MLC Building (Former) | NSW Environment & Heritage

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MLC Building (Former)

Item details

Name of item: MLC Building (Former)
Other name/s: Mutual Life & Assurance Building
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Commercial
Category: Commercial Office/Building
Location: Lat: -33.8673657728 Long: 151.2096236000
Primary address: 42-46 Martin Place, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP83642
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
42-46 Martin PlaceSydneySydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The former MLC Building is aesthetically significant as one of the best inter-war commercial office buildings in Sydney, and the best example in Australia of the exterior use of Egyptian derived motifs in such buildings.

Its quality of design and use of materials make it one of the principal contributors to the architectural character of Martin Place which is recognised as one of Sydney's finest urban spaces.

The building contains a substantially intact insurance chamber and relocated boardroom. ante-room and lift lobby and relocated remnants of other architectural features. The former MLC Building is historically significant as one of a small group (about a dozen) of major commercial office buildings constructed in Sydney during the second half of the 1930s. It is associated with the well known Melbourne architects Bates, Smart & McCutcheon, and as the winner of a design competition, reflects the architectural taste of the period. (RAIA 2008)
Date significance updated: 16 Oct 08
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 (Sir W P Osborn McCutcheon)
Builder/Maker: Concrete Constructions Ltd.
Construction years: 1936-1938
Physical description: The former MLC Building occupies a prominent position on the corner of Martin Place and Castlereagh Streets, Sydney. The steel-framed building was erected to a height of 150 ft. (49.3 m), the maximum allowable in Sydney at the time, although the tower rose another 50 ft. (16.5m) higher. Externally the upper floors are clad in buff Wondabyne Sandstone (Wallace 1971) supplied by Hawkesbury Sandstone Limited.

The base of the building is of "Rob Roy Red" from Sodwalls Quarry (Wallace 1971). The stone has a tooled finish with a vertical polished scolloped polished border next to the window mullions. Polished Rose Red granite is used for the plinth course, running beneath the windows and around the doorways. The emblem of the Society has been incorporated into the detail over the main entrance from Martin Place and Castlereagh Streets. The granite was supplied by the firm Loveridge and Hudson Ltd.

The windows are arranged in pairs between wide piers with slender mullions between the windows. The innovative spandrel panels between the windows were enamelled fluted steel panels, the flutes running horizontally.

It contains other architectural features of note, including the polished granite surrounds to the lift doors at ground floor level, and two pairs of large bronze doors to both entrances of the building (granite surrounds were re-erected around new lifts).

A relief sculpture on the prominent tower above the corner of Martin Place and Castlereagh Street depicting the company's logo 'Strength in Unity' a man attempting unsuccessfully to break up a bundle of rods. This emblem is prominent on all facades and on the lobby floor.

Internally the building originally included eleven floors above ground level, part of the ground floor and the whole of the upper five floors being devoted to the activities of the Company, the others being available for letting. "Princes' Restaurant (now demolished) occupied the basement level while the sub-basement accommodated air conditioning plant and other services. A caretakers flat was included on the tenth floor.

Most of the floors were left open so that partitions could be erected as required. On floors 1 to 5 a central corridor divided lettable spaces. The ground floor incorporated and insurance chamber on the Martin Place/Castlereagh Street corner and three lettable spaces. The executive offices of the company were located on the 9th floor, and were entered through a lift lobby and anteroom finished in traverine. The offices, boardroom and anteroom were finished in walnut and maple panelling and blue carpet. The 10th floor accommodated a caretaker's flat, and dining facilities for the staff.

A survey of the building made by Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners in January 1987 to determine how the building had changes since construction is attached Figures 1-5 show the major alterations carried out since 1939. According to their report:

Generally, all the original partitioning on floors 1 to 10 was removed, ceiling and lighting replaced as well as flooring. All walls to the flat and dining facilities on the 10th floor were removed. All the executive offices on the 9th floor were replaced, except the lift lobby, staircase, boardroom and anteroom. On the ground floor, the insurance chamber remained relatively intact, as did the Castlereagh Street Entrance, but the main entrance vestibule and lift lobby was extensively altered. Princes Restaurant was removed from the basement.

The building has been extended to the west in a style matching the original. Windows and spandrel panels are now aluminium.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The building has maintained in good condition since the substantial renovations of the late 1980s. The main assurance chamber on the ground floor of rare scale and high quality finishes survives in substantially intact condition.

