Former "Commonwealth Bank of Australia Building" including interiors | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Former "Commonwealth Bank of Australia Building" including interiors

Item details

Name of item: Former "Commonwealth Bank of Australia Building" including interiors
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Commercial
Category: Bank
Location: Lat: -33.8695775952321 Long: 151.207691505716
Primary address: 108-120 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney


Immediate Curtilage: Lot boundary as shown in the land's title, Expanded Curtilage: Martin Place Special Character Area as per Sydney LEP 2012 map also including Rowe Street & Lees Court
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
108-120 Pitt StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Commonwealth Bank is of architectural and environmental significance as an important component of the Martin Place streetscape. It is of historical significance as the principal and first building for the Commonwealth Bank and reflects the importance of the CBD as a focus for national finance. It is of considerable significance as the head office building of the Commonwealth Bank, due to its public recognition as a national symbol over a prolonged period since 1916, and its association with the early days of the bank, and in particular with the governor, Denison Miller and the architect, John Kirkpatrick. It was the first fully steel framed building in Sydney and an early manifestation of the Commercial Palazzo style. The building contributes visually to the Martin Place precinct due to its handsome external architectural quality. The building also derives significance from the spatial qualities of the banking chamber, the intactness of the safe deposit vault, and the recoverable architectural form of the ninth floor dining room with its vaulted lantern roof. The inclusion of a governor's suite and the quality of most of its material and detailing, is also notable.
Date significance updated: 10 Jan 06
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: John Kirkpatrick (1913-16), E. H. Henderson & F. Hill (1929-33)
Builder/Maker: Henry Phippard of Phippard Bros (1913-16), John Grant & Sons (1929-33)
Construction years: 1913-1933
Physical description: Situated on the corner of Pitt Street and Martin Place the building was designed by John Kirkpatrick in the Commercial Palazzo style and built 1913-16. The building has had two major additions. The first, 1929-33, under the direction of E. H. Henderson, was along Pitt Street. This addition both respected and complemented the work of Kirkpatrick, reproducing the sandstone and trachyte exterior detailing and creating a symmetrical facade with the original portal flanking a new ionic portico. These Grecian Doric style facades are divided horizontally into four distinct sections. Each section is divided by pilasters that terminate at ground level with cartouches, and at the upper level with blank shields and ionic capitals. The banking chamber is spacious with coffered plaster ceiling, marble floor, ionic columns and bronze detailing. Other more contemporary interiors include parquetry floors, joinery work and panelling of Australian timbers.

The second extension, 1965, was along Martin Place in the late 20th century Stripped Classical style. The building is an important streetscape element to both Pitt Street and Martin Place. Category:Individual Building.
Style:Inter-war Commercial Palazzo, late 20th century Stripped Classical (1965 addition).
Storeys:12 + Basement and Sub-basement.
Facade:Sandstone and trachyte cladding, decorative panels, alumin. panels. Side/Rear Walls:Sandstone and trachyte cladding.
Internal Walls:Plasterbd. and stud, plastered brick, timber and stud, glass, marble facing. Roof Cladding:Corrugated steel and copper sheeting, waterproof membrane, conc. paving units. Internal Structure:Conc. encased steel frame.
Floor:Reinf. conc. slab. Roof:Reinf. conc. slab. Ceilings:Decorative plaster, susp. acoustic tiles. Stairs:Reinf. conc. stair, steel baluster, timber handrail; Reinf. conc. stair, steel baluster, plastic covered handrail; Reinf. conc. stair, marble balustrade, bronze handrail and detailing..
Fire Stairs:4.
Sprinkler System:Yes.
Lifts:11, 6 to Martin Place entry, 4 to Pitt Street, 1 goods lift, various finishes.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
In general, the exterior, banking chamber and lift foyers from the original two phases of development remain largely intact. Interiors above the banking chamber have been progressively adapted and redecorated since the mid 1960s. Since 1980, however, work on the bank has exhibited an increasing sophistication and care of the significant fabric, particularly the fine elements of the banking chamber and lift foyer areas. Intrusive Elements:East wall of building, present roof scape as viewed from surrounding buildings.
Date condition updated:10 Jan 06
Modifications and dates: 1913-1916, 1929-1933 (Pitt Street addition), 1965 (Martin Place addition)
Further information: High Significance:Elements from the first two phases of construction including, overall building form, exterior masonry walls and metal work, structural steel frame, Pitt Street lift foyers, stairs, safe deposit vault, adjacent security area, banking chamber, former governor's suite. Medium Significance:Vaulted lantern with eleven oval windows, 1968 metal sculptures, all other components of the building which retain original integrity from first two phases of construction (not previously noted). Low Significance:1965 Martin Place addition. Streetscape:The Commonwealth Bank is located in the Special Character area of Martin Place, recognised by the Heritage LEP 2012.

