architecture circular economy

How to upcycle a skyscraper

This is the Amp Building at 50 Bridge Street in Sydney. It was built in the mid-seventies, with 45 storeys of office space. Looking rather tired, it was slated for refurbishment a few years ago, and just re-opened in a completely different form.

The Danish architects 3XN removed the old glass and concrete facade, and designed a new tower from the existing core. New floors were added on top, making it into a 54 storey building. The old floors were retained but extended on a series of angles that make it look like the building is in rotated sections.

This isn’t just for the sake of being obtuse. The angles are to maximise views across Sydney harbour, and each segment of the building functions as its own smaller building within the whole. They each have atriums, terraces and spiral staircases within their own segment, aiming for a stack of small ‘vertical villages’, rather than a monolithic office block. It makes the building more manageable and human scale for those who work there.

The new tower was completely re-clad with a more modern exterior, with shade hoods and highly efficient glass to reduce heat and glare, which will save energy on air conditioning. This month the building reopened as Quay Quarter Tower, and really it looks nothing like the old skyscraper it once was.

While there have been plenty of refurbishments, upcycling a skycraper like this is a world first. Engineering firm Arup, who consulted on the project, describe it as ‘adaptive reuse’, and see it as part of their drive for circular economy architecture.

In keeping with circular economy principles, they have kept materials in circulation by extending the life of the building, in this care keeping 68% of the core intact. This keeps a vast quantity of building waste out of landfill, and represents a huge saving in embodied carbon.

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