City Mutual Life Assurance Building | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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City Mutual Life Assurance Building

Item details

Name of item: City Mutual Life Assurance Building
Other name/s: CML Building, 10 Bligh Street
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Commercial
Category: Commercial Office/Building
Location: Lat: -33.8659967401 Long: 151.2103387730
Primary address: 60-66 Hunter Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOTS1-53 CP/SP76907
LOT54-55 SP78709
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
60-66 Hunter StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address
Bligh StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandAlternate Address

Statement of significance:

The City Mutual Life Assurance Building is one of the foremost examples of high quality and well-designed commercial Art Deco architecture in Sydney's CBD and represents the culmination of the work of one of Australia's foremost proponents of this style, Emil Sodersteen. As a largely intact and well maintained late 1930's structure, the building demonstrates through its powerful exterior elevations and dramatic interior spaces the aesthetic and commercial aspects of Art Deco architecture in Australia.

The building occupies a dominant position in the surrounding urban context, serving as a backdrop to Richard Johnson Square and as a landmark in the Bligh and Hunter Streetscapes. Since its completion in 1936, the building has been a symbol of the Mutual Life Assurance Society and the building stands as a monument to the Society's participation in the evolution of Sydney's business and commerce. Significance of the building's individual components is discussed below.

Exterior
Exterior elevations to Bligh and Hunter Streets represent intact and well-maintained examples of late Art Deco commercial detailing and massing. The materials used to differentiate parts of the building and its proportions demonstrate the Art Deco preoccupation with the precision of modern technology and materials. The tower at the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets is the focal point of the building and serves as a major landmark to the Richard Johnson Square and the Bligh and Hunter Streetscapes. Materials and detailing at lower elevations are oriented to the scale and perceptions of pedestrians. Such detailing includes the glossy granite building base at street level, bronze window sashes and sculptures (by Rayner Hoff) over the main entrances.

Interior
The lift foyer to the main entrance at the Hunter/Bligh Street corner is an intact and handsomely detailed expression of late 1930's commercial interior design. Scagliola walls, brass handrails and bronze fixtures as well as original indirect lighting fixtures demonstrate the craftsmanship and integrity of the overall building design. Main lift foyers survive largely intact on all building levels.

The ground floor main business chamber is the largest and most intact Art Deco commercial chamber in Sydney. It demonstrates Emil Sodersteen's considerable design abilities in accommodating a formally proportioned interior space within an irregular external building envelope. The streamlined space is a controlled image of commercial prestige highlighted by sophisticated detailing and craftsmanship. Scagliola wall and column surfacing, bronze window frames and detailed plasterwork emphasise the overall ambiance of the space.

Other major interior spaces that reinforce the total building design include the secondary lift foyers on the ground, first and second floors, and the second floor Board Room.


Conservation Analysis
City Mutual Life Assurance Building
Author: Not stated
Year: 1986
Page: 37-38
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: Emil Sodersten
Construction years: 1936-1936
Physical description: Construction Date :
1936 (officially opened 1 October)

Style/Design :
Strongly modelled facade to Hunter and Bligh Streets with tower element at corner. Central three storey business chamber entered at ground level. One of the best intact examples of Art Deco style applied to a commercial office building in Sydney CBD.

Walls/Structure :
Steel framed concrete encased structure clad externally in polished red granite to first floor level. Entrances finished in polished black granite with sculptured relief panels finished in copper (over plaster). Second floor level to eleventh floor level finished in Hawkesbury sandstone. Internally walls originally rendered and clad in scagliola or lined with timber veneer panels.

Foundation :
Excavated to good quality white sandstone base, the steel structure rests on reinforced concrete pad footings.

Windows :
To ground and first floor levels - bronze framed, fixed, clear glazing.
To upper levels - steel framed casement sash, double glazed at second floor level; clear glazing.
To light well - steel framed central pivoting awning sash with fixed glazed panels above and below sash window. Frosted wired glazing to windows.

Roof :
Seam and batten copper sheeting, falling to eaves gutters at light well and box gutters to parapets along street facades.

