AMP Square (527–535 Bourke Street) is a skyscraper situated in Melbourne, Australia, on the corner of Bourke and Williams Streets in the central business district. The tower, designed to maximise floor area with respect to the lot size, is one of the earliest examples of a corporate modernism in Australia. A 2010 renovation of the surrounding pedestrian ways and creation of covered walkways has made the tower more integrated with the St James building and St James Plaza which share the block.
Prior to the AMP building, there existed a school on the site founded by The “Pioneer Church” which was erected four years after the establishment of Melbourne on 11 February 1837. The “Pioneer Church” was succeeded by what is now the St James Old Cathedral on 9 November 1839, which sat on a five-acre lot of land situated between William, Bourke, and Collins Streets. St James Old Cathedral faced many issues after the turn of the century with the pressure of occupying valuable land within the Central Business District, maintenance problems and a dwindling congregation. The Cathedral narrowly escaped demolition and was relocated up the road to Batman Street, near Flagstaff Gardens in West Melbourne. Nearby Church Street, Church Lane, and St James Lane, all attest their name to the relocated Cathedral. The Cathedral also lends its name to the St James Building and Plaza, which resides on The AMP Square.
With the surge of growth seen in major western cities emerging after the end of the Second World War, a fluxing demand for large scale high-rise developments within these cities came which, using an à la mode contemporary style, took use of modern technologies and left over materials from the war.
“On the suggestion of Sir Robert Law-Smith, an influential member of the Victorian board of AMP”, it was agreed upon that AMP’s new development fronting Bourke and William Streets in Melbourne would be designed by the San Francisco Office of International American architects–Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM). SOM required an Australian partner for the project, approaching Osborn McCutcheon of the Australian architectural firm Bates, Smart and McCutcheon, responsible for designing prior AMP commercial office complexes including the AMP Annex on Market Street. After first resisting to co-operate, McCutcheon agreed to travel to San Francisco to meet with the partners at SOM and arrange a joint venture on the AMP project. It was decided that SOM would be responsible for the development and design of the project, with all the documentation past the design development stage handled by Bates Smart and McCutcheon including the supervision of the construction. The key architects driving the project at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill were Edward Charles Bassett, Richard Foster, and Mark Goldstein whom were responsible for signature design features in project such as the angled colonnades on the L-shaped St James building, and Helmut Jacoby whom was responsible for the perspective drawings.
The AMP Square comprises The AMP Tower, The St James Building, and St James Plaza dividing the two structures. It was regarded as a "significant Melbourne island site... [known] to be the red, pre-cast brutalist building" by Andrew Norbury, chief executive of architecture firm Metier3, who was responsible for its development in 2013.
The AMP Tower is located on the North-Eastern corner of the AMP Square site sitting on the William Street-Bourke Street intersection. This location places it in a precinct of significant post-war commercial office skyscrapers from the same era which includes The Former BHP Tower, 140 William Street opposite of The AMP Tower, Eagle House at 473 Bourke Street and Estates House 114-128 William Street all by Yuncken Freeman a rival and collaborative American Firm of Skidmore Owings Merrill. This collection forms a heritage precinct at the end of Bourke Street.
The AMP Tower takes strong notes from the CBS Building completed in 1965 and designed by Eero Saarinen, a Finnish-American architect and industrial designer. This is due to their shared design partner Edward Bassett (previously working for Saarinen himself) who contributed in the design of The AMP Tower. Taking the minimalist sculptural approach to the early modernist design of large scale commercial projects, the twenty six-storey AMP Tower is constructed of a concrete encased structure of steel-framework. The Tower features chamfered brutalistic vertical ribs which are clad in pre-cast panels of re-constructed polished brown stone granite, with the same granite veneer used for the horizontal panelling scattered between the tinted glass windows of the façade.
Accompanying The AMP Tower is the six storey, low-rise L-shaped St James Building spanning the Southern and Western edges of the site. The shape of the St James Building encloses the site helping to create an early example of an L-shaped public plaza in Melbourne generated by the plot ratio bonus, with arcades surrounding the plaza at the ground level complimenting St James Plaza. Constructed of reinforced concrete, The St James Building has a façade also clad in the same polished re-constructed brown stone granite panels as The AMP Tower. The distinctive colonnades are formed from projecting piers, angled at 45 degrees from the main building, and extend all the way down to the enclosed plaza it faces. This creates deep sculptural recesses between them, and above are balconied window embrasures which add to the play of light across the façade of the St James Building. The muscular form of the façade and the broad protruding colonnades of The St James Building share the same minimalistic, brutalistic sculptural language and qualities of the ribbing and columns of The AMP Tower, while the abstract geometric patterns generated by the angled colonnades contrast against the straight vertical lines of The AMP Tower, creating an interesting combination of complimenting and juxtaposing structures whose features “dominate and give a dynamic life to the design”.
Paved with the local bluestone, The St James Plaza lies between the two granite clad buildings, their “russet tones and muscular masonry forms” were complemented by Clement Meadmore’s 'knotted' steel forecourt sculpture, Awakening. Meadmore was specifically commissioned in 1968 by the Australian Mutual Provident Society for St James Plaza which partially encloses the space to the east, providing a human scale to the plaza. The original Plaza was kept almost bare in a deliberate attempt to maintain the minimalist styling , with the arcades hidden from sight by the deep recess of the protruding, angled colonnades of the St James Building.
AMP Square is one of the earliest and most prominent examples of early modernist architecture in Australia.
The scale of The AMP Square project indicated the power large corporations had to consolidate land in the early 1960s and the end of the nineteenth century city. The AMP Square defines itself from other projects of the preceding times which used sheer curtain glass walls and pre-cast panelling (ICI House by Bates Smart and McCutcheon, and later on neighbouring Estates House and Eagle House by Yuncken Freeman) and buildings of the succeeding era which expressed steelwork or took the approach of heavy massing (Former BHP Building opposite the AMP Tower, and Victorian Government States Offices also by Yuncken Freeman and The Optus Centre).
The square footprint of The AMP Tower set back from the corner sees the provision of “tower as temple” model which would be used in the opposing Former BHP Building. Combined with the public realm of The St James Plaza which would often be shaded, these features challenge the density of the city grid and the flanking L-Shaped St James building with its distinctly angled colonnades juxtaposing against the façade of The AMP Tower. These pay testament to an attempt at a sui generis commercial project at a grand scale.AMP Square Gallery