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    Revisiting EY Centre: A sustainable sandstone tower on the Sydney shoreline

    Sydney CBD

    It’s been over a month since the Sustainability Awards winners were announced, but our winning projects – selected from a competition jury of some of the industry’s most knowledgeable voices – are still receiving accolades the world over.

    A few weeks ago, the 2017 Sustainability Awards Commercial winner was chosen to represent the country within one of the world’s most revered architecture awards programs, the World Architecture Festival (WAF). EY Centre at 200 George Street, Sydney received a highly commended prize within the festival’s Office category. Designed by FJMT and developed by Mirvac, the 37-storey skyscraper was recognised for its twin achievements of design quality and sustainability merit.

    FJMT’s design for the multi-million-dollar office project consisted of two overlapped round towers with a timber and glass façade. Completed in 2016, the EY Centre represented the world’s first-ever closed cavity façade system. Upon completion, it was heralded as being among the first of a new breed of innovative and highly sustainable ‘smart’ buildings in Australia; one that incorporated cutting-edge technologies that maximised both energy performance and interior workplace efficiencies.

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    EY Centre is as much about workplace design as it is about place-making. The sweeping tower was conceived as a reinterpretation of its historic pocket of Sydney, bordering the heritage Rocks district around Circular Quay. In response, the architects “envisaged a different type of city tower; warm, human and responsive”. This ‘warmth’ and ‘humanness’ is expressed in a number of ways, but particularly along the activated ground floor. Here, around the main entrance, the Y-shaped pillars look as if they are lifting up the curtain of the façade as a gesture of welcome to the community.

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    “Forming a soft edge to the street and public foyer is a suspended awning of folded timber planes reaching out, protecting the footpath and reflecting light into the lobby interior,” says the architect. “This gently curving and folding awning is like a row of trees providing shelter at the edge of the tank stream.

    In the lobby, a bronze line was incised through the floor – following through from the public domain – as a marker of the old, pre-European waterline.

    Sydney’s history and community were also expressed in more material ways – for instance, with the extensive inclusion of locally quarried sandstone, some of which has been carved into a custom-made artwork by Indigenous artist, Judy Watson.

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    “We wanted to see if we could make a city tower grow out of its site, being the source of its inspiration, material and character; and in doing so somehow reveal, interpret and reinforce this unique site and sense of place,” explains FJMT.

    From its very conception, the project team embraced the principles of sustainability, which were embedded in the material palette and fabric of the building. Although the outer layer of the building is a single sheet of low, iron-clear glass, the tower appears – in the words of the architect – as “a tower made of timber rising out from the greyness of its neighbours”. This is achieved through a second layer to the façade; a wrap-around interior layer of automated natural timber louvres that have been inserted within a sealed, air-pressured cavity that is low-maintenance, clean and dust-free.

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    Behind this is the third and final façade layer: a double-glazed, high-performing insulating unit.

    “The result is a façade that outperforms any of the surrounding grey glass buildings and looks nothing like them. It is clear and transparent and the natural colour of the wood glows in the sun,” says FJMT.

    “In essence, 200 George Street is a building made of traditional materials: stone, wood and glass; [materials] that we have been building with for thousands of years, but here [utilising] the most advanced [technological] systems.”

    Aside from its contribution to the exterior aesthetic of EY Centre, the façade helps to maintain a sustainable and healthy work environment – not least through extensive natural light penetration. The building envelope forms a “responsive skin” – a “kinetic architecture” – that is able to adjust to the position of the sun throughout the day, automatically controlling heat load and glare. The ever-moving timber screen provides ample daylighting deep within the interior, while mitigating the harsh light that would disrupt workers.

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    Where and when natural light isn’t possible, an LED lighting system keeps energy costs and usage low.

    “We have looked carefully at the history and great richness of this place and tried to both reveal and deepen it, despite the presence of a large building on a tight site in the heart of the city,” says FJMT.

    “In this increasingly global context and the international city that Sydney is, this is a work of Australian design; a collaboration [between] Australian architects, designers, consultants, artists, furniture designers and manufacturers, contractors and developers.

    “We have tried to make our competing global city more desirable and competitive through making it more unique and true to itself.”

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    Key Info

    Architect: FJMT

    Developer: Mirvac

    Project Size: 43,935sqm

    Completed: 2016

    Photography: Brett Boardman

    Words: Kirsty Sier

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