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ICI Building (former), 1-4 Nicholson St, East Melbourne, VIC, Australia

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List National Heritage List
Class Historic
Legal Status Listed place (21/09/2005)
Place ID 105747
Place File No 2/11/033/0681
Summary Statement of Significance
At the time of its completion in 1958, the ICI Building, designed from 1955, was the tallest, freestanding office building in Australia, which in its modern materials and technological aesthetic also presented the most progressive architectural statement in Australia.  Based on international models, this would reach its full expression in complexes such as Australia Square in Sydney.  The ICI Building, comprising the tower and landscaped garden and parking, was one of 22 major new office buildings erected in Melbourne between 1955-59, when Australia entered a building boom in 1955.  The free standing tower of the ICI Building, set in a landscaped garden and incorporating on site parking, introduced the idea of trade-offs between height and public amenity in Australian cities.  This shift from low rise to multi-storey, high-rise changed the profile, shape and landscape of Australia’s major urban centres.  The ICI Building demonstrates the principal characteristics of multi-storey office buildings of the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, erected in capital cities across Australia.  Major characteristics included the freestanding vertical 21-storey slab, with an open floor plan, the functional expression of the service core and the use of curtain walling and precast concrete cladding slabs.
Official Values
Criterion A Events, Processes
Australia entered a building boom in 1955.  The ICI Building (1955-58) was one of 22 major new office buildings erected in Melbourne between 1955-59. According to Taylor (1994), the innovative development and refinement of the multi-storied office building in Australia came from the firm of Bates Smart McCutcheon, through Osborn McCutcheon, who had visited America.  The modern imagery associated with American developments was sought by major clients including ICI and MLC, who commissioned buildings from them in major cities around Australia (Taylor 1994: Essay 10-19).  The Melbourne based practice of Bates Smart McCutcheon, designed projects in Brisbane (MLC Building 1955), North Sydney (MLC Building 1957), Adelaide (1957) and Perth (1957), as well as Melbourne (H C Sleigh Building 1954 and the ICI Building 1955).  This shift from low rise to multi-storey, high-rise changed the profile, shape and landscape of Australia’s major urban centres. 
 
Melbourne was the first Australian city in which the height limit was challenged.  The 132ft height limit, set in 1860, allowed 100% site-coverage to a height of 11-12 storeys.  In 1955 ICI made application to build a 230ft 20-storey tower set in a landscaped garden and incorporating on site parking, introduced the idea of trade-offs between height and public amenity.  Approved in 1957, the decision led to modification of Melbourne’s height limitation laws, in which greater heights were allowed in individual cases dependent on light angles (after American models). 
 
The national heritage importance of the ICI Building is expressed through the tower, with its glass curtain walling and expressed circulation tower, and the landscaped garden and associated parking.
 
Criterion F Creative or technical achievement
The free standing tower of the ICI Building, set in a landscaped garden and incorporating on site parking, introduced the idea of trade-offs between height and public amenity in Australian cities.  Based on international models, this would reach its full expression in complexes such as Australia Square in Sydney. 
 
At the time of its completion in 1958, the ICI Building was the tallest freestanding office building in Australia, which in its modern materials and technological aesthetic also presented the most progressive architectural statement in Australia.  However, the ICI Building was, in general, a transfer of American architectural concepts to Australia, repeating an established pattern, in which architectural fashions tended to originate overseas. 
 
