Sydney sketching: former CBA bank, Tempe

July 6, 2012

B pencil on 150g paper – more retouching with eraser than I’m used to impossible with a thinner paper

Thought a ‘simpler’ form would help me get a handle on my perspective issues. Complicated facades like Marrickville Fire Station can wait. Strong afternoon shadows on concrete-rendered flat and curved surfaces. This is an intro – next time, I’ll concentrate more on measuring.  To the right there is a massive tree planted next to the Princes Hwy; to the far left, there are cars parked during the day- it’s difficult to identify a horizon on-site. I’ve been checking the architectural studies done by the very young J.M.W.Turner – Tom Tower, Christchurch, for example – done on no more than an A4 sheet of paper.


From what I can gather, architects working for the federal Commonwealth Department of the Interior, the Architectural Branch, introduced the new-fangled Art Deco style into bank branch design for the C0mmonwealth Bank. The CBA as it’s known today was then a State-run bank. From the 1930s onwards, Sydney was provided with a number of interesting examples of the genre.

I’m aware that a Deputy Governor on the bank’s board was on the planning committee for the ANZAC War Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney. Plainly the bank wanted to appear hip and cool and with-it at the time and threw themselves wholeheartedly into the new architectural style. Branches were built in this brash new style from Crows Nest in the north to Sutherland in the south, from Bondi in the east to Croydon and Strathfield in the city’s west.

Here’s a local one at Tempe NSW 2044, built in 1940.


The key features for me are:

* the contrast between the horizontal lines incised into the cement-rendered facade on the ground floor and the smooth, undifferentiated surface on the first floor;

* the use of squares in the iron grills on either side of the front doors – and the alternation of the circle element (in the middle in one, then at top and bottom in the next);

* the repetition used in the panel above the doors – a central panel, repeated three times, with all incorporating four square ‘studs’ (see a similar four square ‘studs’ in the four iron grill panels immediately below);

* the variation on the ‘=’ motif: horizontally in the iron grill and vertically in the panel above;

* the treatment of the pillars/pilasters extending from the ground to the height inclusive of the second floor, framing the entrance. The fluted column, with all its stylization, is used similarly at Earlwood. The fluting itself creates interest at the entrance, compared to the smooth, flat areas elsewhere in the facade.

* the orders at the top of the pillar/pilasters have been rendered so small as to be a mere ghost of their Ancient Greek past.

I don’t have any idea what the original doors would have looked like. I imagine the glass window panel immediately above the door reproduces the window panels in the upper story above the entrance doors.

The upper storey was the bank manager’s residence; the west facade windows are not glass panels but in fact sash windows. The residence must have been in four roughly square areas, forming something of a Greek cross. It would be fascinating to see how the rooms of the residence were deployed; what is obvious that the north-east corner of the building constituted a rooftop garden.

The glass brick windows on the north facade curves are an important feature. The window treatment at the ground level beneath the rooftop garden has been changed since 1940, though then as now they featured internal fabric curtains.

It may have been built in 1940, but there is a nod to the past: a terracotta chimney pot pokes up at the rear section of the roof.

A similar Greek cross design was used in the Cronulla building (again a corner block) but the curve element doesn’t extend to the ground as at Tempe. The overall design is not dissimilar to Cronulla. The Earlwood building has more traditional treatment of Greek columns, again framing the entrance doors and extending almost to the full height of the building.

Reference – this website covers Sydney suburban Art Deco Commonwealth Bank buildings at Cronulla Street, Cronulla; 6 The Strand Croydon; 219 Victoria Rd Gladesville, 58 Spit Rd Spit Junction, 546 George St Sydney, 31 Hall St Bondi, 204 Victoria Rd Drummoyne, 6-8 Norton St Leichhardt, 259 Oxford St Paddington, 79-81 Pacific Hwy Roseville and 212 Homer St Earlwood. IN addition to today’s sketch at at 838-840 Princes Hwy Tempe, there is one also at Sutherland.


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