BMA House | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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BMA House

Item details

Name of item: BMA House
Other name/s: AMA House
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Commercial
Category: Commercial Office/Building
Location: Lat: -33.8643153753 Long: 151.2124085380
Primary address: 135-137 Macquarie 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
   SP14172
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
135-137 Macquarie StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Strata Plan No.14172Private 

Statement of significance:

BMA House has high aesthetic significance as a particularly fine and rare example of early Sydney "skyscraper" designed in an exuberant and idiosyncratic Art Deco style embellished with "Medieval" and "Gothic" decoration. While providing important evidence of the strong influence of American styles and building techniques on Sydney's interwar commercial buildings, BMA House is notable for its use of both local materials and technologies - including particularly the faience cladding by Wunderlich and maple joinery - and its flamboyant incorporation of Australian iconography - including particularly the Koala bears at the top of the front facade. The quality of original finishes and detailing both externally and internally and the high degree of intactness of significant original fabric enhance the building's architectural and aesthetic significance.

The building is also of importance as a fine, award winning example of the work of a prominent firm of Sydney architects, Fowell and McConnel was one of only two office buildings designed by this firm in the Interwar period.

BMA House also has important historical associations with the medical profession in NSW generally and their professional organisation, the BMA in particular, these associations still retained in the building's name, various plaques, the decorative iconography and particular rooms such as the Robert H. Todd Assembly Hall and the former BMA offices. The building's location in Macquarie Street further enhances these associations, the building be one of the few and certainly the most obvious reminder of the former "medical precinct" character of Macquarie Street.

The building's technical significance arises primarily from its generous and varied use of new materials, detailing and technologies characteristic of the new commercial "skyscrapers" of the Interwar period and the high degree of intactness of these elements. The building is also a rare example of an Interwar building which incorporated squash courts at roof level.
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Description

Designer/Maker: Fowell & McConnel
Builder/Maker: Messrs Hutcherson Bros
Construction years: 1929-1930
Physical description: Glazed terracotta tiles; steel frame windows Glazed terracotta tiles; rendered masonry; steel frame windows
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Refer to Archaeological Zoning Plan. Mechanical Engineers for original building were Watson & White. The terracotta faience was manufactured locally by Wunderlich. The building won the RIBA Award for Street Architecture in 1935 and RIBA Bronze Medal
Date condition updated:01 Nov 06
Modifications and dates: 1930
Current use: Commercial offices
Former use: Aboriginal land, town lot, Medical Association offices, Library

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 (sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani ).

BMA:
The British Medical Association, founded in England in 1832 to promote both the study of medicine and protection of the medical profession, established branches in three Australian states in 1879-80. The New South Wales branch, under its founding president, the highly distinguished Sir Arthur Renwick, grew from small beginnings in 1880 to be the largest in Australia. This BMA branch replaced the earlier Australian Medical Association formed in Sydney by Dr William Bland in 1859.

The BMA flourished in New South Wales during the 23 years, 1908 to 1931, when its secretary was Dr Robert Todd, a prominent physician, barrister, clarinettist, university lecturer and medical administrator. Todd was largely responsible for the acquisition of lots 17 and 18 in Macquarie Street in the 1920s. This area of the city had been in the grounds of First Government House, demolished in 1845-6 and its land sub-divided after 1847. Lot 18 had been first purchased along with the adjacent lot 19 (the site of History House) by a speculative J.N. Palmer in 1849: lot 19 had been owned by Dr Bland in the 1850s and its neighbouring lots were some seventy years later acquired by the successor association to Bland's. The substantial Victorian houses on lots 17 and 18, nos.137 and 135 Macquarie Street, were demolished in 1929 and the BMA commissioned the winners of a vigorous competition, Fowell and McConnel, and their contractors, Hutcherson Bros, to erect a prestigious high-rise building on the double site.

The new building was completed in April 1930, acclaimed, along with Grace Bros' new store in King Street, as 'the first two local examples that can be said to really follow the dictates of skyscraper and modern American architecture generally' (Building, 12 April 1947). Its qualities of design were recognised when in 1933 its architects were the first recipients of the Royal Institute of British Architects Street medal and diploma.

The faience terracotta panelling of the exterior by Wunderlich was matched in the principal public interior spaces and the six full-size medieval knights in armour along with two koalas perched high on the facade were manufactured by the same firm. The spectacular assembly hall was panelled with Queensland maple and with Colotex, which was affixed to battens on the concrete walls to give the best acoustics and insulation. Dr Todd died just a year after the building was completed and the hall became the Robert H. Todd Assembly Hall.

The offices and library of the BMA were on the first floor, the offices in room 101 now occupied by Dr Duke, the library in room 104 with the sign of Aesculapius guarding the entrance still.