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: Bank, commercial offices
Former use: Bank, 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 )

The building was designed as the national head office of the newly established Commonwealth Bank. The original building was constructed between 1913-16 to a design by John Kirkpatrick. The builders were Phippard Bros. It was intended to be one of the most modern banking establishments in the world and echoed New York style skyscrapers. Both the interiors and exteriors were noted for lavish materials and decoration. In 1929-33 the building was enlarged to more than double its original size to a plan produced by E. H. Henderson of the Commonwealth Department of Works. The scheme reflected the earlier work and was carried out by John Grant and Sons. It incorporated Art Deco influences internally. Detailing and materials of the extension were also particularly lavish. In 1965 the bank was extended along Martin Place in a style not entirely sympathetic to the existing structure. Most of the interiors above the banking chambers have been progressively adapted and redecorated since the 1960s. A major refurbishment was undertaken in the early 1990s by architects SJPH Partnership.
A development application seeking approval for a major refurbishment was submitted in 2009 by JPW Architects in partnership with Tanner Architects (D/2009/1386).

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)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Pitt Street Commonwealth Bank was established as the principal office of the first national banking facility in Australia. The building reflects the pre-eminence of Sydney CBD as a financial centre. Its continuity of use by the Bank is of considerable historic significance. Has historic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Pitt Street Commonwealth Bank is associated with Prime Minister William Morris “Billy” Hughes whose office was located in the building, Denison Samuel King Miller, the Governor of the Commonwealth who built the head office building and John Kirkpatrick, the architect of many Commonwealth Banks. The building is socially significant for its use as the Sydney offices of the various Australian Prime Ministers, since its inception.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Pitt Street Commonwealth Bank was the first building to utilise a fully steel frame structural system in Sydney. Has aesthetic significance at a State level. Cultural:The handsome Commonwealth Bank occupies a prominent corner at a busy intersection in the CBD. It is an excellent example of the Commercial Palazzo style executed in the Federation and Inter-war period. The building is a key element in the important streetscape and spatial quality of the Martin Place precinct, and an important and early manifestation of the Commercial Palazzo idiom.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Pitt Street bank is significant to the community as a symbol of Commonwealth Bank activities since its inception. It is one of the most well-known symbols of banking due to the active marketing of the building for this purpose especially as a money-box form. The bank is located in Sydney's ceremonial thoroughfare of Martin Place.The handsome Commonwealth Bank occupies a prominent corner at a busy intersection in the CBD. It is an excellent example of the Commercial Palazzo style executed in the Federation and Inter-war period. The building is a key element in the important streetscape and spatial quality of the Martin Place precinct, and an important and early manifestation of the Commercial Palazzo idiom.
SHR Criteria f)
The Commonwealth Bank is one of the city's finest buildings and an outstanding example of the Commercial Palazzo style. The choice of the exact same external treatment for the first major extension exhibits a rare sensitivity and humility on the part of Henderson & Hill, the Bank's second architects.
SHR Criteria g)
The Pitt Street Commonwealth Bank is an excellent example of Commercial Palazzo Style by John Kirkpatrick and representative example of a large commercial building constructed in the First World War period in Sydney CBD.
Integrity/Intactness: Externally intact
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: Given the high level of significance of the Pitt Street Commonwealth Bank, any future use, management and maintenance should be in accordance with the current conservation management plan. All future development shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls and the policies of the conservation management plan, which should be reviewed on a regular basis. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I191914 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1984Martin Place Civic Design Study
Written 1933Building, April 12 1933, p32+, (journal).
Written 1913Building, April 12 1913, p48,49, (journal).
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City View detail
WrittenE. Balint,1984Historic Record of Sydney Buildings.
WrittenJames Semple Kerr1989 'Elephant Castle',
WrittenTanner and Associates.2000120 Pitt Street, Sydney : heritage impact statement to accompany development application for refurbishment of sanitary facilities
WrittenTanner and Associates.2000120 Pitt Street, Sydney : conservation management plan 1999, revised 2000
Management Plan (HC endorsed)Tanner Architects2009108-120 Pitt Street, Sydney: Conservation Management Plan Issue C
WrittenTanner Architects Pty Ltd2009108-120 Pitt Street, Sydney: Heritage Impact Statement to accompany 2009 development application for refurbishment and additions

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: 2423842

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