Home to one of Sydney’s most anticipated restaurants, Chin Chin, a two-storey commercial and hospitality space, and seven floors dedicated to prestigious loft-style urban living, the story behind the reinvention of Sydney’s historic Griffiths Teas building is a fascinating one.
Besides Chin Chin’s phenomenal reviews as the most sought after new table in town, the response to the building’s residential offering was exceptional, with more than 5000 registrations for the development’s 38 units – which sold out in minutes – with nine oversized units fetching more than $2.6 million each, and penthouses selling in excess of $4 million.
One of the few remaining authentic examples of a late Federation-era warehouse in inner city Surry Hills, the Griffiths Teas building was built in 1915 when the purveyor of the staple was a household name, selling refreshing tea from the Wentworth Avenue ground floor, amidst the hustle and bustle of Central station.
After the company’s demise in the mid-1960s, the building was occupied by an eclectic succession of retail tenants, including a motorbike shop and power tool seller, before it was purchased by property magnates Isaac and Susan Wakil – and inexplicably left vacant for almost 30 years.
Following Cornerstone Property Group’s purchase of the building in 2014, Growthbuilt was appointed Head Design and Construction Contractor for the iconic building’s reincarnation, which was designed by architects PopovBass.
“The opportunity to work on such a striking monument to the construction of yesteryear and such a recognisable landmark in one of Sydney’s most desirable suburbs was one we couldn’t resist,” enthused Mr Peter Sukkar, Growthbuilt’s Joint CEO and Director. “While there were certainly challenges involved in retaining the significant heritage features and characteristics of the original structure, the end result is incredible, and will help share this building’s story with future generations.”
“Much of the success of this project is attributable to the shared vision and common goal of the teams who worked collaboratively on the Griffiths Teas Building. The metropolitan Sydney market is entirely unique, and demands a builder with an in-depth understanding of the requirements of this type of project, such as heritage buildings, incorporating adaptive reuse alongside luxury residential apartments, and nurturing a strong relationship with the City of Sydney.
“Growthbuilt is one of only a few NSW builders with the relevant experience in premium specialist mixed-use developments requiring specific expertise in areas including luxury, residential heritage elements, hospitality and integrated commercial fitouts – a combination which has seen demand for our services surge,” Mr Sukkar explained.
“Through our experience in these types of projects, we’ve developed specialised design and construction methodologies to successfully deliver all types of projects, from commercial and mixed-use to high-rise residential, aged care and education developments, and we were inspired by the challenge of working on this distinctive building.”
Joint CEO & Director
Housing a new hospitality and retail hub at ground level beneath 37 luxury, carefully appointed apartments and seven prestigious double-storey penthouses on the upper levels, the building has been transformed into one of the most sought after residential properties, and restaurants, in Sydney.
Retaining much of its original detailing on the upper floors, including the Griffiths Teas name in the parapet’s tile work, the building is one of the few remaining examples of period warehousing on the city’s eastern fringe from the early 20th century.
“As you’d imagine with an existing heritage building, the dimensions we were dealing with were often not exact. For example, some of the walls were out of square,” said Mr Colin Rahim, Growthbuilt’s Joint CEO and Director.
“The design and construction teams were required to be flexible to adapt to the challenges, of which there were many, of building in an existing heritage building,” added Mr Rahim.
Fortunately, as a specialist building within the Sydney CBD precinct and one of the City of Sydney’s builders of choice, Growthbuilt had plenty of experience completing projects on sites with strict space constraints and high foot traffic, where access and handling materials are often challenging – and the Griffiths Teas project was no exception.
“Through our experience in these types of projects, we’ve developed specialised design and construction methodologies to successfully deliver all types of projects, from commercial and mixed-use to high-rise residential, aged care and education developments,” said Mr Sukkar, “and we were inspired by the challenge of working on this distinctive building.”
As a warehouse belonging to a time when construction and commerce were almost unrecognisable from today, the structure didn’t comply with current acoustic and fire rating requirements, so Growthbuilt designed a lightweight concrete system using polystyrene balls to pour over the existing timber flooring creating a 100mm slab to satisfy the acoustic rating requirement between floors, and help upgrade the fire rating.
Mr Sukkar said an additional acoustic challenge stemmed from the first level of residential apartments being located directly above a 400-seat commercial restaurant. To address this, the Growthbuilt team incorporated a 600mm void between these levels to allow acoustic conditioning to satisfy Building Code of Australia requirements while also providing space for residential services to be hidden.
“A key architectural challenge with this project was integrating the two top levels of new construction with the century-old heritage masonry façade and features below. PopovBass achieved this by designing a multi-panel ‘fibre cement’ screen on the roof which is set back from the existing façade and which hides roof top services,” said Mr Sukkar.
“To build these crucial top levels, we used structural steel and timber floors to minimise the weight on the footings of the existing building.
“To erect the structural steel, which couldn’t be erected with a typical crane, we used a complex system of duct lifters and cabling with winches connected to the existing structure – all of which required precision care and a detailed approach when coordinating logistics.
“To preserve significant historic features such as the interior and exterior face brick walls, pressed metal ceilings, open post and beam structure, timber floors and joists and various types of façade signage we constantly liaised with heritage experts and the architects as we incorporated new construction into the century-old heritage masonry façade.
“For the existing façade, we sourced traditional masons with the skills to patch and reinvigorate existing masonry. The scope of works also involved the Growthbuilt team going through the entire building meticulously to remove and replace rusted doors and window lintels, re-point the building’s entire external façade, and replace any brickwork that had deteriorated with the passage of time,” he added.
As part of the restoration of the external façade, Growthbuilt also sourced timber sash windows which were faithful reproductions of the building’s original windows.
To enable concurrent multiple workfaces at both the structural and finishes levels – to meet project timelines – Growthbuilt used innovative methodologies including: erecting a universal beam with a 3-tonne capacity on level six; connecting a travelling 3-tonne chain block to the beam to move materials to the building’s lower levels; and building a penetration on every level of the existing building to allow vertical movement of materials.
To minimise materials handling and make the site more efficient, the lift core and fire stairs were built with a dincel wall system, allowing the construction team to move lightweight materials throughout the site and swiftly manage deliveries.
“Delivering materials within a tight landing area, without using a tower crane for fear of penetrating the heritage façade, was another major challenge. We completed the building in two halves, which allowed materials to be placed onto interchangeable landing areas propped to allow goods to be landed safely,” said Mr Sukkar.
Further unusual features of this project included working from the top down in the excavation process, removing excavated materials into five cubic metre bins as tip-trucks could not be backed into the site. Growthbuilt also engaged a Geotechnical Engineer to inspect excavation works every 1.5 metres to advise whether rock bolts were required.
Another fascinating facet to this project was the installation of an outdoor public art light installation A Stitch in Time, which was conceived by Electrolight and brought to life by Growthbuilt’s design and installation teams.
“Coordinating multiple suppliers – both for lighting and furniture – at once was a further challenge, as was a special event, the Gourmet Traveller dinner, which put our trades under huge pressure to open the restaurant on the lower level a couple of months ahead of schedule, just for the one night,” explained Mr Rahim.
“We feel incredibly privileged to have been part of this unique project, which has breathed new life into one of Sydney’s most recognisable and interesting buildings.”
“While there were certainly challenges involved in retaining the significant heritage features and characteristics of the original structure, the end result is incredible, and will help share this building’s story with future generations.”