A former chocolate factory in the Haymarket district of Sydney has been transformed into a boutique office by Make Architects, with much of the original building fabric retained in the adaptive reuse project.

The three-storey 413-square-metre building, which dates back to the 1900s, is located on Cunningham Street in the heart of Haymarket. Make’s design for the refurbishment celebrates the building’s history by adapting the existing structure, and keeping new materials and insertions simple, minimal and refined, allowing the character of the building and its history to remain the focus.

While retaining the steel beams, timber flooring, exposed brickwork and original hoists, Make deliberately selected new contrasting materials such as copper, concrete and terrazzo to distinguish between new and old. Keeping sustainability in mind, Make ensured that all new materials were sourced from within Australia.

When viewed from the street, exterior changes are minimal yet striking. The brick fa├žade has been painted and a new copper and steel portal door has been inserted to form the main entrance to the building. Instead of the original roller shutter entrance, a bespoke double height glass and steel entrance door slides up vertically to sit behind a symmetrical reeded glass window above, allowing the entrance lobby to open out and engage with the street. The glass window also floods the space with natural daylight. When closed, the glass becomes a warmly illuminated lightbox at night without disturbing the privacy of tenants.

The double height naturally-lit entrance space highlights the original brick and timber ceiling hoists. The extremely high ceiling on the ground floor has been utilised by Make to create a new mezzanine level and increase the lettable floor space. The mezzanine space is accessed through a dedicated stair connecting to the ground floor.

The main stairwell, which appears as a copper box with the stair inserted, connects the ground, first and second floors. The distinctive copper material contrasts with the original built fabric. A lift connects all floors including the mezzanine, but is tucked away to encourage tenants to use the stairs.

The office floor plates have been kept minimal, with brick walls mostly left exposed, and painted white where needed with subtle wall and hanging lights highlighting the structure. New engineered oak floor boards on the first and second floors allow the original boards to form the exposed ceilings below. Timber reclaimed from the existing building by creating new openings for circulation, has been repurposed as ceiling panels or to reinforce the structure.

According to architect Lucy Feast from Make, “It’s true adaptive reuse. Taking an old but perfectly good structure and updating it for a new purpose."

"The new office space can be for single or multiple tenants. The original timber ceilings remain exposed, with new raised timber flooring above to house insulation and allow space for services to be easily updated in the future,” Feast explained.

“We’ve ensured natural light is maximised wherever possible. It’s all about adaptability for the future so it’s a great workplace now, but has inherent flexibility for the years to come.”

Photo credit © Martin Mischkulnig