Quay Quarter Tower; Humanising And Upcycling Sydney’s Skyline


Sydney’s Circular Quay precinct plays a pivotal role in the city’s continuing development as a major international city.

It was originally Australia’s front door and in many ways still is, having reinforced its historical and cultural value as the city has grown and evolved.

Circular Quay was once the landing spot that acted as the focal point for Australia’s largest city to grow and, in a modern day adaptation, the revitalisation of this precinct aims to achieve the exact same effect.  

For this reason, it’s important that the redevelopment of the precinct justifies its position within Sydney’s geography and fosters those opportunities through innovation, which will inevitably shape the future progression of the wider city.

At the core of the precinct’s revitalisation is The Quay Quarter Tower (QQT), a collaboration between AMP Capital, 3XN Architects and their sister company GXN Innovation, BVN Architects and the newly appointed Design Research Studio.

Related Article: Tom Dixon Appointed To Design AMP Capital's Quay Quarter Tower Lobby

Quay Quarter Tower will transform the current building to deliver 90,000m² of net lettable commercial area, doubling the building’s existing floor area.

Each floor will provide 2,000m2 of efficient, contiguous and flexible space with further value derived from the 6,000m2 of retail across the precinct.

The development is anticipated to make a major contribution to Sydney’s GDP by employing more than 10,000 people in the commercial, retail and hospitality industries, attracting investment, boosting the local economy and improving the value of property in Circular Quay.

In recent interviews with Louise Mason (Chief Operating Officer, Real Estate at AMP Capital), Kasper Guldager Jensen (Architect and Senior Partner at 3XN and Director of GXN ) and Fred Holt (Architect and Partner at 3XN), The Urban Developer investigated how QQT will act as the social catalyst and incubator for Sydney’s more innovative future urban fabric.     

Humanising The High-Rise; How A Commercial Vertical Village Plans To Activate A 24/7 Neighbourhood.

Circular Quay, much like Melbourne's Collins Street is aspiring to become a 24/7 destination that has an equally valuable night time economy. To achieve this, the City of Sydney has placed a great emphasis on urban spaces, contemporary shopping outlets, restaurants, cafes and bars.

Related Article: 447 Collins: Redefining the Dynamic of Mixed Use Development. 

“With boutique residential, commercial office and retail around an expanded laneway network, this is an opportunity to reimagine an urban landscape and create a day to night time amenity in an area that has historically been more focused towards the nine to five. As owners and residents in the Quay for more than 55 years, this area is special to AMP, and through our revitalisation of the precinct it is set to become even more spectacular.” says Mason.

Yet in order to support this framework, a strong, sustainable and engaged commercial presence in the precinct is necessary.   

“For us it was not just about creating a remarkable office space for the future of work; it was also about creating a destination where people would want to work, spend time and live.” says Mason.

Danish innovators 3XN and GXN place the success of fashioning a 24/7 precinct down to the ability to create architecture that acts as a social catalyst and incubator for interaction. This is essentially the inspiration behind turning a commercial tower into a ‘vertical village’.  

“We believe that ‘Architecture Shapes Behaviour’; both the interior environment and the urban context. We designed QQT from the ‘inside out’ and ‘outside in,’ ensuring that it meets the needs of its discerning commercial tenants while also meaningfully contributing to Sydney’s urban fabric.” says Guldager Jensen.  

Related Article: 'Architecture Shapes Behaviour' Inspires Danish Firm to Establish Behavioural Research Cluster.

The formal massing of the building is a response to light and aspect with key importance placed on the ability for an interior that encourages interaction; whilst innovatively ‘upcycling’ the structure of an existing tower. This is why the architects refer to the design outcome as a high-rise that’s been humanised.

“It’s not architecture as usual, it’s really challenging the status quo of the classical working environment,” says Holt.

Spanning two inner city blocks and 11,000sqm, according to Mason, Quay Quarter Sydney is about city-making and regeneration; delivering a mixed use destination and extraordinary urban outcome on one of Australia’s most prominent sites.

“We wanted to bring laneway culture back to Sydney. As part of the Quay Quarter precinct renewal, we will breathe new life into this historic part of Sydney by activating the streets and laneways, including Loftus Lane and Goldsbrough Lane.” says Mason.  


Photo Courtesy Of 3XN/GXNSustainable Buildings Live Long Adult Lives And Don’t Shine The Brightest In Their Adolescence.

Sydney has a notorious reputation for towers reaching their expiry date between 20 and 30 years of being constructed and outgrowing their intended purpose.

The fact that they outgrow their demand so quickly isn’t always a reflection of a growing economy, but rather fleeting design.

‘Adaptive Reuse’ is a space that 3XN/GXN have innovated within previously and applied many of their acquired theories to QQT.   

“More and more of our large tenants are looking for floor plates between 1,600 - 2,500 square meters. So this idea is an adaptive reuse of an existing tower, and the opportunity globally is there for more of this to happen but it's the first time that we’ve done something like this at this scale.” says Holt.

QQT’s adaptive reuse has most notably been referred to as ‘upcycling’.

Rather than demolishing the existing tower, the architects have proposed reusing two-thirds of the existing structure while grafting onto the existing slabs and doubling the square meters on the site.

