My observant reader will have noticed that this is the second building to which I have ascribed the accolade of ‘Sydney’s first skyscraper’. You may have noticed though that there was a question mark behind the title of the other review – Culwulla Chambers – Sydney’s First Skyscraper?. As it happened the Culwulla Chambers, while being the tallest building in the city (and remaining so until 1961), actually did not fit the then definition of a skyscraper as it lacked the requisite steel frame.
If you have read my Culwulla Chambers review you will know of the public outcry that accompanied the opening of that building. This lead to the amendment of legislation outlawing buildings in excess of 150ft (around 45m) within the city. This upper limit was incidentally around five metres less than the height of the Culwulla Chambers – a height perhaps ascertained by the reach of the Fire Department’s ladders.
While many parts of the world, in particular the US, were building skywards in the first half of the 20th century, it is amazing that this height restriction in Sydney remained in force for almost 50 years, until 1957.
The height restriction law was changed at the behest of the Australian Mutual Protection Society (AMP), an insurance company (originally a not for profit organisation – though still often seen as that from its current shareholders perspective!) established in 1849 by the late 1950s wishing to consolidate its business in one site, here just back from the foreshore at Circular Quay. Of course, getting what was such a prestigious site, was helped by the fact that Thomas Mort, a director of AMP, was also an owner of the 107 years old Mort’s Wool Store which previously occupied the site.
Interestingly, to get the height restriction law lifted the AMP had to build a prototype of its proposed building in an outer suburb such that the public and officials could check it out first.
The AMP Building (not to be confused with the much higher and more recent AMP Centre to its rear) with its two crescent-shaped structures and curved façade facing the harbour was a significant departure from the then standard square or rectangular form of building. Architecturally it is classified as a Post War International Style building (whatever that means) and was designed by Peddle Thorp and Walker. It was opened in 1962 by then Prime Minister, Menzies and at a height of 117 metres (26 storeys) it became Sydney’s tallest building (excluding towers and the like) and, having the requisite construction credentials, its first skyscraper.
While starting to show its age on closer inspection, the now heritage listed building is barely noticeable when one views the city’s skyline from the harbour. However, one thing that is very noticeable is the fantastic view of the harbour, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from its open deck on the 26th floor, if you can make it up there.
While this open deck was, for many years, a publicly accessible viewpoint it no longer is.
Today the building (or rather its 26th floor deck) is rarely open to the public. One occasion when it is open is during the now annual Sydney Open (day). On this day many properties in Sydney not normally open, or easily accessible, throw open their doors to the public. I have prepared a separate review on this important event.
On the 2015 Sydney Open day and again in 2016, I took the opportunity to go up to the 26th floor of the AMP Building and, quite frankly, the view is stunning – hopefully my photos attached do it some justice. If you get the chance to go up here grab it. Of course, if you have $500++ to spend for a night in one of the now overshadowing hotels on Circular Quay you can have similar views on any day of the year. If you can coincide your visit with Sydney Open day a Sydney Open ticket costs less than A$50 and covers many other sights in addition to this building.
Inside on the 26th floor there is a small exhibition outlining the history of the AMP Society. I stopped for a brief look but saw nothing that made me want to linger. You really do come here for the view.
Address: 33 Alfred Street
Directions: Circular Quay