Transgrid: An Arranged Marriage

 23 Dec 2016

It is tempting to think of buildings and their interiors going hand in glove. They do. But some make better fits than others. It is rare that buildings are designed from the inside out ─ the drivers are more to do with site, optimising rental space, regulatory constraints and occasionally making a public statement.

These developments are rather like arranged marriages. But even if ‘love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage,’ it has to be said that arranged marriages can often work quite well. In architectural terms, architects and their clients recognise the opportunity to shape a building to make it align as closely as possible to the client’s business culture.
Such was the case with the new TransGrid building in Sydney’s Ultimo, which sits behind the ABC building and diametrically opposite the University of Technology’s new and idiosyncratic  Dr Chau Chak Wing building by architect Frank Gehry.

The context was important because this precinct is fast becoming the most exciting in Sydney. It is a university precinct boasting a number of new and distinctive buildings, which complement the historical character of the area. This historic character includes the semi-industrial buildings of the former markets (Haymarket) and the Goods Line -- Sydney’s answer to New York’s Highline. This passes directly in front of TransGrid and the architects, Bates Smart, have acknowledged this by beautifully integrating the building into its context: creating a public plaza to complement The Goods Line, ensuring that the scale and materiality of TransGrid complement the surrounding built form, and by providing transparency at ground level to integrate the building with its context and to make visible the commissioned artwork in the lobby by Lucas Grogan, making it effectively a piece of public art.

TransGrid’s CEO, Peter McIntyre, had been very specific about the kind of building he wanted in order to drive a new transparent, connected and collaborative workplace and a number of ‘town hall’ meetings were held to further articulate this vision. The building supported this with long, column-free floorplates with a central stairway, offset at each level to generate visual variety and connection across the three floors of the tenancy.

The floorplates are quite large (2000 square metres) and very long. So, in the words of Bates Smart’s Brenton Smith, the challenge was how to make it not look like “a call centre or a football field of workstations”. The stairs help to give scaleability to the floorplates, as do open and semi-enclosed meeting pods *, the custom-designed pendant lights (by Arup) and the Knoll 120° workstations which cluster staff into re-configurable teams of six and provide visual variety down the length of the floorplates. Similarly, the double-height central wintergarden with its grand views north across Darling Harbour is deliberately set in the middle on Level 2. Its transparency and views lead the eye through the space, while its location encourages the ‘bump factor’ because people have to go up or down to get to it.

Bates Smart have provided a building ─ with great fluidity vertically and horizontally, together with clear sightlines and a visually rich office landscape ─ which fully supports their client’s vision of an open and connected workplace, generating a significant shift from the previous workplace culture and supporting the staff in what has been a major change in the way they work. Post-occupancy feedback suggests that the staff could not be happier.

* Transgrid’s meeting pods are fitted with Zip HydroTaps to provide an endless supply of pure tasting instant boiling and chilled drinking water.