Iconic buildings of Adelaide: The Colonial Mutual Life building


The Colonial Mutual Life (CML) building of Adelaide has transformed several times in the past eight decades, but it is its heritage-listed facade that holds the most interest.

“It was built in 1934, right in the middle of the Great Depression,” architect Kerstin Bruneder told 891 ABC Adelaide‘s Afternoons program.

891 ABC Adelaide By Brett Williamson Posted

Ms Bruneder said the building was constructed in a Romanesque-style and was the tallest building in the city for 35 years.
The Colonial Mutual Life building in King William Street.

However its Benedict stone facade — now heritage-listed — was not all it appeared to be.

“It is actually precast concrete,” Ms Bruneder said.

“It’s a manmade stone, hand chiselled and was actually very progressive for the time.”

One of the 200 monuments on the CML building.

On its 80th birthday, the building was transformed into a hotel.

Ms Bruneder led a team of architects and builders for five years and oversaw the empty office building come into its own as the 4.5-star Mayfair Hotel.

Major makeover

Although largely unchanged on the outside, inside the team made great use of areas previously used for storage.

The basement rooms were transformed into a restaurant.

The basement of the CML building was transformed into a restaurant.

Several tonnes of concrete had to be removed between the ground floor and basement to provide natural light to the space.

An equipment room — home to hundreds of pigeons when the building was vacant — became a rooftop bar.

The Hennessy Lounge takes its name from the building’s original designer, Hennessy, Hennessy and Co.

The original plant room has been transformed into a bar.

A challenging space

The building had been renovated several times in its history, creating several challenges for Ms Bruneder’s team.

“No column grid lines lined up,” she said.

“Wherever we looked there were challenges.

“It was a challenging space to be honest, as it was simply not built to be a habitable space.”

At one point the building had hosted radio station 5DN.

The building’s original height was boosted by 32 metres to accommodate the station and two wooden transmission masts were erected on top of the building.

King William St from Government House in 1936.

“I find it very rewarding in coming up here and seeing people enjoying a space and exploring a new bit of an old building which had never been used before,” Ms Bruneder said.

The mansard roof, covered in Wilson tiles, is also heritage-listed.

The Hennessy Lounge, named in honour of the building's original architect.