Having survived threats of demolition, this Victorian Italianate building has undergone various internal re-arrangements and is dwarfed by office blocks. Since 2005 it has been home to the Lowy Institute, a highly respected independent policy think tank. Having temporarily relocated during the construction of a neighbouring office block, the Lowy approached HAA to assist with a major upgrading of their permanent home.

The work commenced with a feasibility/scoping inquiry undertaken by HAA. This study benchmarked the Lowy and its premises with similar organisations around the globe. Consultation with the Lowy staff revealed a priority for more light and better acoustics. It also exposed diverse requirements for the administration and the research teams.

HAA successfully integrated the complexity of modern office requirements within an old building– desk design, colour schemes, lighting, meeting rooms, acoustic and building services upgrades. Two very different work spaces have been created. One is open and dynamic; the other is a space providing quietness and few distractions for research and writing.

31 Bligh Street was designed for the occupation of a single entity – originally the New South Wales Club. The Lowy Institute is a good fit for the building as they occupy the whole space. Single occupancy means one lift, one staircase and one fire strategy for the building to meet modern regulations.

A point of pride for both the Institute Lowy and HAA is the achievement of external equitable access for the front door. As a centre for public lectures and visiting speakers, equitable access was of high importance to the client, and everyone worked very hard to achieve it.

Designed by the architect William Wardell, 31 Bligh Street opened in 1886 as the premises of the New South Wales Club which merged with the Australia Club in 1969. Located amongst the high-rise towers of the financial heart of the city, 31 Bligh Street is a remnant of a former Sydney. The building is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

The Lowy Institute received a Commendation in the Heritage category of the 2021 AIA Architecture Awards (NSW Chapter).

Photos © Mark Syke