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    Inside the stacked boxes: 3XN’s Fred Holt on Circular Quay Tower

    The Quay Quarter Tower (QQT) at Sydney’s Circular Quay will be the first Australian project from Denmark architecture firm, 3XN and the largest from any Danish architect since Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House.

    It will rise 200 metres into the Sydney skyline from 50 Bridge Street and incorporate the majority of the existing AMP Capital building’s structure (currently located on the site) as its core.

    Architect and Partner at 3XN, Fred Holt is in town for this month’s Australian Smart Skyscraper Summit, so we caught up with him to discuss the design philosophy behind QQT and how he believes it will change the perception of skyscrapers in the Asia Pacific region.

    What makes the QQT significant and how will it stand out in the region?

    fred_2.jpg3XN’s design for Quay Quarter Tower is the antithesis of the prevailing belief that high-rises are generic and non-contextual. It humanises the high-rise through its internal workspace environment and responds directly to the urban scale and the immediate site. It enhances the public domain and extends it over three levels of the podium to a publically accessible urban park.

    This is not just an office building, but also the key to a newly activated public domain in Sydney’s CBD. The tower comprises a stack of vertical villages while the podium acts as the horizontal village, with its mixed use of program offerings over extended hours at a variety of architectural scales enlivening this part of the city beyond the working day. This horizontal village will be a porous cluster of public volumes that attract and enhance activity across the site and offer access from multiple points along its 11-metre fall across the site.

    You’ve previously described the QQT project as “humanising the high-rise”. How is this put into practice?

    We feel that enhancing the everyday experience is an important part of creating the workspace of the future and furthers the idea of humanising the high-rise. The building is meant to be a social catalyst and incubator for interaction that will activate the neighbourhood at its base and humanise the high-rise via a collection of ‘vertical villages’ within the tower. 3XN designed QQT from the ‘inside out’ and ‘outside in,’ ensuring that it meets the needs of its commercial tenants while also meaningfully contributing to Sydney’s urban fabric. Its formal massing responds to light and view opportunities, while its interior encourages interaction, knowledge sharing and vertical connectivity.

    How does the new QQT design achieve open dialogue with the skyline?

    Despite popular belief, high-rises are, or should be, site specific and not contextually generic.  The tower’s impact on the skyline is important, but not more important than how it addresses its urban context.  QQT responds directly to its site at the edge of Sydney’s Central Business District near the Opera House.

    The 200-metre-high tower comprises a series of shifting volumes stacked upon each other. This approach connects with the skyline in an innovative and captivating way by reducing the perceptual scale of the building, while allowing the lower levels of the tower to feel intentionally connected to their immediate urban context. Rather than face directly into the adjacent building, the lower levels of the tower’s northern elevation shift to the west to capture the energy and movement from the surrounding neighborhood as well as views to the Harbor Bridge.

    3XN_QQT_View_24_West_BlueHour.jpg

    As the building rises or stacks, the northern façade shifts to the east, with views to the larger harbor, such as the Opera House, Harbor Bridge and Botanical Gardens. QQT responds to both its immediate surroundings, enhancing the activation at its base, while allowing the upper levels to take advantage to the panoramic views of the harbour, botanical gardens and skyline. This not only occurs from within its interior space, but its external terraces between each block as well.

    3XN believes “Architecture Shapes Behaviour”. What does this mean practically and how does 3XN realise this school of thought in the new QQT design?

    It’s true - at 3XN, we believe that architecture shapes behaviour. This might seem as an obvious statement, yet when you start from this point of view, it changes the approach to design and how you address the user. 

    For instance, by both stacking and shifting the tower blocks, we create a collection of exterior terraces, which link to the multi-level interior atria that will contain shared amenity spaces for tenants in each block. These common amenity spaces provide stunning views both vertically and horizontally and bring daylight deep into workspaces. The combined effect of the architecture is aimed at promoting collaboration and interaction in the workplace.

    3XN_QQT_View_17_Comp-I_Atrium.jpg

    How will the QQT enhance the daily experience of occupants compared to a conventional mixed-use high-rise?

    This also relates to the previous question. There was a conscious decision to divide the building into five separate volumes and place atria throughout each. By doing so, it transforms the typical monotony and stack of a conventional high-rise into more human scale spaces; creating more intimate social environments, encouraging people to connect and interact over multiple floors - an atypical commercial high-rise experience.


    Fred Holt is scheduled to present at The Australian Smart Skyscrapers Summit 2017 covering a detailed case study on the QQT Project features and elaborating on the Architecture Shapes Behaviour philosophy. The Summit convenes on the 28th and 29th of March 2017 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. 

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