The archaeological potential of the site is unknown.
Date condition updated:19 Feb 09
Further information: Comparisons:
It is one of a small group of extant major commercial office buildings built in Sydney during the second half of the 1930s. These are:

Asbestos House, York Street1930-5
Manufactures House, O'Connell Street1935
Railways House, York Street1934-6
City Mutual Life Building, Hunter & Bligh Streets1935-6
ACA Building, King & York Streets1936
APA Building, Martin Place & Elizabeth Streets1935-7
Chatsworth House, Bent Street1936-7
Co-Operative Insurance House, Pitt Street1936-7
MLC Building Martin Place & Castlereagh Street1936-8
Transport House, Carrington & Margaret Streets1938
Booth House, Young & Bridge Streets1938
David Jones Store, Market & Castlereagh Sts1938
AWA Building, York Streets1937-9
Red Cross House, Clarence & Kent Streets1937-9
Inter-Ocean House, George & Jamison Streets1939
Water Board Building, Pitt Street1939
Delfin House, O'Connell Street1938-40
Queensland Insurance Building, Pitt Street1940
McNade House, Spring Street1940
ACI Building, William & Boomerang Streets1940-41

Of these buildings, and those built in other major Australian cities during the same period, the MLC Building is the best example of a building built in the Art Deco Skyscraper/Moderne style with a strong Egyptian design influence.

MLC also built a new headquarters in Melbourne as the Sydney Building was nearing completion. The overall form and structural similarities, though not the detailing, of the two buildings are very striking.

Comparative Boardrooms
Boardrooms were included in the original design of the following Sydney buildings, of these only four still exist. The boardrooms in the City Mutual Life Building and the ACI are considered excellent examples of their type. They are not as large in scale as the MLC boardroom and are less formally conceived. The MLC boardroom is the only one with an anteroom and finely finished lift lobby.

Railways House1934-6Demolished
City Mutual Life Building1935-6Intact
ACA Building1936Demolished
APA Building1935-7Demolished
MLC Building 1936-8Intact
AWA Building1937-9Intact
Inter-Ocean House1939Demolished
Water Board Building1939Demolished
Delfin House1940Extensively Altered
ACI Building1941Intact

Comparative Insurance Chambers

The following buildings include insurance or banking chambers:

City Mutual Life Building1935-6Substantially Intact but mezzanine introduced
ACA Building1936Altered
APA Building1935-7Substantially altered
MLC Building 1936-8Substantially intact
AWA Building1937-9Substantially intact
Transport House1938Substantially intact
Water Board Building1939Substantially altered
Delfin House1940Intact

Of the substantially intact chambers those in AWA, ACA and Transport House are of inferior finish to the MLC Chamber. The significant chambers in Delfin House and the City Mutual Life Building are much larger than that of the MLC Building. However , the detailing of the MLC insurance chamber is unusual because of its plaster relief panels depicting scenes of everyday life in Sydney (in a similar way to the AWA Building and the Manchester Unity Building, Melbourne, c.1930. The chamber, although small, has very high quality finishes; such as moulded travertine and caste plaster bas-reliefs.

It is a major pre-war example of the work of Bates, Smart & McCutcheon, a noted 20th century Australian firm of architects.

As the winner of a two stage design competition for a major building, it more than other buildings of similar age reflects attitudes about architectural taste in the late 1930s.
Current use: Offices
Former use: Offices

History

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 http://www.cityofsydney.nsw,gov.au/barani )

Major insurance companies were formed in Victorian Australia, often with British assets, to cover the problems of world trade, internal communication, retirement and the constant hazard of fire. The Mutual Life and Citizens Assurance Company, which commissioned Bates, Smart and McCutcheon to build its new Sydney Headquarters at the corner of Martin Place and Castlereagh Street in 1936-1938, already had on the same site a substantial Victorian building, which was demolished in 1937.

During 1936 the Mutual Life and Citizen's Assurance Society held a two stage competition for the design of its new building to be erected on the site. It attracted more than 70 entries. The winning design by Bates, Smart and McCutcheon selected from a short list of six was built during 1937-1938.

The architects , Bates Smart & McCutcheon had been a distinguished Melbourne-based firm since 1926, although the experience of the principals went back to the nineteenth century. The majority of the firm's work prior to World War II was domestic and the MLC building is its only large commercial undertaking in Sydney between the wars. Other commercial buildings designed by the Bates Smart & McCutcheon during the period 1930-1942 include the AMP Building (1931) and Buckley & Nunn Ltd, Men's Store (1934), both in Melbourne.

The building's architect Osborn McCutcheon was a man who garnered national respect from his peers, his work was recognised by the award of the RAIA Gold Medal in 1965 and he was knighted in 1966.

