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From Authenticity to Adaptive Reuse: Trends Influencing the Australian Market  

“The Porter” at 1 O’Connell St. in Sydney, a place where business is activated. Image © Tyrone Branigan

We recently talked with Simon Trude, managing director for Gensler’s Sydney office, about major trends influencing the Australian market. Trude previously was brand design director at Gensler New York. He founded 2D3D Creative, a strategy and design company in Sydney, before rejoining Gensler to spearhead the firm’s expansion into the market.

Tell us about some of the major trends you are seeing in Australia?

A lot of developers are repositioning buildings. To keep up with demand of clients and tenants, they’re looking at their assets very differently and aligning themselves with their buildings from a work/life balance perspective.

On the western corridor of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) is a huge $6 billion development, called Barangaroo. Within three years of its development, the city’s major tenants and companies—professional services and financial firms—are all moving there, and creating major vacancies around the city. Firms are having to reposition their assets so they can attract new tenants to fill the holes this development is making. We are being brought in to consult and work with developers, helping them to understand the competitive landscape, and what the program offering and future tenant mix should be within their building.

Bowery Lane, a new restaurant in Sydney. The kitchen reflects local flavors and textures appropriate to the city's Industrial era. Image © Toby Peet

And is that where leisure comes in?

Absolutely. There is more focus around the leisure component than there is on the actual workplace component; companies are trying to develop assets that can be leveraged from the point of view of the whole building, rather than just the tenant floors. They’re really commercial office buildings, but I'm calling them mixed-use because there are so many different programs in each building type: some are retail based, while others are based around food and beverage.

End of trip facilities—gyms, pools, locker rooms, for massage and yoga—have become major assets, because the push now is really about the integration of a healthy lifestyle into the corporate office building. All premium buildings are expected to have these types of facilities, so you can ride to work, have your own dedicated locker, take a shower and get your shirts dry cleaned. We approach buildings by adding amenities and spaces that support how people work and their daily routines.

A lot of our design strategies involve looking at how a mixed-use building can be constantly activated. So a building might have cafes in the morning, lunch options in the afternoon and restaurants and wine bars in the evenings—all in one asset that's in constant activation.

How do Sydney and Melbourne differ in terms of leisure?

In Sydney, people have always worked in the city and lived outside of it, so Sydney’s CBD has been focused almost exclusively around work, without a real leisure component. That’s starting to change. In Melbourne, by contrast, people have always lived in the city and inner city; they have done a better job of providing retail, food and beverage offerings, and an active lifestyle in the CBD. Sydney is playing catch-up and younger people are moving to the city. The hottest properties at the moment are commercial buildings that can be renovated and turned into residential. Sydney has also made an impressive move towards restoring parklands and headlands. One phase of the Barangaroo development is to regenerate the headlands, to bring them as close as possible to their natural state when Australia was founded. They've carved out about 50 to 60 percent of the whole development, which is attached to the CBD, to hand over for public space—a nice intervention.

How is Australia’s leisure market influenced by Asia, particularly in hospitality?

Australia and China are joined at the hip from an economic perspective. We follow their market. When they're strong, we're strong. A lot of our industry is export through China, and the majority of our tourism is from China. The mining boom, which has been our main economic asset, will come to an end in the next 10 years. So there has been a major shift to look at what the next economic strength is going to be–and it’s going to be tourism. Attracting Chinese visitors to Australia is going to be incredibly important in the next 20 years.

There is still a major play to being authentic in leisure. Hotels, restaurants, beverage and retail are considered from a local, authentically Australian perspective. We’re shying away from larger chains, and they aren't doing as well as the unique, local offerings.

Harbour Rocks Hotel. Image courtesy of Harbour Rocks Hotel Sydney

How does the demand for more "authentic real estate" affect your design approach?

We’re doing a lot of regeneration and adaptive reuse. Our only real heritage is in the CBD. Anything outside, in the industrial areas, has been built in the last 50 years and wouldn't be classified as heritage. We’re finding the more authentic heritage components are more valuable. In Sydney and in Melbourne the trend is to integrate areas and buildings within the context of their surroundings. Taking an existing older building and pulling back to the original core and infrastructure and celebrating its past and history is more successful than applying it with new construction.

What do you see as global trends that are influencing approaches to leisure in Australia?

I think of taking areas of the city that have been neglected for a long period of time, and completely repositioning and regenerating them through one initiative, like the High Line in New York. These neglected areas are becoming hot commodities, and that's where the authentic component comes in: developers are not looking at stripping these areas of heart and soul and changing their look and feel. They're using what's there, but thinking about how it's been used completely differently.

There's an area called Redfern, which had one of the highest crime rates in Australia. One street there in particular, Eveleigh, is the fastest growing area in Sydney. Five or ten years ago you wouldn't have even walked down there. But derelict areas have become a trend. I think that’s because developers have remained authentic to those areas, carving what was good about them, repurposing them by thinking through their mixes.

This article is an extension of an interview conducted by Sarah Amelar for Dialogue 26, “World of Leisure: Asia + Australia.” Amelar writes for Dwell, Architectural Record and the New York Times.

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