Quality :
The overall lack of significant deterioration in most of the materials and detailing to the facades to Hunter and Bligh Streets is indicative of good quality materials and workmanship.

Alterations/Changes of Use :
The facades in general have survived relatively intact and in good order. Minor changes externally include the addition of two "City Mutual" signs and the removal of certain minor fittings near the Bligh Street entrance.

Alterations and additions to the eleventh floor level during the late 1940s and 1950s does not impose on the integrity of the facades when viewed from street level.

Internally, certain incremental changes have occurred over the last forty years. These include:
- Addition of mezzanine level to Assurance chamber in c.1947.
- Various alterations to office partitioning including replacement of concealing of scagliola panels to certain lift lobby and corridor walls.
- Replacement or concealing of original rubber flooring to certain lift lobbies, corridors and the Assurance chamber.
- Refitting of original bronze panelled lift cars and doors with steel and aluminium ones in 1984.
- Addition of computer facilities and new, separate air conditioning plant to service same.

EXTERIOR CONDITION

Structure :
No major cracking of the facades or internal walls has been observed and no other indications are apparent to suggest major foundation movement, structural damage or deterioration. The building generally appears to be in good condition.

Walls :
Sandstone facing appears to be in good condition in most cases. Some surface exfoliation in evident in areas of excessive exposure to rainfall (such as paparets, sills, projecting mouldings, etc). Caulking between sandstone units appears to be deteriorating in many section. Polished granite facing the base of building is in good condition although some holes need to be filled in and sealed. Light court walls show signs of deterioration. Glazed surfaces are crazed and generally affected by atmospheric pollutants.

Windows :
Bronze framed windows to ground and first floor levels appear to be in good condition. All windows above first floor level are steel framed and most are in poor condition. Steel members are rusting, making movement of sashes difficult. Some glazed panels have cracked due to differential movements within steel frames. Insect screens on louvre windows to toilets have rusted completely. Rusting of some light court window frames has caused cracking of surrounding concrete.

Roof :
Copper sheeting appears to be in good condition. No sighs of active water penetration observed on eleventh level. On roof of tower section signs of water penetration were evident on concrete surrounds to timber service access hatch.

INTERIOR CONDITION

Accompanying drawings show extent of original wall and floor lining still existing in building.

Walls :
Most lift lobbies have retained original scagliola panels in good condition as well as floor numbers, lift indicators and terrazzo skirtings. Stairwells also are, in most cases, in original condition.

Only on three levels do the corridors retain all of their original detailing. The other levels have had the wall and/or floor lining materials replaced or concealed. The original detailing - scagliola wall panels, timber joinery, highlight fixed glazed windows with expanded metal mesh ventilation slots, timber doors (some with original black outlined gold lettering) - where retained is in good condition and has been well maintained. On most of the ground floor level walls the scagliola has been retained but is cracking severely and is drummy in many places.

Original timber veneer panelling to boardroom on second floor level, doctor's surgery on first floor level and some executive offices has been retained and is in good condition. Most office areas have been refurbished and little original detailing remains.

Ceilings :
Generally in good condition. Most appear to have been recently painted. Original form and detailing, however, appears to have been retained in lift lobbies and corridor spaces. Office areas have had suspended ceilings installed on many levels.

Floors :
In ground floor level lobbies the original marble floors are in good condition. Original floor to Assurance chamber may still be in place under carpet. Lift lobbies and corridors on first floor level and above originally had black and white rubber flooring. In many cases this still remains but has been well worn. Many areas have been carpeted and extent of original flooring is unknown at this stage.

Services :
Original air conditioning and ventilation equipment is still in place and servicing the building. Spare parts are, however, difficult to obtain and require special manufacturing. The cooling tower has been replaced and a new and separate air conditioning system has been installed for the computer facilities. Lift cars and doors, and presumably the lifting system, has been replaced. Many original light fittings remain as well as some fixtures such as power points and switches. In most cases, however, these have been replaced.