In 1972 the BMA became the Australian Medical Association and in the 1980s the new body moved to a new AMA House in St Leonards. The original building is now entirely leased to professional people, mainly doctors and dentists.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Changing the environment-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services Developing real estate-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services Office use-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Developing local, regional and national economies-National Theme 3
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes of urban amenity-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Developing local landmarks-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Health-Activities associated with preparing and providing medical assistance and/or promoting or maintaining the well being of humans Health related research-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena Researching diseases and treatments-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Building settlements, towns and cities-National Theme 4
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Early land grants-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Changing land uses - from suburban to urban-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Townships-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Changing land uses - from rural to suburban-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Administering and alienating Crown lands-
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 Early Sydney Street-
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 Macquarie's town layout-
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 19th century suburban developments-
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 20th century Suburban Developments-
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 suburban settings-
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 Beautifying towns and villages-
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-
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 Developing suburbia-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Working in offices-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Being a part of a trades guild-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Fowell, McConnel, architects-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
BMA House also has important historical associations with the medical profession in NSW generally and their professional organisation, the BMA in particular, these associations still retained in the building's name, various plaques, the decorative iconography and particular rooms such as the Robert H. Todd Assembly Hall and the former BMA offices. The building's location in Macquarie Street further enhances these associations, the building be one of the few and certainly the most obvious reminder of the former "medical precinct" character of Macquarie Street. Has historic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
BMA House has high aesthetic significance as a particularly fine and rare example of early Sydney "skyscraper" designed in an exuberant and idiosyncratic Art Deco style embellished with "Medieval" and "Gothic" decoration. While providing important evidence of the strong influence of American styles and building techniques on Sydney's interwar commercial buildings, BMA House is notable for its use of both local materials and technologies - including particularly the faience cladding by Wunderlich and maple joinery - and its flamboyant incorporation of Australian iconography - including particularly the Koala bears at the top of the front facade. The quality of original finishes and detailing both externally and internally and the high degree of intactness of significant original fabric enhance the building's architectural and aesthetic significance. The building is also of importance as a fine, award winning example of the work of a prominent firm of Sydney architects, Fowell and McConnel and was one of only two office buildings designed by this firm in the Interwar period. The building's technical significance arises primarily from its generous and varied use of new materials, detailing and technologies characteristic of the new commercial "skyscrapers" of the Interwar period and the high degree of intactness of these elements. The perforations in the spandrel panels - highlighted by decorative faience work - are also unusual innovations to improve air circulation (prior to air conditioning). The site also provides a rare example of an Interwar building which incorporated squash courts at roof level when first constructed. Has aesthetic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The building is a rare example of so highly and idiosyncratically decorated an Art Deco "skyscraper" from the Interwar period and is unique in its exuberant use of Australian iconography on the main facade. Is rare at a State level.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
BMA House is a fine representative example of many of the architectural elements, construction techniques and materials used in Interwar commercial high-rise building design and the influence of American models on these. Is representative at a State level
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:

The high degree of intactness of the building's layout and fabric should be maintained by restricting the removal or inappropriate/irreversible alteration of original components. Encouragement should be given to the return of the Robert H. Todd Assembly Hall to its original configuration and use.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act Record converted from HIS events


Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1): In respect of the engaging in or carrying out by any person of any activities being the alteration of that part of the interior, not being the central stairway, the lecture hall or the main entrance, of the building referred to in Interim Conservation Order No. 134, known as BMA House, situate at Nos 134-137 Macquarie Street, Sydney, and not otherwise.
Jun 27 1980
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act Record converted from HIS events


Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
Internal alterations to the building, other than those affecting common areas in the open stairway, lift lobby, lecture hall and entrance.
May 13 1983
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions ORDER UNDER SECTION 57(2) OF THE HERITAGE ACT 1977

Standard exemptions for engaging in or carrying out activities / works otherwise prohibited by section 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977.

I, Donald Harwin, the Special Minister of State 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, effective 1 December 2020:

1. revoke the order made on 11 July 2008 and published on pages 91177 to 9182 of Government Gazette Number 110 of 5 September 2008 and varied by notice published in the Government Gazette on 5 March 2015; and

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

Donald Harwin
Special Minister of State
Signed this 9th Day of November 2020.

To view the standard exemptions for engaging in or carrying out activities / works otherwise prohibited by section 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977 click on the link below.
Nov 13 2020

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0025202 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0025213 May 83 712125
Local Environmental PlanCSH Local Environmental Plan 4 07 Apr 00   
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007BMA House View detail
WrittenSydney City Council2000Local Environmental Plan

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

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(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage NSW
Database number: 5045731
File number: S90/05989 & HC 32148


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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