Grosvenor Place (completed 1989) is one of three major Sydney city developments designed by Harry Seidler, consisting of an office tower plus retail and public spaces. The others are Australia Square (completed 1967) and the MLC Centre (completed 1977). These projects involved demolition of existing structures and the amalgamation of numerous properties.
These three projects were statements of Seidler's vision for the modern city, creating large and well-defined work and leisure spaces. Seidler wrote that Australia Square was "a unique planning and architectural concept. Not only does the project open up a congestion area of Sydney with its canyon-type narrow streets, but offers a new space concept in the rectilinear street pattern".
Seidler's city developments share Le Corbusier's rejection of the traditional street in favour of city spaces zoned for specific activities, where office or residential towers are spaced in plazas or parks and pedestrians are separated from street traffic. The immediate inspiration for Grosvenor Place and similar developments was the Seagram Building, New York, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1958. Mies' removal of the tower from the street line to the rear of a pedestrian plaza was widely copied in the USA, Australia and elsewhere although few were as nuanced or as successful in urban terms as those designed by Harry Seidler. Seidler argued that an office tower should not occupy more than 30% of its site, a condition met by the Grosvenor Place tower, while Seidler designed public spaces which were contiguous yet distinct from their surroundings. The public areas of Seidler's tower + plaza developments, including those of Grosvenor Place, have proved popular and successful.
However the controversy generated by the preservation of heritage buildings on the Grosvenor Street site reflects the continued attraction of the traditional city of diverse streets with their accrued layers of buildings. During the 1980s these arguments began to hold sway in Sydney and the building regulations reverted to an insistence that towers, or at least a podium component, conform to the established street line. Seidler argued that these regulations were effectively anti-urban and anti-pedestrian, that developments like Australia Square and Grosvenor Place are no longer achievable. Grosvenor Place is an artefact of a brief period of Sydney's urban history following the scrapping of the city building height limit in 1957 when building regulations encouraged the creation of open space around city towers.
Grosvenor Place embodies another aspect of Seidler's mature work: From around 1960 when he moved from primarily domestic work to large projects with Lend Lease and other developers, the engineering and expressive character of Seidler's structures became increasing innovative and eye-catching, especially after his work with the Italian architect/engineer Pier Luigi Nervi. The modernist ideal of matching structure and expression is a regular feature of his large projects, which were constructed from a surprisingly small number of identical, prefabricated building elements.
Charles Pickett, Curator Design and Built environment.