Krause bricks from Robertson's Building Products Pty Ltd added the perfect finishing touch to the Lonsdale precinct with the completion of a 16-storey boutique office building at 271 Spring Street, Melbourne. The striking brick podium integrates the contemporary office tower with a site that’s rich in heritage value.

Designed by John Wardle Architects, the new headquarters of Australian Unity consisting of modern office and function spaces and a roof terrace is located on the corner of Spring and Little Lonsdale streets. This building completes ISPT’s long-term vision for the Lonsdale precinct, which began with the Urban Workshop, also designed by John Wardle Architects.

A key objective of the design process was to establish a permeable connection between the contemporary side of the Lonsdale precinct and the existing buildings by retaining and expanding on the heritage fabric of the site.

“Extending the ground plane through to this last piece of the puzzle was a big driver for us. We wanted to finish the precinct off that started with the Urban Workshop, which connects through to Little Lonsdale Street. So that permeability of the ground plane was fundamental to the whole design,” John Wardle Architects associate Paul Holden explained.

“Luckily ISPT and Australian Unity came on board with our idea of activating, rather than hiding, the heritage buildings.”

The office tower is set on top of two heritage buildings – the Elms Family Hotel and the Church of England Mission Hall. A building in between was replaced with a double storey entry.

“Instead of just having a break in between the two heritage buildings, we thought it would be a great gesture to have something that bridged between the two – as an entry portal, to set the character,” Holden said.

Interpretive brickwork has created an arch, sitting between the Mission Hall and the Elms Hotel, which reflects the rhythm of the existing buildings in the streetscape. Selecting the right brick for the arch and the new brickwork was critical.

“We wanted something that respected the heritage bricks, but at the same time could stand on its own and add a bit of life to the design, because the heritage bricks are a uniform monotone and we wanted something to pick up the reds and oranges.”

The architects chose Krause bricks in Old Melbourne Town colour, whose scale and texture reflect the heritage façade of the hotel and hall, while adding something new and special. “We love the bricks not only for the colour variation they provide but also because of the relationship we have with Krause, because if we need a special brick made, they’re quite prepared to make it for us,” said Holden.

The strikingly beautiful brick podium fits perfectly with its neighbours, greeting workers and creating an engaging relationship with passers-by.

Behind the podium, a contemporary office tower emerges with a glass face that is inclined at the bottom to give the heritage building breathing space. Though modern in design and materials, the raking glazed façade includes an interpretive representation of the historic hip rooves of the Elms Hotel. Its russet hued powder coated aluminium sunshades are drawn from the old roof patterns.

271 Spring Street is the perfect example of how to balance heritage preservation with contemporary development, setting a high benchmark for future sites. John Wardle Architects and the entire team involved in its design and construction are to be congratulated for delivering such a spectacular and engaging outcome.

Photographer: Peter Bennetts