Built in 1928, West Block has been long regarded for its rich Australian history. The location where Prime Minister John Curtin phoned Winston Churchill to inform him Australia would join Britain in World War II. The Australian Electoral Commission occupied the building until 2015.
The property features an historic 1942 air raid shelter which was used as a communications hub and specially adapted in 1945 for a British-made Typex cypher machine. It is a 400m walk from Parliament House and the Hyatt Hotel.
OPP Chief Executive Officer Grant Traub said it was an honour to have the opportunity to reposition such a culturally and politically important building, steeped in the democratic history of Australia.
Mr Traub said the careful regeneration of the historic West Block building would reinstate its architectural status and create a timeless, A-grade commercial office asset.
“By taking a holistic approach to the workspace of the future we will create an office environment, which will be irresistible to employees. The space will celebrate Australia’s rich history and deliver office accommodation suitable for workers of all types,” he said.
Canberra-based commercial design practice, Capezio Copeland spent six months on the sympathetic restoration and refurbishment program, prioritising the retention of West Block’s heritage aesthetics.
OPP has committed more than $12million to the upgrade program that will target a 5-Star NABERs rating and avoids embodied carbon emissions by re-using existing plant, where possible.
The building will feature renewable energy supply with 100kW on-site PV array, with expansion-ready infrastructure to accommodate larger arrays as required.
Internally, two existing atriums will combine with the proposed lobby to provide a modern breakout space for staff and visiting guests in addition to a large café that will occupy the south-eastern corner of the ground floor of the main building.
The north-eastern corner of Block B, will include premium-grade end-of-trip facilities, bike storage and a wellness centre.
On the floor, the space will present as modern A-Grade office accommodation including new ceilings, carpet and lavishly appointed bathrooms.
A new café, inspired by venues in Sydney and Melbourne, will deliver a unique and new dining destination for Canberrans.
“OPP is committed to delivering a unique dining experience to Canberra,” Mr Traub said.
“This is an increasingly sophisticated market, the hospitality industry has matured significantly in the past decade and we believe this particular site offers an operator to enjoy a place of prestige and history.”
Capezio Copeland director Lisa Capezio said the project team recognised the significance of regenerating such a building was a generational opportunity.
“A prolonged period of working from home has changed the way we think about working environments,” Ms Capezio said.
“Returning to the office is an opportunity to recapture a sense of social connection. The upgrades at West Block will redefine what a modern workplace can be, with a ground floor experience designed to impress visitors and enhance the wellbeing of occupants.”
She said it was a rarity to combine the functionality and aesthetics of a modern workplace with rich historical context. West Block’s existing architecture features a multitude of interesting corners and corridors, which create the opportunity to deliver breakout spaces for collaboration as well as private offices.
“The unique floor plate configuration with dual atriums means each desk is within 10m of a natural light source with incredible aspects to the building’s natural setting. We’ve used an equally lavish palette of materials that reflect the grandeur of the original 1920s architecture,” she said.
“The aesthetic is reminiscent of a glamorous or luxury hotel, the dark tonal reds and decorative finials, patterns, and moldings match the heavily arched windows. The sense of occasion will extend to the fully licensed deli-style restaurant in the indoor dining space to the extensive outdoor area and decking.”
Surrounded by a natural tree canopy and distant views of Canberra’s majestic mountain ranges will be captured throughout the building, most notably in the ground floor wellness centre.
Given the high proportion of pedestrian and cycling commuters in Canberra, the end-of-trip facilities and multi-use well-being space for activities such as yoga has been thoughtfully considered.
The new hotel-quality amenities will include male and female showers and locker rooms, plus an accessible shower/bathroom, encouraging a healthy commute or a lunchtime workout. A separate building on the site will become a secure bicycle parking station and bike workshop.
The national capital’s historically low vacancy rate is expected to generate strong demand among tenants for the pre-lease campaign.
“Canberra is the best performing office market in the country and has a historically low vacancy rate,” Mr Traub said.
“Premium commercial space in Canberra is highly sought after and we expect a significant amount of competition among tenants to secure this site particular given the quality of the refurbishment.”
Appointed leasing agent, Colliers international Director Office Leasing Aaron Bruce, said West Block’s beautiful heritage exterior and complimentary modern A-Grade interior would offer tenants the best of both worlds.
A national expression of interest campaign for the café space will also be launched to source a suitable hospitality operator.
“Prospective office occupiers will once again have the opportunity to establish a base in one of the jewels in the city’s property crown,” he said.
“It is in a prime position within Canberra’s political and original commercial centre and occupies one of the most powerfully positioned footprints in any Canberra office market, with its immediate neighbours including the Treasury Department and the national Archives of Australia.”
Mr Bruce said the creation of common tenant amenities, including a high-end wellness hub, top line business centre and onsite food and beverage facility would be a big drawcard for prospective occupants.
“The connection between new and old continues beyond the building’s footprint,” Mr Bruce said.
“Under current plans, West Block will be serviced by Canberra’s proposed light rail extension, with a stop on its doorstep located directly between the front door of West Block and one of Canberra’s first hotels, the Hyatt Hotel across the road.”
Commercial suites will range in size from 500sqm to circa 8,000sqm, with 350 car spaces in direct vicinity. Construction of West Block’s restoration and internal upgrade is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.