Conservation Analysis
City Mutual Life Assurance Building
Author: Not stated
Year: 1986
Page: 31-34
Current use: Commercial
Former use: Commercial

History

Historical notes: The Head Office of the City Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited has been associated with the eastern corner of Hunter and Bligh Streets since 1891. On 16 February of that year, part of the present corner site was purchased by the Society for 22,000 pounds. The site had approximately equal frontage to both street. At the time of acquisition the site was occupied by a plumber's shop at the corner of the two streets, along with several other buildings dating to the middle of the nineteenth century.

Five leading Sydney architects were invited to submit designs for the Society's new head office building. G A Mansfield's design for a four storey Victorian Second Empire style building with mansard roof was chosen. The main entrance was at the corner of Hunter and Bligh Streets with retain areas contained on ground level facing Hunter Street.

This building occupied the site until 1934 when the Society decided to expand and modernise its accommodation. Prior to this decision the building adjacent to the site 9in Bligh Street) had been purchased.

Once again, City Mutual sought to obtain ideas from a number of architects and offered a prize for the best design of the new office block. Eleven designs were submitted and the prize was duly awarded. The Board of Directors, however, preferred Emil Sodersteen's design. This had been withdrawn by the architect prior to the final decision. Sodersteen was approached and was subsequently appointed as architect.

Sodersteen had commenced private practice in 1925 and had established a name for himself after winning a design competition for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in 1927. He and another architect, John Crust, collaborated on its final design which was completed in 1928.

Sodersteen's design for the new City Mutual Building was styled after the American skyscrapers of that period. He "regarded the skyscraper as the acme of efficiency and perfection. Its expressive form, facade zoning, integral decoration and rationalised embellishments inspired his distinctive and (in Sydney in the thirties) unique Art Deco". (Tanner, H. Architects of Australia, 1981, p125)

At that time in Sydney the building was a striking new structure - arresting in effect. A periodical of the day enthusiastically described the structure's impact upon passers by :

"It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole of Sydney is talking about the new City Mutual Building. Every building has its group of admirers and commentators, particularly when the dogman is nonchalantly performing his daily round; but the City Mutual has caused more than casual interest. People passing in the trams lean forward to gaze upon it, while those walking up Hunter Street stop to admire its streamline symmetry." (Building magazine 12/10/1936, p31)

The City Mutual Building has generally been regarded as the culmination of Sodersteen's Art Deco work. It combined the architect's sophisticated personal vision with his interpretation of the skyscraper to produce on of the finest of Sydney's modern office buildings. Exterior elevations with their powerful verticality and articulation announced a major commercial building that maximised the site's height and site coverage potential. The building expressed the spirit of the age by the use of latest technology (at that time) and materials : glossy polished surfaces, precise metal detailing and rich colour contrasts.

Sodersteen's design for the new City Mutual Building incorporated a steel framed structure clad externally in polished granite and sandstone. It extended for two basement levels, ground level and ten upper floors with some accommodation at roof level. Air conditioning was incorporated into the design the building was one of the first in Sydney to provide this amenity.

Externally the building emphasises the corner of Bligh and hunter Streets, through the verticality of the tower element. Polished black granite at the base of the main entrance is strongly modelled with few embellishments. Internally the design centres upon the three storey Assurance chamber which is entered at a 45 degree angle from the main entrance.

Because of the building's height and the natural elevation of the site, the structure was originally clearly visible from ferries entering Circular Quay.

The City Mutual Building was officially opened on 1 October 1936.

Due to the building's success, Sodersteen became the designated architect for the Society's work and undertook a number of other jobs including the Q.B.E Building in Pitt Street, Sydney and Lennon's Hotel, Brisbane.

During the last fifty years a number of alterations and additions have occurred to the building. Most of the changes have not significantly affected the integrity of the original design. Sodersteen himself was responsible for the initial alterations. The first occurred to the sub-basement level. Here, Sodersteen designed a restaurant that was leased to the Picwick Club. This became well known throughout Sydney for its luncheons, receptions (especially weddings) and its library.

A second alteration occurred on the eleventh level where minor changes were made tot he staff amenities area. This level also contained the caretaker's flat and a garden. The weight of the soil and the watering of the garden posed problems and the garden was soon removed. In 1956 CC Ruwald and Howard, Architects, designed extensions to the eleventh level that virtually formed another floor. At street level, however, this addition is not prominent and does not interrupt the integrity of the design.

