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Australian high-rise infill project melds two obsolete Brisbane office towers together as one

Stitch-By-Stitch

Australian high-rise infill project melds two obsolete Brisbane office towers together as one

Together at last. Two aging, adjacent governmental office towers in Brisbane have been joined and repurposed as a single high-rise in lieu of demolition. (Courtesy Fender Katsalidis)

Midtown Centre, an elegant, glass-encased new 26-office tower, recently topped out in Brisbane, Australia’s central business district. And with the exception of those intimate with the area, most passersby might never realize that the single building was, not long ago, a pair of outdated, 1970s-era governmental high-rises that have been fused together in what’s been described as a first-of-it’s kind project for Australia.

Built at the same time and closely mirroring each other, the old Queensland Health and Forestry buildings—with just 66 feet between them—were stripped of their original facades and a 19,000-square-foot floorplate was added by project architect, Melbourne-headquartered Fender Katsalidis, to essentially bridge the gap with what the firm has called “living, breathing, porous infill.” The once-adjacent, now-united buildings comprise a total of over 473,000 square feet of Grade-A office space. British mining behemoth Rio Tinto will serve as the anchor tenant and occupy about 215,000 of those square feet.

midtown centre, an under-construction high-rise in Brisbane
First approved in 2018, Midtown Centre will welcome tenants starting next year. (Courtesy Fender Katsalidis)

“We ended up building a floor slab between these two buildings and essentially we stitched them together,” Mark Curzon, director of Fender Katsalidis, explained to BBC News in a recent video of the unprecedented-Down-Under project. “These aren’t bridges, this is joining two floor plates from one side to the other—the full width of one building joining the full width of the other building.”

In a situation like this, a developer might normally request that an architect link two adjacent properties with a sky bridge or raze them in their entirety to make way for a new structure. But that wasn’t the case with Midtown Centre as Curzon told ABC Radio Brisbane.

aerial photo of high-rise project in Brisbane
Construction on Midtown Centre underway in April 2020. The project will bring over 400,000 square feet of new office space to the downtown core of Australia’s third largest city. (Courtesy Fender Katsalidis)

“The owners of the buildings [Ashe Morgan and DMANN Corporation] decided against knocking them down and asked us to create this vision,” said Curzon. “We strengthened columns to give the building the overall power to hold everything in place.”

“It will feel like one beautiful new building and it’s taken us a long time and effort to unite the floor plates and that’s been the benefit of linking them—to produce fantastic floor plates high in the sky,” he added. “The fact we’ve done it means it’s commercially viable and I’m sure it’s more efficient to knock them down and build new ones from a financial point-of-view.”

The melded towers will also gain six additional floors, increasingly the property’s net leasable area by 66 percent, as claimed by the project’s builder, Hutchinson Builders.

By joining the two buildings together in lieu of demolishing them and building anew with massive amounts of concrete and steel, the project has achieved carbon savings of roughly 11,000 metric tonnes per year.

rendering of street level commercial at Midtown Centre
A rendering depicting a lively street scene, accommodated by widened sidewalks, beneath Midtown Centre’s heritage Charlotte Street facade. (Courtesy Fender Katsalidis)

Floor plate-fusing and carbon savings aside, Hutchinson describes other elements of the soon-to-be-occupied building—“an engaging lifestyle and productivity precinct” per the development’s marketing copy—in detail:

“Midtown will feature a subtropical inspired fitout using locally sourced Queensland materials, numerous outdoor terraces with lush landscaping, inter-floor mixed-mode atriums, state-of-the-art end of trip facilities, a complementary wellness centre and the star of the show—a unique 840m2  [9,041 square foot] sky terrace garden on level 20.”

“At the base of the building there will be a new laneway connecting Charlotte Street through to Mary Street, which will include a mix of retail and hospitality spaces that activate the precinct at ground. On the Charlotte Street side, a heritage facade, built circa 1890, will be carefully restored and enhanced. Above will be a 3-level mixed-use podium separated by a central naturally ventilated glass atrium.”

While best known for designing sculptural, record-setting skyscrapers like the residential supertalls Eureka Tower and Australia 108, both in Melbourne, and the under-construction Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Fender Katsalidis is no stranger to adaptive reuse including the 1996 transformation of disused grain silos into a residential building in Richmond, Victoria. More recently, the firm oversaw the reuse-centered design of a slated-for-demolition historic theater-turned-lively cultural and entertainment district in Hobart.

Brisbane City Council first approved the roughly $650 million Midtown Centre project in March 2018. Occupancy is scheduled to begin next year.