Case in point – Primus Hotel Sydney – a lavishly art deco city-central establishment that provides 5 star accommodation in the harbour city. The original building was first erected in 1939, serving as the decidedly glamorous offices of the Sydney Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board until 2009.
A once empty office space has been reinvigorated with warmth and grandeur thanks to a clever design incorporated by firm Woods Bagot that successfully paid homage to the original art deco design. The firm worked closely with GBA Heritage, recruited to craft an appropriate conservation management plan for the building, which remains heritage-listed. The project took two years of negotiations, working jointly alongside the NSW heritage department, the City of Sydney Council and builder Ganellen.
As a result of the various partnerships, the building was lovingly restored with original features where possible – GBA Heritage explained of its process: “[we] prepared a detailed Conservation Management Plan to guide the conservation of the terracotta tiled façade and the subdivision of office floors into hotel rooms, recapturing the scale and architectural character of the former Rating Chamber that had been lost in the 1960s.”
What the team created was a building of 172 rooms and suites over six floors that remains an ode to a time of design decadence, with the jewel in the hotel’s crown its grandiose lobby. Starring in this room is a number of eight-metre tall marble pillars dating from 1939 – while hidden from public sight in 1965 with a mezzanine floor, the space was restored to its cavernous original with the help of Italian specialists who previously worked on Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
GBA Heritage’s associate director Jonathan Bryant told The Financial Times of this particular design feat: “It’s been an unveiling of a 50 year old secret…the lobby will be the jewel of the building.”
Structural strengthening played an important part in the building’s refurbishment, with complex upgrades undertaking to ensure it was up to current building codes. Equally of interest to Woods Bagot was the choice in materials – a spokesperson commented: “Heritage features of the site, such as original marble columns, are celebrated while complementary finishes and materials have been added to create an elegant modern feel.” Whilst timber veneer panelling and plenty of marble are prominent, there’s a modern integration of design that involves an incorporation of an impressive number of skylights so as to welcome more natural light into the space. In a reflection of its modernity (and Australian location) a New York-style rooftop space complete with pool caps off the project – designed in a crisp open-plan style it’s not quite in-keeping with the interiors downstairs but a welcome modern touch that is a reflection of its new purpose as a glamorous bar functioning living space.