The building belongs to the period of recovery from the Depression and is the near contemporary of the City Mutual Life building in Hunter Street, of Transport House and of David Jones' Market Street store. MLC also built a new headquarters in Melbourne as the Sydney Building was nearing completion: the structural similarities, though not the detailing, of the two buildings are very striking.

Alterations were made to the Sydney building in 1987-1988 under the supervision of Clive Lucas Stapleton. These included the infill of the light well and relocation of the lift core and stairs, the widening of the Martin Place entry and the relocation of the executive suite to level 10. The existing granite lift core surrounds were relocated and reused and a matching surround made for a new fourth lift.

The MLC Building is one of a group of buildings which form the boundaries of Martin Place. Apart from the most recent buildings, and although individual buildings within the group have been constructed over a period of more than 100 years, there is a high degree of unity in building form, height and the use of high quality masonry materials.

The MLC Building is one of only three remaining buildings, (the others being the Commonwealth Bank and APA Building) which define the eastern end of Martin Place, forming a hard wall to a maximum height of 12 storeys.

The building is very prominent when viewed from the eastern end of Martin Place, its verticality in design and the tower standing out and making a large contribution to the particular urban quality of Martin Place.

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 MLC Building has historic significance as the headquarters of the MLC Insurance company in Sydney since the Victorian period. It is a major pre-war example of the work of Osborn McCutcheon, Bates Smart McCutcheon, a noted twentieth century Australian firm of architects.

As the winner of a two stage design competition for a major building, it more than other buildings of similar age reflects attitudes about architectural taste in the late 1930s.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The MLC Building is a major pre-war example of the work of Bates, Smart & McCutcheon, a noted 20th century Australian firm of architects. The buildings designer, Osborn McCutcheon's contribution to Australian architecture was recognised in 1965 by the award of the RAIA Gold Medal and he was knighted in 1966.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The MLC Building has technical significance due to intact fabric that demonstrates past building techniques and technology. The building contains rare examples of early porcelain enamel finished fluted steel spandrels beneath the windows.

It is the best demonstrative example of the use of Egyptian derived motifs in the design of inter-war commercial office buildings in Australia.

Its quality of design and use of materials make it one of the principal contributors to the architectural character of Martin Place which is recognised as one of Sydney's finest urban spaces.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The building does not demonstrate a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in NSW of social, cultural or spiritual reasons.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
It is a rare and relatively intact example of an Art Deco Skyscraper/Moderne style insurance building in Sydney. It features exceptionally fine stone detailing with Egyptian motif.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
It is one of a small group of extant major commercial office buildings built in Sydney during the second half of the 1930s. (There are approximately 13 others) It is rare at State level.
It contains a substantially intact late 1930s commercial insurance chamber of rare scale and high quality finishes.

The MLC Building has technical significance due to intact fabric that demonstrates past building techniques and technology. The building contains rare examples of early porcelain enamel finished fluted steel spandrels beneath the windows.

It is the best demonstrative example of the use of Egyptian derived motifs in the design of inter-war commercial office buildings in Australia.

Its quality of design and use of materials make it one of the principal contributors to the architectural character of Martin Place which is recognised as one of Sydney's finest urban spaces.

It contains a substantially intact suite of late 1930s commercial executive rooms, including the lift lobby, ante-room and boardroom, which is the largest and most formal of its type surviving in Sydney (the finishes of some of these spaces have been dismantled and stored.)
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The building is an important contribution to the urban quality of Martin Place and Castlereagh Street, having strong visual relationship with the Commonwealth Bank and APA Building and other major nineteenth and twentieth century office buildings in this locality.

As the winner of a two stage design competition for a major building, it more than other buildings of similar age reflects attitudes about architectural taste in the late 1930s.
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.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions Alts any part on interior except ground

Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
(1) The maintenance of the building where maintenance means the continuous protective care of existing material; without the introduction of new materials;
(2) Alterations to any part of the interior other than the ground floor commercial chamber on the corner of Martin Place and Castlereagh Street, Sydney, except where these would change the external appearance of the building; and
(3) Change of use.
Jun 24 1988
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementConservation Management Plan for Former MLC building by Weir Phillips Heritage (Revision B November 2017) sent for endorsement. Dec 5 2017

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0059702 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0059724 Jun 88 1053360
Local Environmental PlanCSH LEP 4 07 Apr 00   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Commerce Walking Tour View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Commerce Walking Tour View detail
WrittenRoyal Australian Institute of Architect (NSW) Heritage Committee2008State Heritage Register Nomination Form

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: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045268


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