Honouring grand architecture while achieving commercial outcomes can be challenging – especially when the building has significant heritage value. However, the right approach to adaptive reuse made economic sense for an iconic Sydney CBD building.


Honouring grand architecture while achieving commercial outcomes can be challenging – especially when the building has significant heritage value. But it’s absolutely achievable with help from experts like Northcroft quantity surveyors.

This was certainly the case for an iconic Sydney building. An Art Deco gem in the heart of Sydney’s CBD by Architect Emil Sodersten, the 14-storey commercial building was completed in 1939.


When the new owner purchased the building, he was faced with 2 options.


In option 1 the owner could make minimal enhancements and maintain the building’s Grade C status. This would minimise the new owner’s capital investment in the building but would limit its marketability with lower rental yields and potentially longer vacancy rates.


Option 2 would require significant investment to refurbish the building however, this would elevate it to a Grade B status. As a result, the overall building value and rental income would increase while vacancy rates would potentially decrease.


The building owner contacted Northcroft who conducted a dilapidation and due diligence audit and feasibility study. This revealed the building’s lease value, without upgrades, would be $450 p/m2. However, with a renovation investment of $18m to upgrade floors 2-13, the building owner could attract rental returns of $700 p/m2.


Based on these figures, option 2 was selected.


The adaptive reuse begins


Once the decision to invest in the building’s upgrade was made, it was important to consult with Sydney Council’s Heritage Planner as part of the pre-application phase. Taking this step greatly streamlined the application and approval process because the Northcroft team were clear on what was required and what was not permitted.


Achieving fire safety compliance was the greatest challenge


In such an old building, achieving modern fire safety standards was the greatest challenge – especially when it came to a structure that was built in accordance with historic standards.


To overcome it, the Northcroft team consulted with the CSIRO who ran tests to see if an intumescent paint coating could work on concrete floors. (Intumescent coatings expand with the heat of a fire and therefore insulate the surface.)


The tests showed this approach was a viable option to help the building achieve modern fire safety standards while achieving the architect’s vision to expose the original structure as much as possible. As a result, this 1939 building is the first in NSW to use intumescent paint on concrete floors.


Improving the fire space rating of the building’s floors was only part of the fire safety compliance challenge. In the end, the Northcroft team liaised with 5 specialist fire safety engineers to ensure the fire separations, fire protection, fire detection and warning and smoke management systems comply with current requirements. This was achieved through the deem-to-satisfy pathway and through an alternative solution.


From the initial services audit, it was clear major upgrades were needed for the building services and to ensure the building operated efficiently. Through a mix of reusing what could be salvaged and the implementation of new, all building services were upgraded – including a new vertical transport system and building management systems.


Upgrading the historic building’s services ensured it achieved a 4.5 stars NABERS rating. This is up from its original 3 stars. Restoration and replacement of the building’s original period features also occurred as much of it had been removed or damaged over the years.


Northcroft was able to complete the stage 1 adaptive reuse project with the building owner getting a higher-than-expected return upon completion. In fact, the building’s owner was so pleased with Northcroft’s assessment and management of this project, he went on to engage Northcroft to assist with adapting other heritage buildings in his property portfolio.


With this historic gem, attention is now focused on the building’s lower levels to bring them back to their original Art Deco glory. Stage 2 of this project is currently in the construction certificate stage.


Are you contemplating adaptive reuse of a commercial or historic building? Contact Northcroft.