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Breathing new life into an old tower

The upcycling of a 50-year-old Sydney tower into an examplar of sustainability wins 3XN Architects the World Building of the Year award

Photography by Adam Mork
Photography by Adam Mork

Designed by 3XN Architects

From the architects:

Quay Quarter Tower (QQT), located close to Sydney Opera House, eschews the conventions of a traditional, uniform high-rise and instead is arranged as a vertical village to create a sense of community and provide spaces that focus on collaboration, health, and well-being.

Quay Quarter Tower humanises the high-rise.

The 206-metre tower is comprised of five shifting volumes stacked on top of each other. Each volume is arranged around an atrium facing the iconic Sydney Harbour to the north.

The atria accommodate informal meeting and social spaces that encourage knowledge sharing and commingling to activate the workspace, aligning with 3XN’s design philosophy that architecture shapes behaviour.


Photography by Phil Noller
Photography by Phil Noller

The series of stacked atria create a social spine with exceptional views, while also allowing daylight deep into the 2,000-square-metre floor plates.

At the base of each block, the atria open onto generous external terraces which extend the workplace and provide access to valuable external space throughout the tower.

The shifting northern façade responds to its context as the building ascends. The lower blocks face the active precinct of Young Street while also focusing views towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

As the blocks rise, the façade rotates to the east to slip under the solar plane requirements and face the wider harbour views, including the Botanical Gardens and the iconic Sydney Opera House.

Photography by Phil Noller
Photography by Phil Noller

A successful user-experience for any high-rise starts at the moment of arrival. QQT’s podium provides street-level activity, whilst creating a dramatic arrival by showcasing the voluminous tower lobby.

The podium’s visual and physical permeability activates the public domain and takes advantage of the favourable Sydney climate by extending the internal market hall tenancies to external terraces.

Atop the two-level podium, a public park and rooftop cafe create a destination and much-needed green space in the revitalised precinct. Due to the severe site topography the roof garden can also be accessed directly from the ground level lobby.

The radical sustainability strategy for the building involved upcycling the existing tower, retaining 65% of the previous tower’s beams, columns and slabs, and over 95% of its existing core, resulting in an embodied carbon saving of over 7,500 metric tons in concrete alone.

Photography by Martin Siegner
Photography by Martin Siegner

Working within the solar envelope and other contextual constraints, the design adds approximately 45,000 square metres of new construction, primarily on the north side of the building by grafting on new floorplates to the existing slabs.

The new structure composed of concrete filled steel tubes, optimises the structural grid span to increase views to the harbour.

The façade’s external sunshade hoods reduce the heat loads on the building so that internal blinds are not needed for thermal comfort, reducing energy loads while optimising views to the world recognised Sydney Harbour and its icons.

By upcycling an existing building into an exemplar of sustainability, QQT stands as a model for future construction, demonstrating that demolition need not be the favoured option for creating a world-class development that exceeds the expectations of the most discerning clients.

Longitudinal section of Quay Quarter Tower by 3XN
Longitudinal section of Quay Quarter Tower by 3XN Architects.

Winner – World Building of the Year

"The winner was commissioned to provide a building on a world class site, and to retain a huge proportion of an existing fifty-year-old commercial tower. The result was an excellent example of adaptive re-use. It has an excellent carbon story, and it is an example of anticipatory workspace design produced pre-COVID which nevertheless has provided healthy and attractive space for post-pandemic users. The client was prepared to risk building out an idea on a speculative basis - it worked" – Paul Finch, Programme Director of the World Architecture Festival 

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