If you frequent the west end of Melbourne’s CBD, then you might have noticed this nondescript looking office building during your travels. Known as Communications House, this 21-storey building is located at 199 William Street on the north-west corner of the intersection with Little Bourke Street, opposite the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Most people walk right past the building without a second thought, but if you stop and look through the windows, one finds an abandoned foyer covered with years of dust. So how does an entire skyscraper lie empty for over a decade?
Communications House was constructed in 1966 for the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG), it originally consisted of a single office tower, with curtain walls on three sides, a red brick elevator core on the western face of the building, and a neighbouring building butting up against it from the north. This Wolfgang Sievers photograph shows the William Street frontage of the building soon after completion.
While this photograph from the same set shows the south-west facade, including the elevator core.
At an unknown date a second tower of the same external design was constructed on a site to the west of the first one, with the two towers linked at all levels by a brick skybridge crossing Guests Lane.
With the split of the Postmaster-General’s Department into separate postal and telecommunications departments in 1975, Communications House became the property of the Australian Telecommunications Commission, better known as Telecom Australia, and later Telstra. The telco remained the main tenant of the building until their departure in 1994, having moved to their new 47-storey high office complex on Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets.
Singaporean billionaire Tay Tee Peng purchased the building soon after for $12 million, and then spent $10 million refurbishing it, but with little success in attracting tenants. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Communications House lay empty, with the next owner being an Asia based investor with the registered company name Memo Corporation, who purchased it at an unknown date.
Of the refurbishment work carried out, the most obvious work was the glass foyer facing William Street, which differs to the sparse plaza seen earlier in the 1960s photographs. As for the rest of the work, it did not appear very successful, with work being left half completed.
Down on the ground floor of the Little Bourke Street tower a tea room was established, only to lie abandoned for a number of years.
Next door to that was a site office, featuring a desk with a crappy old IBM computer, and what looks to be a 2001 calendar on the far wall. I hope they haven’t left their lights on for 10 years.
It took until January 2011 for something to finally happen on the site, when it was sold for $45 million to Hengyi Australia, a local subsidiary of a Chinese property developer. Using existing plans developed by Bruce Henderson Architects, the developer plans to convert the building into more than 530 home offices, each between 40 and 70 square metres in size, some with balconies.
With the development known as “The William”, in September 2011 work started the construction of a display suite and sales office inside the William Street foyer, with the rest of the empty lobbing being covered with full height red curtains.
This is what the developers intend the lobby to look like….
And as for the outside:
The architecture geeks are rather happy with the transformation – Communications House is considered one of the ugliest buildings in the Melbourne CBD, so even a refurbishment is something to cheer for.
- Sales brochure for ‘The William’
- $200m plan for derelict city site (Herald Sun, November 2011)
- Melbourne office building sold for $45 million (AFR, January 2011)
- Melbourne Ghost Office Sells to Chinese Investor For $45 Million (March 2011)
Postscript, June 2012
I’ve just had an article in The Age pointed out to me – A ghost springs back to life of luxury – which details what the foyer of the refurbished building will look like.