The Reserve Bank was established in 1911 as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and reconstituted under the Reserve Bank Act of 1959. The Adelaide branch is one of 10, with the head office in Sydney. Vaults in the basement of this building serve as the central distribution point for notes and coin in South Australia.
The Commonwealth Department of Works was responsible for building’s design. Its representatives met a panel of architects, and advice was provided by bank staff, a representative of the Department’s Bank and Special Projects Section and Professor R.A. Jensen of the University of Adelaide, a design consultant. The main contractor was Dillingham Construction Pty Ltd.
New technology featured in the building’s design and construction. It included radiographic and ultrasonic testing of the welded steel of the frame, the extensive use of anodised aluminium throughout, and all mechanical plant in the building being controlled from a central panel. There was extensive fire protection and the security of the vaults received particular attention. There were a number of closed circuit television cameras, and sensing equipment could detect drilling noise or the heat from cutting equipment.
The master control system used for the passenger lifts was the first of its kind in South Australia. It registered calls from every floor and allocated lifts in a pre-determined pattern to give the speediest service. The lift incorporated transistorised touch-button controls and an infrared eye to replace previously used mechanical safety devices.
The building uses largely Australian materials, including Western Australian granite to face the spandrel panels. The white and grey marble in most of the exterior cladding comes from New South Wales. The inward-curving walls to the east and west facades, rising to the equivalent of 17 storeys, are a striking feature, as is the anodised aluminium solar screen used to protect the north, east and west faces of the mezzanine and first floor.
Inside, wall and column linings and furniture are of Australian timber, and internal fabric surfaces are of Australian wool. The counters of the banking chamber are faced with South Australian granite.
On the building’s completion, an article in Building and Architecture in 1966 stated that “The Reserve Bank has expressed pleasure at standards of the design of the building and the construction achieved. The building was conceived as a prestige structure in keeping with its client’s operations, and a very high standard of architectural finish and engineering services has been maintained throughout.”
This building is exceptional in terms of its design. It is well articulated and divided into three sections: a base emphasised by the surrounding solar screen; a shaft faced with light-coloured marble covering slender columns that rise the height of the building; and a capital consisting of a white sculptured cap that seems to float above the roof of the building. It is built of high-quality and expensive materials, marking it as a Federal building with an important function designed to be placed in a prominent place in a capital city square.
The architecture was influenced by Le Corbusier (particularly in relation to the solar screen) and the building belongs to a class of structures that began to dominate Australian architecture in the 1960s. Demonstrating confidence and conviction, they reflect the mood of postwar Australia. Few buildings in Adelaide are of this design and quality and so fully represent this optimistic mood.