Australia Square: 50 years in Sydney’s skyline

9 May 2017

Australia Square was, and still is, a landmark in Australian history – and Lendlease’s history.

But it wasn’t always the beloved precinct we’ve come to accept in our city. According to Challenges of Change by Mary Murphy, Australia Square was described by newspapers as a ‘£20 million Rockefeller Centre for Sydney’.

Former Civil & Civic employee, Ian Foxall, said, “When he [Dick Dusseldorp] set out to amalgamate the site, they said you would never be able to put it together. Then they said you would never get the necessary approvals. Then they said you would never be able to finance it.

“When the project had reached the hole-in-the-ground stage, the financiers got cold feet and pulled out. Left with three or four weeks to get the money from somewhere, he flew to London and within a week cabled to Bill Leavey, ‘Start construction’. Then they said, ‘You’ll never be able to fill it’.

So Australia Square is a monument to his strength, judgement and unshakeable confidence,” he said.

The biggest city land deal in Australia’s history was set in stone on 29 April, 1960 when contracts were exchanged between the AMP Society and the Lendlease subsidiary company, City Centre Development Pty. Ltd.
Australia Square: 50 years in Sydney’s skyline
It was a project that held a lot of doubt among the business world, but instead of listening to the critics, the determind Dick Dusseldrop spoke to architects, developers and financiers in New York, London and Amsterdarm.

Harry Seidler was quoted in Mary Murphy’s Challenges of Change: “He didn’t really have any faith in me then - that I could do that. I was a young architect. But he asked my advice and I talked to him about a big developer in New York called Zeckendorf. He had an architect working for him who was a classmate of mine, I.M. Pei. He’s very famous now. Anyway, Dusseldorp went to New York and talked to Zeckendorf and Pei.”

December 5, 1962 marked the beginning of Australia Square. In the midst of a torrential summer rain storm, Lord Mayor of Sydney, Alderman Harry Frederick Jensen joined Dick Dusseldorp, Harry Seidler, and a number of business officials, including people from AMP, Qantas Airways and the Bank of New South Wales to place a time capsule in the ground of Australia Square.

The items inside include: an early picture of the site as an open meadow, a picture of AMP’s first building; a collection of current (at the time) coins presented by the Bank of New South Wales and Qantas flight timetables for the day. Also, a Lend Lease brochure on Australia Square; 16-year-old Cynthia Kaye’s prize-winning essay, ‘Life in Sydney in 1962’, and the Lord Mayor himself added a letter addressed to the Lord Mayor of Sydney in 2062.
Australia Square: 50 years in Sydney’s skyline
Builders achieved one floor every six days, and reached the rooftop at record time. It also held the record for the highest output of man hours without a death. 

Thirty properties and buildings were acquired to build Australia Square – the tallest light-weight concrete building at the time of completion, standing at 170 metres. 

The 50-storey building’s circular form was uncommon, but the advantages were endless: resistance to wind forces; more light would be let into the surrounding space than a rectangular building; and the floor space inside would be free of supporting columns - the whole structure being supported by a central service core and external concrete fins.

Australia Square was also one of the first developments in the city that held open, public space. At the time, the only open spaces were the streets.

Australia Square officially opened in 1967 and was home to Lendlease’s international headquarters until 2004. 

50 years on and Australia Square still occupies our Sydney skyline, standing proud and as dominate today as it was back in 1967.
Australia Square: 50 years in Sydney’s skyline