The design adds approximately 45,000m2 of new construction, primarily on the north side of the building.

Upcycling is a process that is ultimately about creating value, which means much more than just saving the client money.

Holt notes that by ‘upcycling’ the majority of the structure of an existing tower, it also expresses an innovative new vision for sustainable building in our dense, urban cities that will be an example for developers and city builders across the globe.

At a more micro level it's an opportunity for the architect to transform the space physically and improve performance. Guldager Jensen adds that it’s important to focus on value creation in all facets of the project's lifespan, from its cost of erection through to how it performs throughout its lifespan and the maintenance.       

“It’s similar to the work we’d done on Middelfart Savings Bank, where we adapted the existing superstructure by adding a new skin on top. That particular project has strong emphasis on value creation and has been nominated the best workspace in Denmark, three years in a row. We’ve very much become inspired with the cradle to cradle thinking and combining it with the dynamics from the circular economy, into what we call circular sustainability.” he says.

Stacking Low-Rise Methodologies To Create A High-Rise Outcome.

QQT is a 200-meter-high tower that comprises a series of shifting volumes stacked upon each other, essentially taking principles of design found in low-rise construction and adapting it to a high-rise format.

The towers are divided into five separate volumes and by placing atria throughout each, transforms the typical monotony and stack of a high rise into more human scale spaces; it creates more intimate social environments, encouraging people to connect and interact over multiple floors - an atypical commercial high-rise experience.

‘Stack and shift’ as a design outcome reduces the large tower into smaller communities and scale, but also creates exterior terraces (sky gardens). These terraces tie directly into the commercial tenancies and play a prominent part in creating happier and healthier work spaces.

Rather than facing directly into the adjacent building, the lower levels of the tower’s northern elevation angle west to capture the movement at street level in Circular Quay as well as views to the Harbor Bridge.

As the building stacks, the northern façade shifts to the east, addressing views to the larger harbor as a whole, with focus on the Opera House, Harbor Bridge and Botanical Gardens.  

“This project was started from the inside out, it was all about user experience. How can architecture shape behaviour? How can it create the new workspace of the future?

As the tower blocks shift and stack a collection of exterior terraces are created, which link to the multi-level interior atria that will contain shared amenity spaces for tenants in each block.

These common amenity spaces provide views both vertically and horizontally and bring daylight deep into workspaces while promoting collaboration and interaction, which improve the commercial amenity.  


Exterior Terraces (Sky Gardens) - Photo Courtesy Of 3XN/GXNCreating A Sustainable Product Through Flexibility

The majority of atrium floors are designed to be removed post occupancy; thus, allowing a tenant to increase the size of their atrium village.

“Flexibility is important for any tenant, and the large contiguous floor plates offer for a variety of densities, layouts and working environments; from the me time to the we time. Further flexibility is built directly into the base building design.” says Holt.    

Where 3XN/GXN has been most successful in their approach to sustainability has been in their ability to make it, well, sustainable.  

“Sustainability is rooted in environmental focuses, social focuses and also economical focuses. It’s directly valuable for the client and for people utilising the architecture, and I think we’re trying to connect a material resource in sustainability and a social behaviour towards sustainability.” says Jensen.

The design optimises the embodied energy and resources inherent in the existing structure and results in a remarkably efficient plan.

Through the design of the façade’s sun-shading hoods that wrap the 5 blocks of the tower, QQT’s solar radiance is reduced up to 30%, eliminating the need for internal blinds for thermal loads.

As a result, QQT is rated with a 6-star Green Star Office Energy rating and a 5.5 Star NABERS Energy rating.

Social Dynamism Is In The Eye Of The Beholder, Or In This Case, The Client.

According to the design team, the design vision - and accolades - should rest with the client as the bold brief was defined by the social dynamism they set out to achieve.

‘’Vertical village’ wasn’t initially what we proposed however it was a term that the client and people of Sydney started to say. Social dynamism was always being proposed within the tower and as we started talking about the different blocks, each beginning to have their own identity, that’s when the clients actually started referring to them in terms of a village.” said Guldager Jensen.



Louise Mason

is a Managing Director of AMP Capital Office and Industrial and Chief Operating Officer of Property at AMP Capital Investors Limited. She was appointed Managing Director of AMP Capital Office & Industrial (O&I) in May 2010, and heads heading one of the largest in-house asset, property and development management teams in the industry. She is responsible for overseeing the delivery of investment performance for O&I’s clients, aiming to provide operational efficiencies and to protect the value of each property for the client.




Kasper Guldager Jensen

is an innovator and developer at 3XN. He is Senior Partner at 3XN and Director of GXN, an internal Innovation Unit established in 2007 to exploit the possibilities that arises applying latest knowledge and technology into design and architecture. In the space of a few years he has become a spokesperson for the shape of future architecture, focusing on new business areas and integration of new materials and green technologies.




Fred Holt

is an architect and partner at 3XN. While at 3XN, he has been designing, developing and managing projects ranging from a Museum and Learning Center in Moscow to Mixed-use towers in Sweden and India as well as the new headquarters for the IOC in Lausanne. Most recently Fred Holt played a significant design role in 3XN's winning proposal for the Quay Quarter competition in Sydney.


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