Former "Culwulla Chambers" Including Interiors | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Former "Culwulla Chambers" Including Interiors

Item details

Name of item: Former "Culwulla Chambers" Including Interiors
Other name/s: Culwulla Chambers
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Commercial
Category: Commercial Office/Building
Location: Lat: -33.870828516487 Long: 151.208251812749
Primary address: 65-71 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
65-71 Castlereagh StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Culwulla Chambers has high historic significance a twelve storey (now thirteen) reinforced concrete commercial office building which at the time of its construction was Australia's tallest building. It was a catalyst for the 1912 Height of Buildings Act and resulting conflict between State and Local Government over the power to regulate Sydney's development. It is an important building in the professional work of the noted firm of Spain, Cosh & Minnett. The building facade and some remnant interiors have high aesthetic significance as fine and externally largely intact examples of Federation Free style, and includes many of the style's identifying elements such as the combination brick and stone walling materials in a striped formation with distorted classical features. The name Culwulla is significant as a reflection of the social and financial success of the Marks family in early twentieth century NSW with direct connections to a successful convict entrepreneur. The building is of scientific significance as the height of the building was achieved through advanced technology in steel construction and fireproofing, remnants of which are still extant.
Date significance updated: 30 Dec 05
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.


Designer/Maker: Spain, Cosh & Minnett
Builder/Maker: Robert Wall & Sons
Construction years: 1911-1912
Physical description: Culwulla Chambers is a prominent building with frontages to Castlereagh and King Streets. The building is of Federation Free style. The 59m facades is divided into two bays to King Street and four bays to Castlereagh Street, and is built around an existing nineteenth century building, the former Surrey Hotel. It is predominantly constructed of face brick with sandstone trim to the second floor, and projecting bay windows and arches to the eighth floor with a simple curved parapet to King Street. The plan is L-shaped with a central lift foyer and two stairs. Each floor contains commercial offices. Remnants of the interior, the black and white tiles, and the original plaques to the ground floor foyer remain.
Category:Individual building. Style:Federation Free Style. Storeys:13 + basement. Facade:Sandstone, polychrome brickwork. Side/Rear Walls:Sandstone, polychrome brickwork, painted brick. Internal Walls:Plastered brick, plasterbd. & stud. Roof Cladding:Waterproof membrane. Internal Structure:Conc. encased steel frame and reinf. conc slab. Floor:Reinf. conc. slab. Roof:Reinf. conc. slab. Ceilings:Suspended plasterbd., decorative plaster. Stairs:Original stair replaced. Fire Stairs:Later addition. Sprinkler System:Yes. Lifts:2. General Details:In general Culwalla retains the original structure. The awning and the facade above are intact externally. An additional floor has been added at the top behind the existing decorative parapet.
Internally most finishes have been replaced or concealed or reused in new locations..
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
AirConditioned:Yes FireStairs:Later addition
Date condition updated:05 Dec 05
Modifications and dates: 1911 -1912
Further information: High Significance: Facade above the awning level. Medium Significance: Any of the artefacts of the foyer, stair and corridor, and other intact fabric of the interior. Low Significance: All remaining interiors. Comments: was a heritage item in 1989, and remains so to the present.

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 the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City 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 Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Commercial offices, retail
Former use: Commercial offices


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

Culwulla Chambers was Sydney's first skyscraper of twelve storeys and exceeded 170 feet in height. The building directly influenced the Heights of Building Legislation of 1912 which restricted buildings to a height of 150 feet until 1956. This created a situation whereby the State Government had control of all projected buildings over 100 feet in height and the Sydney City Council buildings under 100 feet. This height limit was not breached until the AMP Building was constructed at Circular Quay in 1962. Culwulla Chambers was refurbished in 1983 and an extra floor was added.

