Primus Hotel Sydney Lobby

A foyeur in the style of grand hotels of yesteryear, the lobby of Primus Hotel Sydney has become one of its most distinguished – and acclaimed – features.

By Benjamen Judd 

Primus Hotel Sydney is a moment caught between two times – the inter-war art deco architecture of the 1930s and the modern, sleek design accents of today. And nothing captures this tension quite like the grandeur of our lobby.  

With its incredible, awe-inspiring expansiveness, the lobby is a marvel to behold. It’s high ceilings and decadent accents including chandelier and magnificent marble columns have become a signature for the hotel and one of the most celebrated features. 

 But before it was transformed into its current incarnation, the lobby was the hub and heart of a thriving industrial centre.  

As the main room of The Sydney Metropolitan Water Board Head Office, this ground level was the primary part of the building accessed by the public. Ratepayers, government officials or architecture buffs created a constant stream of bodies coming and going. 

Known as the Ratings Chamber, it was hidden from the street behind a row of six doors – a guarantee of silence in a busy part of the city. 

During the 1950s, there were at least 280 staff members employed by the Sydney Waterboard offices, and the cashier’s section – the heart of the building where money was handled – was situated in the centre of the chamber. The Vault – the staircase that descends below the middle of the lobby – is a remnant of this era, where money was stored safely. 

During the Great Depression, private cubicles were constructed along the northern and southern walls where staff were able to conduct interviews with the general public. This need for privacy was a sign of the times, when many were unable to afford to pay their water bills and rates and discussing payment arrangements required both respect and privacy. It was during this period that a de facto system of payment by installments was introduced. When a ratepayer requested that they be permitted to pay by installments, their financial position was considered in an interview conducted by a Board officer.  

Upon stepping inside the foyeur, it’s common for guests to notice that despite our location very little sound from the outside world makes it in. This can be attributed to the need for quiet by clerks and staff when the original building was built.  

The ground floor was fit with double glazed windows and acoustic ceiling tiles to aid in reducing outside noise sources, such as the “nerve-wracking grind of passing tramcars”. One can only imagine what they would think of the busy Pitt Street traffic today.  

In 2016, the lobby now serves as decadent first impression for guests and bar patrons alike. It was important, then, to offset the scope of the interior with furnishings that would compliment without competing.  

In our next blog installment, we will chat to the creative minds behind the stunning finished result that has quickly become the hotel’s most famous feature – Woods Bagot.

 Images source: State Library of NSW







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