'Portico' Scots Church Redevelopment
Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects extends the original Scots Church building upward with urban residences projecting into the sky.
“An exquisite Glenn Murcutt pavilion sitting within a huge landscape is a complete misrepresentation of Australian architecture,” says Tim Greer, director of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects (TZG), which is based in the hip Sydney neighborhood of Surry Hills. In fact, more than 95 percent of Australia’s 20-million-plus population lives within city limits, and the country is considered to be one of the most urbanized on the planet.
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The national tendency to cluster means that architects are commonly asked to design multifamily buildings for urban sites—or transform existing buildings into higher-density uses. Scots Church in downtown Sydney, for example, sat neglected since the 1980s, when the building was sold by the church, except for the 2,500-seat, ground-floor assembly hall where its congregation still meets. By 2005, TZG had completed the conversion of the structure into a 146-unit, cooperative-style apartment building, now called Portico, which combines the neo-Gothic confection of the old building with unapologetically new towers perched on top.
Begun in 1926, construction of Scots Church was capped at five stories during the Great Depression. But its trio of original architects intended the structure to reach 150 feet, and they had engineered the frame accordingly. What seems like a gift for the next generation—enough bracing to support a profitable expansion—actually limited the possibilities of the final form. “The new addition could weigh no more than the intended original,” Greer explains, because of Sydney’s conservative structural demands.
TZG worked with a host of additional constraints. For example, the building sits directly above the main railway line and overlooks the automobile route to Sydney Harbour Bridge. Noise and air pollution precluded balconies, although they are a popular feature in the city. Moreover, due to Portico’s adjacency to Wynyard Park, the designers had
to follow a requirement for a 32.5-degree recession plane that would allow sunlight to penetrate the park.
With mezzanines supported by timber rather than steel, and partition walls made of plaster instead of masonry (due to the load constraints), the 1926 base could support the weight of the new structure and its occupants.
Double-height fenestration in the duplex living units complements the tracery and casement windows of the historic church. “We knew intuitively that if we had a two-story-high space, we would get a vertical emphasis to the building,” Greer says. “While neo-Gothic buildings are perpendicular, apartment buildings tend to be a horizontal typology.”
Formal name of project: 'Portico' Scots Church Redevelopment
Location: 2 York Street, Sydney, Australia
Gross square footage: 18 900m2
Completion Date: December, 2005
Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects
117 Reservoir St
Surry Hills NSW
612 9215 4900 TEL
612 9215 4901 FAX
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