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A tower transformed

From outdated offices to affordable rentals

Australia’s largest cities are scattered with B-grade buildings, many grappling with higher-than-average vacancy rates.
In a market where demand is down, more contemporary office towers with a range of amenities, efficient services, and top environmental credentials are hard to beat.  

The situation could get even trickier for these outdated office towers as the federal government moves ahead with its national plan to increase Australia’s stock of zero-energy and carbon-ready commercial and residential buildings. The end game: to reduce the country’s emissions profile and achieve a 40% target for improving energy productivity by 2030. 

Against this backdrop, the country’s housing crisis is worsening – a situation outlined in stark detail in last week’s federal budget announcement. A chapter devoted to availability and affordability revealed that Australia has just 420 dwellings per 1,000 people, putting us below the OECD average and trailing peers like the US, UK, and Canada. 

It’s a perfect storm, with conditions demanding innovative design interventions that can expand housing options, increase the efficiency and environmental performance of buildings, and revitalise precincts and cities. 

In 2040 around 2/3 of global building stock will be made up of buildings that exist today. 

International Energy Agency, Energy Technology Perspectives, 2021 (from Architecture 2030

Today, moves to repurpose older office buildings seem less like a source of curiosity than an urgent necessity.  

One of our design teams, led by Principal Marko Damic, investigated how we could convert an outdated Sydney office building into a contemporary hybrid tower that incorporates a range of Build-to-Rent apartments.

Completed with contributions from Arup, a life cycle analysis and carbon assessment of this conversion conveys a powerful message about urban renewal. The work also demonstrates how a response to the current housing crisis could have a beneficial impact on our planet.

Here’s how they did it.

Light + shade 

Analysis of the building envelope shows where the façade performs well for commercial tenants due to built context shading – and where upgrades are required due to high solar heat load. Our conversion makes the most of problematic areas, giving residents the access they need to sunshine (two hours minimum under NSW apartment design guidelines). At the same time, it allows us to confine offices to the most efficient sides of the façade, reducing the load on mechanical services.

Modular moves

B-grade buildings often lack the floor-to-floor heights needed for modern mechanical services, but they do offer ample space for residential uses. Their spacious column grids and extended slab distances also present an opportunity to insert pre-fabricated residential modules. This both streamlines construction processes and delivers substantial environmental benefits.

Overlapping worlds 

Our tower conversion has synergies with the way we live and work now. This is particularly clear in workplaces revolving around collaboration, amenity and health and the shift toward more focused WFH time.

Third spaces

With access to flexible workspace in their own building, residents may choose to exit their bedroom or home office to enjoy a more collegiate environment, along with meeting rooms or other third spaces. To meet the expectations of both residents and workers, the building’s shared amenities should be focused on wellness and grounded in biophilia.

Lifting their game 

B-grade buildings often have lifts designed for lower-density floor plates with cellular offices – and not the open plan model so common today. To make matters worse, the lifts are typically not optimised, resulting in long wait times for workers. Reducing the amount of office space in the tower largely resolves these issues. Plus introducing technology like Schindler MetaCore allows one set of lifts to serve multiple applications, with no need to change the building’s core.

A new lease on life

When you put it all together, our design interventions would play out like this – giving the building a new lease on life while addressing some of society’s most pressing issues.


Thomas Dixon Centre achieves world-first WELL Certification™
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese officially opens Flinders University’s Health and Medical Research Building