Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Chifley Tower

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Chifley Tower

Chifley Tower is a landmark building on the Sydney skyline, along with the Governor Macquarie and Phillip towers on Bridge Street to the north. Sited on one of the highest points in the central business district, at 43 floors it is also the one of the city's tallest buildings.

Chifley Tower is a commercial tower block, built to provide prestige office space for the financial sector. It was constructed between 1988 and 1993, to a design by the American architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) in partnership with Travis Partners.

During the five years of its construction, the building was known as Bond Tower, as its construction was financed by the Bond Corporation, owned by the businessman Alan Bond. In 1992 Bond was declared bankrupt, and ownership of the building was transferred to the Japanese construction company Kumagai Gumi.

In early 1993 the building was renamed Chifley Tower because it addressed Chifley Square on the northern corner of Phillip and Hunter streets. A larger-than-life sculpture of Ben Chifley – Labor prime minister from 1945 to 1949 – was commissioned from Simeon Nelson by the City Council for the square in the mid-1990s.

Forming Chifley Square

The ragged layout of the streets in this area, a legacy of the earliest placement of European tracks and buildings, had long been a challenge to the city's planners. In 1939, the City Council endorsed a proposal to extend and widen Phillip and Elizabeth streets to form a semi-circular public space, or square; this was officially named Chifley Square in 1961.

Qantas House on Chifley Square Street (directly opposite Chifley Tower), designed in 1950 and completed seven years later, was formed around the curvilinear lines of this proposed square. However, plans for the creation of Chifley Square were soon hampered by the construction of the blockish Commonwealth Centre on the site, completed in 1963.

The completion of Chifley Tower saw the realisation of the 1930s plans. The base of the tower on Chifley Square is curved to match the contours of the Qantas building.

Debate and design

The design of Chifley Tower was modelled on the Art Deco skyscrapers built in New York and Chicago during the 1930s, such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. The building was much criticised for this emulation of an international style dating back decades.

In his 'architectural vision', the architect William Louie stated that Chifley Tower would take its cue from the older, sandstone buildings of Sydney's city centre. Yet on its completion, Chifley Tower was criticised by architects who felt it did not fit in with the existing architectural landscape of Sydney.

It was argued that the Australian-sourced materials used in its construction, primarily granite, glass and steel, did not reflect the materials used in Sydney's older buildings, particularly sandstone. Another point of contention was the scale of the building, particularly the base of the tower, which at 30 metres tall was seen to compete with the surrounding buildings, including the Qantas Building and the Wentworth Hotel opposite. Despite these initial criticisms, Chifley Tower has become a familiar part of the Sydney landscape.


Bond Corporation, The Bond Building, Bond Corporation, Sydney, 1990

Michael Dickinson, 'Office Buildings: The Chifley Tower', Architecture Australia, vol 81 no 6 September/October 1992, pp 34–38

Stephen Frith, 'Lost Context, Lost Content', Architecture Bulletin, April 1993, pp 4–13

Peter Webber (ed), The Design of Sydney: Three Decades of Change in the City Centre, The Law Book Company Ltd, Sydney, 1988

Sydney Morning Herald, 4 June 1937