Plans by the Investa Property Group to demolish the landmark MLC Building in North Sydney and build a modern office complex in its place may come to naught, following the recommendation by the Heritage Council of NSW to protect the building.

Considered one of the most important mid-century modernist buildings in Australia, the MLC Building on Miller Street was designed by Bates Smart and McCutcheon in 1954. At the time of its opening in 1957, it was the largest office building in Australia with a gross area of almost 42,000 square metres and a frontage of 100 metres.

Investa had lodged a development application with North Sydney Council in July last year to demolish the block on Miller Street and build a 27-storey A-grade office building designed by Bates Smart on the 6,650-square-metre site to offer over 74,000 square metres of net lettable commercial space. The proposed $560-million development has significant environmental goals including being North Sydney’s first net zero commercial building. In addition to targeting 6 Star Green Star office design rating and 5.5-Star NABERS Energy Rating, the building is designed to provide natural light, ventilation and views, and will also generate renewable energy through a solar installation.

However, the MLC Building is listed as a heritage item in the North Sydney Local Environment Plan as an item of Local Significance as well as on the Australian Institute of Architects’ Register of Nationally Significant 20th Century Architecture. Following objections raised by heritage conservationists, the Heritage Council of NSW had recommended a State Heritage Listing for the building.

Design conservation group Docomomo Australia is leading the campaign to protect the MLC Building with an online petition, which states, “The MLC Building, 105-153 Miller Street, North Sydney, is the most significant large office building dating from the 1950s in Australia. It is an important component in the development of North Sydney, makes a significant contribution to the streetscape and played a seminal role in the development of the modern high-rise office building in Australia.”

Investa has objected to the potential listing of the MLC Building on the State Heritage Register, citing an earlier decision by the NSW heritage council in 2013 not to list the building in the register as it wasn’t of ‘significance to the state’.

In their submission to the council, Investa said they would incur an additional financial burden of $212 million towards conservation of the building, immediate maintenance costs including $21.8 million to replace the facade, and another $121 million to ensure compliance with current building codes. Having explored various options for upgrades, extensions and preservation, they believe redevelopment of the building remains the only viable option.

Minister for Heritage, Don Harwin will now decide whether the MLC Building should be listed on the State Heritage Register.

Image Credit: Docomomo Australia