Description
The building is an open plan concrete encased steel framed structure elevated on pilotis over what was originally an open undercroft.  The main body of the building is clad with framed glazed curtain walling.  The floors of the building are of precast concrete flat panels.  The building is comprised of nineteen stories, including the ground floor and two floors below ground.  The service core is separated from the main glass clad body of the building and is clad in precast concrete panel curtain walling.
History
Australia entered a building boom in 1955.  In 1959 David Saunders reported that 30 major new city buildings had been completed in Melbourne in four years.  Some 22 were office buildings in the city and its environs.  Among the architectural practices involved was the Melbourne based practice of Bates Smart McCutcheon, with projects in Brisbane (MLC Building 1955), North Sydney (MLC Building 1957), Adelaide (1957) and Perth (1957), as well as Melbourne (H C Sleigh Building 1954 and the ICI Building 1955).  According to Taylor (1994), the innovative development and refinement of the multi-storied office buildings in Australia came from the firm of Bates Smart McCutcheon, through Osborn McCutcheon, who had visited America.  The modern imagery associated with American developments was sought by major clients including ICI and MLC, who commissioned buildings from them in major cities around Australia (Taylor Essay: 10-19).  The importance of international ideas, in particular American architectural ideals, was exemplified when Shell House (Melbourne1960) and the AMP Tower (Melbourne 1965-69) were designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill in conjunction with local architects.
 
In writing about the MLC Building in North Sydney, architectural historian J M Freeland described the building, designed by Bates Smart McCutcheon, as ‘the first in Australia of the truly post-war office blocks’ and the first to employ a fully rigid steel frame, hollow steel floors and the first to use a true curtain wall.  Other buildings in Sydney included two glazed towers for ICI, one at Circular Quay (1957).  The same year saw the completion of Unilever House at Circular Quay (demolished 1988), by the firm of Stephenson and Turner.  This last was visually the purest of Sydney’s glass towers.  Although both firms were the most active in the development of tall buildings in Australia, Bates Smart McCutcheon’s buildings exemplified the new design concepts (Taylor 1994: Essay 16, 21).
 
Melbourne was the first Australian city in which the height limit was challenged.  The 132ft height limit, set in 1860, allowed 100% site-coverage to a height of 11-12 storeys.  In 1955 ICI made application to build a 230ft 20-storey tower set in a landscaped garden and incorporating on site parking, introduced the idea of trade-offs between height and public amenity.  Approved in 1957, the decision led to modification of Melbourne’s height limitation laws, in which greater heights were allowed in individual cases dependent on light angles [after American models].  The ICI Building was a fine example of the freestanding, steel framed, vertical slab with open floor plans and a strongly expressed external service core.  The frame was fully welded allowing for end walls of precast concrete (polished granite aggregate) panels.  The facades were glazed on the north and south walls with the end walls protected by attached ‘curtain walls’.  The building was among several built at this time in which the glazing system proved inappropriate for the Australian climate, resulting in falls of glass.  The architectural journal Cross Section described the building as ‘deciduous’ for this reason; some 700, glass panels on the western facade were replaced within two years (Taylor 1994: Report Urban Issues 3 and Essay 17-19). 
 
According to Taylor (1994), when completed in 1958, the 21-storey ICI Building in Melbourne, with its height, modern materials and tight skinned, technological aesthetic, presented the most progressive architectural statement in Australia.  The landscaped garden included a biomorphic sculpture by artist Gerald Lewers.  It was not until 1962 that the first tall building was completed in Sydney.
 
Condition and Integrity
No information available (May 2005)
 
Integrity:  The building’s main entrance is now off Albert Street, through a foyer that was remodeled in 1989 by the original architects.  This was originally the secondary entrance whereas the main entrance was originally through the landscaped garden off Nicholson Street.  The building is essentially intact externally but has been refitted internally (RAIA nomination 2004).  Limited information is available about the integrity of the garden and landscape generally. 
Location
1-4 Nicholson Street and 510-532 Albert Street, East Melbourne, being the area entered in the Victorian Heritage Register as H786.
Bibliography
Taylor, Jennifer:
-Australian Architecture Since 1960, RAIA, National Education Division, 1990.
-Post World War 11 Multi-storied Office Buildings in Australia (1945-1967), for the Australian Heritage Commission, 1994.
-Tall Buildings – Australian Business Going Up: 1945-1970, Fine Art Media in Association with Architecture Media, Melbourne, 2001.
 
RAIA nomination to the NHL
 

Report Produced  Thu Apr 17 08:16:09 2014