Behind the facade: 161 Collins Street

Laurence DragomirSeptember 23, 20180 min read

With the dust settling on Pembroke's extensive upgrade of the T&G Building at 161 Collins Street, thought it would be an opportune time to gain some insight from some of the brains behind the project.

Pembroke engaged architects Bates Smart to bring the property into the 21st Century, in response to the changing demands of the modern workforce, while maintaining the charm of one of Melbourne’s best-loved heritage buildings. Originally constructed in 1928, the 43,000 sqm building located on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets has been carefully restored and sensitively adapted to provide a more flexible, collaborative office experience.

Now fully leased, the T&G Building provides office accommodation for the likes of Google and co-working group SPACES, who join longer term tenants VMIA, Accenture and IOOF across ten levels of A-Grade office space. 

Behind the facade: 161 Collins Street
Google's new office within 161 Collins Street. Image: Google

Speaking to, Bates Smart Studio Director Tim Leslie explained the design process, strategy and challenges associated with tackling such a high-profile, historically significant transformation.

He notes the building has had a long history of works to its fabric; built in 1928 it was extended in the 1930s and then doubled in depth during the '50s before Metier3 Architects doubled the footprint to 4,000 sqm and unified the floor plates in 1990.

According to Leslie, the brief presented to Bates Smart by Pembroke was for the design of a multipurpose office space to respond to the changing nature of workplace design with the atrium forming the 'heart' of the building. The adoption of a 'window wall' system in lieu of a curtain wall system to allow tenants the flexibility to create terraces that sit within the atrium but  are external to the workspaces. 

The other major challenge Bates Smart was tasked with was to untangle pedestrian and vehicular circulation through and around the site, says Leslie. The car park entry which previously dominated the Flinders Lane frontage - a remnant of a time before Melbourne's famed laneway culture took off - has been relocated to Russell Street, adjacent to the current exit ramp, exploiting the higher footfall on Flinders Lane. 

This has allowed for the creation of dual pedestrian entries - to Flinders Lane and Collins Street - each drawing on the character of their respective streets to provide a unique entry experience. The entry at Flinders Lane also provides improved north-south circulation through the site linking the site back to Hosier Lane and Flinders Street down to Fed Square.

Behind the facade: 161 Collins Street
The building features two unique entry experiences to Collins Street and Flinders Lane. Image: Peter Clarke also spoke to Pembroke Vice President & Head of Australia, Matthew Knight, about 161 Collins Street's revamp. The site could have quite easily accommodated a tower but Pembroke instead decided to work within the existing built fabric/envelope? What was the strategy there?

Matthew Knight: Circa 1928, the T&G Building was the most prominent interwar office address in Melbourne – a place where Victorian business and commerce flourished, stamping its mark on the corporate landscape of the day. Once described as ‘Melbourne’s most beautiful building’ it was originally home to Temperance & General, a Victorian-based life insurance company that amalgamated with National Mutual in 1983.

When Pembroke acquired the site in 2015, we wanted to carefully restore and adapt the original façade to provide a more flexible, collaborative office experience, whilst maintaining the charm of one of Melbourne’s best-loved heritage buildings. Together with the adjoining Richard Allen Building it remains one of Melbourne’s most significant business addresses.

U: What was your brief to Bates Smart? Particularly when the building accommodates such a variety of different tenants with specific requirements, but also with a view towards the future and flexibility for tenants?

MK: Our brief to Bates Smart was to transform the ground plane by creating a building with two addresses through the upgrade of the Flinders Lane entrance, create an amenity rich atrium, upgrade the office floors and build brand new end-of-trip facilities for the high-calibre tenants.

As part of this brief, our goal was to deliver a modern state-of-the-art office environment that actively promotes a sense of community, supports high performance and enriches the city of Melbourne.

U: How important was creating two distinct addresses/entry experiences into the building from Collins Street and from Flinders Lane?

MK: The T&G Building has a unique location situated on an entire city block between Collins Street and Flinders Lane. Our vision for the T&G Building was to celebrate this unique aspect by enhancing the dual entrances to the building.

The Collins Street outlook delivers the classic corporate experience characterised by premium office buildings and high end-luxury fashion boutiques. In contrast, the Flinders Lane outlook captures everything that is quintessentially Melbourne – laneways, artisan eateries and the all-important Melburnian coffee. Tenants now have the flexibility to represent their brand by using either the creative or corporate entrance to the building.

U: Can you discuss the role of the atrium within the building as well as the different retail experiences that the building provides not just to tenants but also to visitors/passer-by?

MK: For the T&G Building, Pembroke has created more than just a workspace – the building combines intelligent design that incorporates imaginative shared spaces and carefully managed amenities. A key feature is the atrium, which acts as a communal meeting area for tenants to work in a more casual setting. Positioned as a tenant lounge, the atrium has an on-site management team to support tenant’s needs, creating a premium experience for tenants and their guests.

A refreshed retail mix is planned for the atrium with new food, beverage and luxury retailer options set to open soon. This will be open to the wider Melbourne community and will complement the high-quality location at the ‘Paris-end of Collins Street’.

The T&G Building is also home to some of the most well regarded names in luxury fashion – Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Versace and Max Mara. Situated on the outer ground floor, these flagship stores are open to the public, allowing us to showcase and open up the beauty of the T&G Building to locals and tourists alike.

Behind the facade: 161 Collins Street
The building's central atrium space. Image: Peter Clarke

U: What do you believe has led to the building's success in retaining and attracting new tenants?

MK: The T&G Building has retained and attracted some of Australia’s highest-calibre brands by showcasing iconic design, adaptable workplaces and heritage integration, in one of the most prestigious business districts in Melbourne.

Following an extensive refurbishment, new tenants were welcomed to the building including Google, Treasury Wine Estates and Bottega Veneta, who joined long-standing tenants Accenture, IOOF, Gucci and Versace. Office tenants were also attracted to the 4,000 square metre floorplates, among the largest in the CBD, which provide a versatile space for companies to embrace new levels of flexibility, productivity and connectivity.

The building’s location is also a draw card, situated at the ‘Paris-end of Collins Street.’ It is also seamlessly connected to Melbourne’s commuter network including tram, bus, rail and bicycle lanes.

U: Would you say the building's heritage elements were a point of distinction between other commercial projects around town but also a major attractor for tenants (both workplace and retail, food & beverage etc.)?

MK: The revitalisation of the Collins Street precinct has seen more and more commercial developments pop up in the area. By offering A-grade facilities in a world-class heritage building we have been able to provide a point of distinction from these other developments. The heritage façade coupled with a modern office environment is unique to the T&G Building and we believe these features were a major selling point for tenants.

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.
161 Collins Street
Bates Smart
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