On Melbourne’s Spring Street, between a pair of historic brick buildings, the sharply declarative angles of a sleek lobby frontage hint at the new space inside. Behind its lobby doors, a communal office by designers Bates Smart brings a welcome sense of intimacy to the base of the striking 16-storey tower rising above it.
Created for healthcare provider Australian Unity, the new three-storey workspace at the foot of the tower by John Wardle Architects is situated behind a pair of 19th-century facades and below more traditional offices that fill out the tower levels. The office is configured as an open and inviting hub of activity.
Designed by Bates Smart to promote collaboration, the open and light-filled interior serves as a bridge between the mostly preserved heritage buildings and the new high-rise.
The spine of it all is a central stairwell that opens out to a casual meeting area and to café and dining spaces. Framed in wood and flanked by plant life, the sharp-edged staircase is integral to the light-filled ambiance. Above the restored brick frontages, full-length windows further bathe the room in light, which spills into the lower levels through the open stairway.
Throughout the office, Italian benches and tables by Arper and chairs by Sipa reinforce a sense of comfortable luxury.
If the open staircase is the spine of the complex, the double-height amphitheatre is the heart. A hybrid of lecture hall and hangout stair, the attractive – albeit inaccessible – room is flexibly designed to cater to casual daily interactions and more formal presentations. Versatility is built into all three storeys of Bates Smart’s design, with simple wood dividers also allowing spaces to be consolidated for larger gatherings.
Wood tones create a light and warm ambiance throughout. On many of the ceilings, acoustic wood paneling also introduces a pleasant note of ornamentation that stands out against the otherwise pared down interiors.
In addition to celebrating the architectural integrity of the 19th century buildings, the design creates an aesthetic link between old and new. In a conference room, for example, white brick walls and a restored wood ceiling dialogue nicely with the contemporary modifications around them.
Outside, a strong attention to context informs the design of the tower, too. Perched above the historic buildings, the jaggedly angled sun blades that climb up John Wardle’s cantilevered glass curtainwall are an abrupt departure from the 19th century buildings below. But they’re not out of place. Picking up on the triangles of the older buildings’ roofscapes, the dramatic cladding achieves a surprising harmony as it reaches up – and out – to the sky.
Designed by Bates Smart, the Australian Unity headquarters weaves a sociable space into a challenging urban context.