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Art Deco Heaven - British Medical Building (c 1930) , Sydney - The HDR Experience

Philip Johnson

Newport Beach, Australia

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Wall Art

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Artist's Description


Listed on The New South Wales Heritage Register

& McConnel
Builder/Maker: Messrs Hutcherson Bros
Construction Years: 1930 – 1930
Physical Description: BMA House is one of Sydney’s early 150 ft “skyscrapers”, dating to the inter- war period (1928-1930) and based on American high rise office buildings of the period. The richly modelled facade (13 storeys in height) to Macquarie Street features a unique blending of Art Deco forms and elements with elaborate decorations including Medieval knights, gargoyles, Australian fauna (koalas) and flora and medical iconography as well as elaborate non-figurative woven-ribbon friezes. The building’s exterior is clad with coloured glazed terracotta (faience) and is richly modelled with projecting bay windows which emphasise the verticality and height of the structure.

The building is generally used for commercial and professional offices and includes many medical specialists, as originally. Internally the building retains much original detailing and fabric including decorative terrazzo floors and stair, circular entry hall with first floor balcony and light above, wall and ceiling finishes in public and office areas (including extensive maple paneling). The building layout retains its original configuration of rooms and stairs arranged around a pair of light wells on each side of the building (a characteristic of pre-air conditioned Interwar buildings). Significant internal spaces include the ground floor lecture theatre and first floor suite originally housing the BMA/AMA administrative offices and meeting room. Open air squash courts were originally provided on the roof.

Category:Individual Building.
Style:Inter-War Art Deco (with “Medieval” and “Gothic” influences).

The building is also of importance as a fine, award winning example of the work of a prominent firm of Sydney architects, Fowell and McConnel was one of only two office buildings designed by this firm in the inter – war period.

BMA House also has important historical associations with the medical profession in NSW generally and their professional organisation, the BMA in particular, these associations still retained in the building’s name, various plaques, the decorative iconography and particular rooms such as the Robert H. Todd Assembly Hall and the former BMA offices. The building’s location in Macquarie Street further enhances these associations, the building be one of the few and certainly the most obvious reminder of the former “medical precinct” character of Macquarie Street.

The British Medical Association, founded in England in 1832 to promote both the study of medicine and protection of the medical profession, established branches in three Australian states in 1879-1880. The New South Wales branch, under its founding president, the highly distinguished Sir Arthur Renwick, grew from small beginnings in 1880 to be the largest in Australia. This BMA branch replaced the earlier Australian Medical Association formed in Sydney by Dr William Bland in 1859.

The BMA flourished in New South Wales during the 23 years, 1908 to 1931, when its secretary was Dr Robert Todd, a prominent physician, barrister, clarinettist, university lecturer and medical administrator. Todd was largely responsible for the acquisition of lots 17 and 18 in Macquarie Street in the 1920s. This area of the city had been in the grounds of First Government House, demolished in 1845-1846 and its land sub-divided after 1847. Lot 18 had been first purchased along with the adjacent lot 19 (the site of History House) by a speculative J.N. Palmer in 1849: lot 19 had been owned by Dr Bland in the 1850s and its neighbouring lots were some seventy years later acquired by the successor association to Bland’s. The substantial Victorian houses on lots 17 and 18, nos.137 and 135 Macquarie Street, were demolished in 1929 and the BMA commissioned the winners of a vigorous competition, Fowell and McConnel, and their contractors, Hutcherson Bros, to erect a prestigious high-rise building on the double site.

The new building was completed in April 1930, acclaimed, along with Grace Bros’ new store in King Street, as ‘the first two local examples that can be said to really follow the dictates of skyscraper and modern American architecture generally’ (Building, 12 April 1947). Its qualities of design were recognised when in 1933 its architects were the first recipients of the Royal Institute of British Architects Street medal and diploma.

The faience terracotta panelling of the exterior by Wunderlich was matched in the principal public interior spaces and the six full-size medieval knights in armour along with two koalas perched high on the facade were manufactured by the same firm. The spectacular assembly hall was panelled with Queensland maple and with Colotex, which was affixed to battens on the concrete walls to give the best acoustics and insulation. Dr Todd died just a year after the building was completed and the hall became the Robert H. Todd Assembly Hall.

The offices and library of the BMA were on the first floor, the offices in room 101 now occupied by Dr Duke, the library in room 104 with the sign of Aesculapius guarding the entrance still.

In 1972 the BMA became the Australian Medical Association and in the 1980s the new body moved to a new AMA House in St Leonards. The original building is now entirely leased to professional people, mainly doctors and dentists

Technique: HDR 5 Bracketted Exposures, Handheld, Photomatix 3.26 64 Bit

Equipment: Nikon D300, Sigma 10-20mm

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