Sydney developers continue to revisit the past by converting ageing well-located commercial blocks into luxury apartment buildings.
It makes financial - and environmental - sense to strip an existing building to its shell and redevelop it within the footprint rather than face the potential pitfalls of seeking approval for a completely new structure.
Nowhere is this trend more evident than at Milsons Point.
The latest metamorphosis is the 1980s Tower Life building at 80 Alfred Street into a luxury 16-floor tower called Bridgehill Residences.
On an adjacent corner, at 88 Alfred Street, the former Vibe Hotel is being transformed into 123 apartments, while at 118 Alfred Street the former Eagle House office block is now the sparkling apartment tower, North.
Nearby, the former Sharp office building in Lavender Street 'morphed' into Latitude, and the former Yellow Pages House in Glen Street became Azure.
'Morphing' is not a new development phenomenon. The first wave of office-to-residential conversions started in the Sydney CBD in the early 1990s when Esso House was transformed into Highgate, the IBM Centre became Observatory Tower, and Caltex House became Stamford On Kent.
The old - 1980s Tower Life Building at 80 Alfred Street
Then came the 'morphing' of a swag of hotels into apartment buildings. The Sebel became Encore, The Landmark became Ikon, The Crescent became Lumina, and The Gazebo and Top of the Town converted but retained their names.
The Managing Director of Bridgehill Yibin Xu said the current wave of office building conversions is due to the price differential between well-located commercial and residential space.
"A new apartment with good views can be worth seven times more than what the space was worth as a dated office, so there are potentially good returns to be made," Mr Xu said.
"While construction can be challenging, there are advantages in adaptive re-use. One is that you get to keep the height and the floor space ratio, which avoids potential planning objections associated with overdevelopment, overshadowing or blocking views. Another plus is that the infrastructure and related services are already in place.
"Then there are the environmental benefits,” Mr Xu continued. “Because there are a lot of resources tied up in existing concrete and steel structures it’s far kinder on the environment to re-use as much as possible, rather than having to demolish, dispose of the waste material, and start from scratch."
Mr Xu said the Tower Life building was solidly built and still had many decades of ‘life’, but it needed a complete design overhaul to take full advantage of the views and meet the aspirations of today’s apartment dweller.
“As an architect I identified the elements of the outdated building that could be elaborated upon in new and interesting ways,” Mr Xu said. “We stripped the structure back to its bones, extended floors eastward to create balconies, and added two levels, including a communal rooftop entertaining area."
The transformation is a text book ‘ugly ducking to beautiful swan’ story, with the clunky, precast concrete office block that housed typically staid insurance assessors becoming an elegant building in a sophisticated dark grey and white colour palette which will soon be home to some of Sydney’s most pampered residents.
“We put a great deal of thought and planning into creating an energy-efficient and ecologically-sustainable building that improved the look of the area,” Mr Xu said. “It has been constructed without compromise to ensure it meets the growing cachet of this prestigious location.”
When released off-the-plan in 2014, all 125 apartments sold quickly. Bridgehill withheld the four penthouses and sub-penthouses, which will be put on the market when completed for $6.5-Million to 8.5-Million.
The penthouses range from 235 to 390 square metres internally, plus balconies and wintergardens, and have the feel of a luxurious single-level house. All rooms are spacious and airy with high ceilings and thick laminated floor-to-ceiling glass guaranteeing whisper quiet interiors.
As sublime as the interiors are, the ‘wow’ factor is the picture postcard harbour views, ranging from the Opera House to serene Lavender Bay.
“Milsons Point is on the world’s finest waterway just minutes from the Sydney CBD, yet still maintains a village feel with boutiques, cafes, restaurants and the iconic Luna Park and North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool,” Mr Xu said. “The suburb has so much going for it that it can only continue to grow in status, in value and in demand.”
Bridgehill is currently underway with two further large-scale projects – Esprit Mascot (485 apartments plus commercial) and Green Square Bridgehill (800 apartments plus commercial).