The redesign of Exchange Square – a meeting hall/media space/function venue of the Australian Securities Exchange near Circular Quay in Sydney – ought to have been something of a challenge for WMK Architecture, MPA Projects & Mint Floors & shutters.
The bland space awaiting transformation lacked any sense of purpose or personality, simply housing whatever event was taking place at the time, while the brief merely required “that the new fit-out provide a connection to, and an aesthetic relationship with, an existing floor of conferencing facilities”, explains John Andreas from WMK Architecture. Yet the result, in line with a shift toward good design in financial institutions, is rather a stunning one.
The team have achieved the illusive result of balance in the project by virtue of its room-within-a-room structure. There’s a sense of warmth to the space in its use of natural materials, specially the Mint Engineered Oak Flooring in a Natural colour and cocoon-like shape; it’s easily adaptable to the size and scope of its inhabitants, whether many or few, with scattered lounge chairs and ample wall seating. Andreas believes the comfort of the space is, in large part, due to the critical role lighting and acoustics play within the room.
The Architect in charge John Andreas and acoustic consultants Wood and Grieve used folding walls and the subsequent creation of nooks and corners – as opposed to a vast, rectangular floor plan – to help, along with the mix of materials like carpet and timber, to balance sound.
A seamless transition was created by panelling the walls in both rooms with a rich Engineered Oak Natural 21mm flooring that wraps the hall in smooth, sculptural planes. It’s an effect mirrored by the ceiling; sculpted plasterboard that curves, bends and undulates, imbuing the space – particularly the staircase, with its lower height – with a sense of warmth.
It feels contemporary – leather armchairs, downlights and feature pendant lighting brings it into the now – but the natural lines and materials, such as the timber, feel classic. With a project like this, on an institution that dates back to 1861, it seems important that the architect pays some respect to its history.