31 Jan 24

Sydney’s CBD bounces back, redesigned 25 Martin Place plays leading role

Sydney’s CBD is back in business. Streets are busy, buses and trains crowded as office worker numbers close on pre-pandemic levels, bringing an energy to central Sydney that’s been missing the past four years.

Real estate services company CBRE says Sydney CBD office worker numbers are averaging 75 per cent of 2019 levels, up from 49 per cent one year ago, the biggest improvement of all Australian cities. On peak days, that rises to 83 per cent.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the bustling retail precinct anchored by 25 Martin Place, a key catalyst of Sydney CBD’s revival thanks to a $170 million redesign, update and expansion commissioned by owner Dexus and led by Woods Bagot, working with Harry Seidler & Associates.

Previously known as MLC Centre, it opened in 1978 and was designed by Harry Seidler, acknowledged as one of Australia’s greatest architects.

“This is a massive urban renewal piece,” says Domenic Alvaro, Global Design Leader at Woods Bagot. “We’ve added more area, increased the viability of all the streetscapes and it’s been a catalyst for rejuvenating retail and dining in Sydney’s CBD.”

25 Martin Place occupies most of a city block and includes an office tower, theatre, retail, cafes and restaurants.

Valentino – iconic brand in an iconic location.

The precinct, envisioned by Harry Seidler as a ‘city within a city’, occupies most of a block and is a hub for entertainment, fashion, retail, dining and culture throughout the day and night, seven days a week.

With direct access to Martin Place, Sydney’s civic heart, 25 Martin Place includes a 68-level office tower, an openair plaza, the Theatre Royal, bars, cafes, restaurants, food court and retail over a multi-level podium.

It has frontages to King and Castlereagh Streets, Australia’s prime luxury shopping precinct, which the redesign leverages with five new high-end shopfronts leased to fashion brands Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Brunello Cucinelli, Missoni and Stylerunner; it’s the final component of 25 Martin Place to open.

Alvaro from Woods Bagot says he wanted to create a luxury zone that felt like a public gallery experience.

“The whole strategy was about full transparency and celebrating the visual merchandising of these great anchor tenants,” Alvaro says.

“They’re galleries, a public viewing gallery on the street. People don’t have to go in to benefit. They’re double-height and they’re bringing transparency into the public realm.”

25 Martin Place luxury shopping precinct on Castlereagh Street.

Luxury retail space has boomed in Sydney over the last couple of years.

Harry Seidler’s design positioned the buildings of 25 Martin Place around a central plaza.

One of the important design moves was incorporating several of the so-called icons, circular structures positioned in key corner locations by Harry Seidler, into the luxury retail zone.

Valentino, Stylerunner and Dolce & Gabbana are all housed in icons either rebuilt or adapted to purpose.

“Our design celebrates the icons,” says Alvaro. “We didn’t want to fight with the Seidler history, instead we opted to reinforce the icons by having a completely transparent retail experience.

“The circles create this unique relationship to street frontage and the tower expression. Icon 1 (Valentino) used to be the tower entry. Now we made the entrance off the street.”

Retail analyst Nik Potter from Colliers says demand for luxury retail space in the area is intense.

“The development at 25 Martin Place has really unlocked an opportunity for some of these global brands to get a significant foothold in the Sydney market,” says Potter.

They’re in good company. Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Hermes, Tiffany, Bally, Boss, Bulgari, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Hublot, Mountblanc, Chopard and many more are in the immediate vicinity.

Potter says in the past two years 24 key luxury brands have opened in the area due to rising consumer demand for top-end goods – especially among Millennials and GenZ – and there are often queues outside some of the flagship stores.

“We see the luxury retail trend being driven by experience – it’s a real differentiation compared to online,” Potter says.

“If people are buying a $15,000 watch or handbag, they want to go into the store, enjoy a glass of champagne and an experience for spending that money.

“They don’t want to buy it online and wait for it to be delivered their house.”

An organic new design ‘ribbon’ unites the precinct which comes alive at night.

Woods Bagot’s new design for 25 Martin Place strives to preserve the existing Seidler legacy through adaptive reuse of the existing precast architecture expression while creating a distinctly new organic ‘ribbon’ to unite the entire development’s composition.

“The point of the new ribbon language is creating an independent expression so the old and new could be expressed independently,” says Alvaro.

“This gives us a lot of flexibility in how we created new space that complemented the old building.

“It also meant we were able to create a new vivid identity for the future of 25 Martin Place. The new legacy is that this is a day-night city building that has 24-hour vibrancy.”

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Martin Kelly
Content and Communications Leader (Australia & New Zealand)

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