In 1946 the Society approached Sodersteen to design a mezzanine level within the three storey Assurance chamber. Preliminary research indicates that Sodersteen was most displeased with the idea and refused to design the mezzanine. Also around this time Sodersteen instigated a law suit against the Society regarding the payment of fees for a Pitt Street building design project which had been cancelled. Although Sodersteen eventually won the case, the ill feelings generated by the affair meant that he ceased to be the architect for the Society.

H Ruskin Rowe became architect for the Society and designed the mezzanine level which was constructed in 1946/7. Rowe was formally from the firm of Ross and Rowe, a prominent architectural firm in Sydney, and one of the firms in which Sodersteen received his early architectural training. It seems clear that Sodersteen would have objected to the mezzanine addition for a number of reasons. Aesthetically, it interrupts the integrity of the chamber space and the clarity of the design intent. Professionally, it would seem unfair that a former mentor would alter Sodersteen's design with the knowledge of his displeasure.

Various other changes have occurred over the years, mainly in the office levels. During the 1960's the original floor and wall linings were either been replaced or covered with new materials.

Originally the City Mutual Society occupied only the ground, first and second floor levels and leased the remaining space in the building. Today it occupies most of the building including the car park and former Picwick Club, which are now used for the benefit of staff.


Conservation Analysis
City Mutual Life Assurance Building
Author: Not stated
Year: 1986
Page: 7-9

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 Insurance industry-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in urban settings-
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 and periods - 20th century Art Deco/Jazz Age-
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. Adaptation of overseas design for local use-
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. Creating an icon-
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. Interior design styles and periods - Modernist-
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. Interior design styles and periods - Art Deco-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Emil Sodersteen, architect-

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentCity Mutual Building, CMP 2005 by Tanner Architects endorsed by Heritage Council on 21 April 2005 CMP endorsed by Heritage Council for a period of five years on 21 April 2005, expires 21 April 2009. Apr 21 2005
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions Order as appeared in NSW Government Gazette, No 93, 21 July 2006

HERITAGE ACT, 1977
ORDER UNDER SECTION 57(2)
City Mutual Life Assurance Building
60-66 Hunter Street, Sydney
SHR No. 00585
I, the Minister for Planning, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, in pursuance of section 57(2) of the Heritage Act, 1977, do, by this my order, grant an exemption from section 57(1) of the said Act in respect of the engaging in or carrying out of any activities described in Schedule "C" of the land described in Schedule "B" on the item described in Schedule "A".

FRANK SARTOR, M.P.,
Minister for Planning
Dated at Sydney, this 16th day of July 2006

SCHEDULE "A"
The item known as the City Mutual Life Assurance Building, situated on the land described in Schedule "B".
SCHEDULE "B"
All those pieces or parcels of land known as Lot 1 DP 1084599 in Parish of St James, County of Cumberland shown edged heavy black on the plan catalogued HC 1583 in the office of the Heritage Council of New South Wales.
SCHEDULE "C"
Non-structural fit out to the interior of the building, levels 3 to 11 inclusive only, except insofar as such works would affect the remaining original fabric of the interiors of these floors being: the timber internal window sills, the concrete structure of the v-shaped building form, the lifts and lift lobbies, the original internal stair, the exterior of the building, and all fabric and areas of the building identified in the Conservation Management Plan (prepared by Tanner Architects dated March 2005, endorsed by the Heritage Council of NSW on 21 April 2005) as being of medium, high and exceptional significance.
Jul 21 2006
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

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0058502 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0058527 May 88 912853
Register of the National Estate 181421 Mar 78   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1986Conservation Analysis - City Mutual Life Assurance Building
Written 1972ART IN AUSTRALIA VOL.9 NO.4 MARCH 1972
WrittenDaniel Thomas Art Deco in Australia AUSTRALIA.
WrittenTanner Architects2005City Mutual Building, 60-66 Hunter Street, Sydney Conservation Management Plan

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: 5045589
File number: S90/03924 & HC 87/2072


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