Published: October 21, 2019

By the end of this month, all 796 staff employed in the Adelaide CBD by minerals giant BHP will have moved office.

Though despite a mere 500 metre sideways shift, this is no ordinary relocation.

The move to the very newly built, $250 million GPO Exchange on Franklin Street will set a benchmark for BHP globally says its lead designer Rosina Di Maria, principal at Adelaide’s Woods Bagot architects.

It is some claim but as a visit this week by The Advertiser showed, is far from an idle boast.

The idea for the 19 storey, 24000sq m tower overlooking Victoria Square was first floated in 2015 when property and investment giant Charter Hall bought the site and set out to raise the bar for modern workplace design in Adelaide.

Ten months after building approval arrived in October 2016, the Attorney-General’s Department committed to a 12 year lease for the top half of the building — and will move its 730 staff in from Monday — with BHP signing up for the next decade.

The Franklin St entrance to the GPO Exchange building at Franklin Street. (AAP Image/Sam Wundke)
The Franklin St entrance to the GPO Exchange building at Franklin Street. (AAP Image/Sam Wundke)

Adelaide architects Hassell delivered the base design for the building but the instant wow factor comes from Sydney designers Siren, brought in to redesign the lobby one year into the project said Charter Hall regional development manager, Simon Stockfeld.

“We spent $2 million over the original budget to make this the best lobby space in Adelaide. It’s like a Qantas Club lounge,” he said.

There is too, next to the reception desk a remarkable floor to ceiling, ‘digital piece of art’ that plays to the subconscious Mr Stockfeld said.

“We will adjust what you can see depending on what is happening outside, it can be uplifting (footage) if it’s cold for example. This is a technologically advanced building, there are thousands of sensors to produce data to convert to the digital screen.”

The Siren designed GPO Exchange lobby. (AAP Image/Sam Wundke)
The Siren designed GPO Exchange lobby. (AAP Image/Sam Wundke)

A cafe and barista service — Way Back When — run by James Tambakis owner of the Public cafe next door looks first rate too but it is the BHP domain from level three up to level 10 that catches the eye.

Running though the core of the BHP office is a copper lined staircase, reflective of the origins and nature of South Australia’s biggest company — the ASX listed BHP has a market capitalisation of $103 billion — and in another nod to the BHP heritage, an earth red colour scheme is abundant, the feel of the reception designed to be inclusive to workers arriving from Olympic Dam, its vast underground mine 550 kilometres north of Adelaide.

“We have spent two and a half years consulting with BHP,” says Ms Di Maria. “This is a showpiece to recruit the best talent and reflect BHP’s values.”

Laura Tyler, BHP asset president Olympic Dam, is emphatic that the GPO Exchange is Adelaide’s best building.

“The location, facilities and new ways of working are fantastically appealing,” she said. “The fit-out is particularly impressive, incorporating touches big and small that celebrate the distinctive landscapes of Olympic Dam and Roxby Downs,” she said.

This week the first building tenants moved in, Australia Post upping sticks from its 150-year-old SA GPO home nearby (also an original Woods Bagot design) to occupy a street fronting position.

Further up, the Attorney-General’s department will take nine floors and around 12,000sqm and, with BHP (which has the building signage rights) together accounting for about 97 per cent of the building.

Andrew Bahr, leasing director with CBRE (SA) said the search for tenants for the adjoining, and wholly revamped Telephone Exchange building, following an $8 million refurb, providing additional boutique office and retail space, is gearing up.

“Until the last three or four weeks it has been a construction site. We have people we are currently talking to,” he said.

BHP meanwhile, is already hands on. A trial tranche of 70 staff made the move across this week with another 419 incomers this weekend and 300 the week after.

What BHP actually does is exposed on level three with the IROC (Integrated Remote Operating Centre), a sealed off workspace that allows staff to control machinery and systems remotely at Olympic Dam. Running 24/7, it has a viewing gallery with school parties expected to be a fixture). A quirk is the greenery on show, water cannot be allowed anywhere near the operating equipment and small pot plants are perched on two metre high holders where they can be watered without concern.

The level five, BHP reception. (AAP Image/Sam Wundke)
The level five, BHP reception. (AAP Image/Sam Wundke)

There is too, something of a roadblock for the recent widespread trend of open plan design. It doesn’t necessarily work is the gist, the BHP communal desk working areas are broken up by two metre high dividers that add a degree of privacy and calm, compartmentalisation.

“We are not living in a sitcom, we need people to do complex tasks,” Ms Di Maria said.

The quiet is furthered by the level five library, a no noise and darkened area when the deepest of thinking is called for and with a sound insulated phone booth for anyone need needing to make a quick call. Other booths are scattered around the BHP enclave.

Mental health has been prominent in the design Ms Di Maria said with contemplation/prayer and wellness rooms for staff as well as another to house children post school if need be. A level floor terrace overlooking Victoria Square is a further chill out spot.

And for the more high energy minded, a games room has table tennis and an X Box for those in need of an e-fix or stress relief.

The two year construction by Built has been a winner from day one Mr Stockfeld said,.

“Built won a tender against four other companies, not just on price and program. They had invested in some really good people in Adelaide, good locals working there, they know the culture We were looking for people committed to Adelaide. They couldn’t have done a better job.”

Impressed by working within SA, Charter Hall is committing to another, as yet unnamed, Adelaide build.

“We really like Adelaide, the GPO experience has been fantastic, we would love to do more work like that here. We are working on another project at the moment on a similar scale,” Mr Stockfeld said.

Adelaide’s ‘best’ building for SA’s biggest company by Richard Evans originally seen on The Advertiser, 18 October 2019. 

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