example of the work of the architects Bates Smart McCutcheon who were influential in the design of high rise buildings in Australia. Example of the building work of Concrete Constructions Pty Ltd, who were a major construction firm in New South Wales from 1916 and built many significant buildings in Sydney. McCutcheon's desire for his buildings to integrate modern art within the fabric of the design is demonstrated by the inclusion of significant artists such as Andor Mészáros (bronze bas-reliefs), and Gerald Lewers (front garden and stones).
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The building is a key building in the development of high rise buildings and is considered to be one of the first true high-rise buildings in Australia, making the MLC Building of national significance. Its use of exception modernist building materials in the curtain wall facade and terracota glazed bricks are representative of the Post-War International style of architecture that predominated in these early commercial high-rise buildings. McCutcheon's desire for his buildings to integrate modern art within the fabric of the design is demonstrated by the inclusion of significant artists such as Andor Mészáros (bronze bas-reliefs), and Gerald Lewers (front garden and stones).
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The building has no special associations though it is held in high regard by the building and architectural community.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The building is well-documented and understood. The scale of the building would preclude any archaeological remains being extant.The MLC building was the largest office building in Australia on its completion in 1957 and in its design, construction and approach, it is a most influential and important piece of architecture of national significance.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The building is a significant piece of modern architecture of rare quality, it is a rare example of its size, scale and age statewide.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
This item is assessed as historically representative locally. This item is assessed as aesthetically representative regionally. This item is assessed as socially representative regionally.
Integrity/Intactness: _
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanNorth Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2013I089302 Aug 13   
Local Environmental Plan - LapsedMLC Centre085401 Jun 01   
Local Environmental Plan - LapsedM.L.C. Centre 03 Nov 89   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
North Sydney Heritage Study Review19930854Tony Brassil, Robert Irving, Chris Pratten, Conybeare MorrisonTB May 1992 Yes
The Modern Movement in New South Wales: A Thematic Study and Survey of Places2013 HeriCon Consulting in association with Colleen Morris and Peter Spearritt  No

References, internet links & images

None

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2180854


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