Preserving historical architecture in Martin Place, Sydney

The Colonial Mutual Building, Sydney, circa 1989. (Image source: Sydney of City Archives)

Impressed by the BLFs decision to ban demolition in The Rocks, Don Meisenhelter of the Environment Committee of the NSW Institute of Architects approached Mundey in November 1971 with a suggestion that architects, the National Trust and the building unions combine to save historically or architecturally significant buildings across Sydney. The BLF was on board and on 19 January 1972 announced their refusal to demolish all buildings recommended for preservation by the National Trust of Australia. Included in a list of around 1700 buildings across NSW were Pitt Street Congregational Church, Helen Keller Hostel, and Dr Busby’s Cottage.

Three grand old bank and insurance buildings standing on Martin Place – the ANZ bank, the Colonial Mutual Building, and the National Mutual Building – also fell under the protection of the BLF in July 1972. In the case of the Colonial Mutual Building, built in 1892-93 according to designs by Sydney architect John Kirkpatrick, plans to modernise the building came to life in the early 1970s and it was earmarked for demolition. After the green ban was placed, an alternative plan for the building was developed in consultation with the National Trust, the City Council and the Government Architect. In 1976, the interior of the building was gutted and converted into a 20-storey office block though the original sandstone façade remained untouched. This was the earliest major example of façade retention and repurposing of the inner space in Sydney.

Verity and Meredith Burgmann, Green bans, red union: the saving of a city, 1998; Anne Summers (et al.), The little green book: facts on the green bans, 1973; NSW State Arcives & Records, ‘The Colonial Mutual Life (CML) building’, n/d, <>.

Research provided by Isabella Maher


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