The building was erected for Dr Herbert J W Marks and his brother Walter Moffitt Marks. The site had previously been part of an extensive city property belonging to their maternal grandfather William Moffitt, a bookbinder, stationer and engraver who had been transported to New South Wales in 1827. William Moffitt's daughter Sarah Jane married James Marks, a squatter whose property at Jamberoo was called Culwulla. At a public ceremony for the setting of the Coping stone of the building Walter Marks announced that Culwulla Chambers was a memorial to both their mother and their maternal grandfather. Herbert Marks was a surgeon with professional rooms in Wyoming in Macquarie Street. Walter Marks was a Lawyer, yachtsman and politician, who lived at Culwulla in Darling Point and had his professional offices in Culwulla Chambers. He won most major Australian sailing trophies in his yachts Culwulla I-IV. The architectural practice Spain, Cosh and Minnett (Alfred Spain 1868-1954), Thomas Frame Cosh (1868 - 1947) & Rupert Villiers Minnett (1884 - 1974) was reviewed in the magazine Building in March 1910 as a "firm rapidly making its mark in coloured architecture". At that time they were architects for the Board of Fire commissioners of NSW and a large number of mercantile firms and trusts .

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Culwulla Chambers was built on part of the extensive city property of former convict William Moffit which reflects the opportunity available for emancipated and skilled convicts to accumulate property and wealth. At the time of building this was Australia's tallest building and was a catalyst for the 1912 Height of Buildings Act not exceeded until 1956. It was an important building in the professional work of the architectural firm of Spain, Cosh and Minnett. Has historic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Culwulla Chambers has significance as an early example of advanced technology in steel construction, fireproofing and internal postal service. Has aesthetic significance at a State level. Cultural:The building is a unique example of an early twentieth century high rise building encompassing a smaller corner building, the former Surrey Hotel. It is an outstanding example of a commercial office building of Federation Free style. It is well resolved both internally and externally and is particularly noted for its intact face brick facade with sandstone trim.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The building reflects both through its scale and name, the social and financial success of the Marks family in the early twentieth century. Has social significance at a State level.The building is a unique example of an early twentieth century high rise building encompassing a smaller corner building, the former Surrey Hotel. It is an outstanding example of a commercial office building of Federation Free style. It is well resolved both internally and externally and is particularly noted for its intact face brick facade with sandstone trim.
SHR Criteria f)
It is a unique example of early twentieth century high rise building encompassing a smaller earlier building, and was the earliest "tallest" building until 1950.
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.

Recommended management:

General: The overall form of Culwulla Chambers should be retained and conserved. As the original building has already been extensively extended, the addition of further floors should not be contemplated. A Conservation Plan is required prior to any proposal for new works which may impact on the exterior form and finishes of the exterior facade or intact internal finishes. Exterior: All remaining intact original fabric on the external facades above and including the awning should be retained and conserved. Any future development should preserve the existing form, external surfaces and materials of the facade. Door and window openings should not be enlarged or closed in. The facade finishes which were never intended for painting should continue to remain unpainted and be appropriately maintained. Interior: All remaining intact original fabric in the interiors such as the remaining fragments of the ground floor entry foyer, interior stair and corridor floor finishes should be retained and conserved. Future refurbishment should attempt to recover significance by reinstating the original foyer. Any future development should protect remaining intact interior finishes. As the interiors have been extensively remodelled and there is little of significance remaining except fragments in the foyer, stair and corridor, further alterations could be acceptable provided that future work does not compromise the facades of the building. Painted surfaces which were originally painted should continue to be painted in appropriate colours . The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the fa├žade of the building other than to reinstate original features. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney Local Environmental Plan 2012I169414 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Council Records (DAs, BAs)
Written  Art and Architecture Nov Dec 1911 pp. 372-372 Building 12.3.1912 p 57 (photograph) Building 12.8.1912 supplement (photograph) Original hand coloured drawings by Spain Cosh and MInnett- Mitchell Library
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenBrian McDonald and Associates1999Statement of Heritage Impact
WrittenJohn Graham and Associates2004Heritage Impact Statement
WrittenState Projects1992Statement of Heritage Impact

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: 2423739

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

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