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Kate ffrench Blake: Creating a place for everyone in the heart of Martin Place

“I feel very lucky to work in a role that intersects with my personal interests.” Precinct Activation Director, Kate ffrench Blake, has been with Macquarie for 15 years and is currently part of a team responsible for shaping the new Sydney Metro Martin Place precinct, opening in 2024.


Under construction in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, the Sydney Metro Martin Place project is being undertaken in partnership between Macquarie Group and the Government of New South Wales. The precinct includes an integrated metro station, retail and dining destinations, public spaces, underground pedestrian connections and two new landmark buildings; including 1 Elizabeth, which will be integrated with the 50 Martin Place heritage building, to form a state-of-the-art global headquarters for Macquarie Group.

Precinct Activation Director, Kate ffrench Blake, sees the project as a new landmark in Sydney and a legacy that Macquarie can offer to the city - one that will enhance a sense of community and connection for both the organisation and the city itself.

“My role is to create and curate inclusive, functional and interesting spaces with a strong purpose and which have a positive impact on the people of Sydney,” Kate says.

“1 Elizabeth is different from Macquarie’s other workplaces because it’s integrated into the Sydney Metro Martin Place precinct. There’s a large public aspect to it and it’s part of the fabric of the city,” she explains.

“That’s one of the things that excites me about my role as Precinct Activation Director - I’m able to have a positive impact on the local community.”


Aligning personal passion with work

Kate joined Macquarie in 2008, shortly after emigrating from the UK to Sydney and since then, she has enjoyed a varied career spanning over 15 years.

Kate says that her current role is a result of putting herself forward for interesting projects.

At Macquarie, you’re empowered to create your own path - the more you put your hand up and get involved, the more opportunities present themselves."

“I studied philosophy at university and then spent six years in risk management,” Kate explains. “After travelling to Australia, I took on a role in Macquarie’s Corporate Risk team.”

Four years on, after returning from parental leave, the chance to take a new direction arose and Kate transitioned to Macquarie’s Corporate Real Estate team as a Change Manager. In this role, she was responsible for the communications program to move Macquarie’s people into a new global headquarters at 50 Martin Place. Once the move was completed, she took on the general manager role for the building, where she focused on shaping a human-centred workplace experience.

“That led to my interest in creating workplace communities,” she explains.


Creating and curating public spaces

In 2017, Kate became involved in the Sydney Metro Martin Place project, which led to her current role, Precinct Activation Director in the Business Services team, part of Macquarie’s Corporate Operations Group.

She works with a small team of three and draws on the expertise of the larger Macquarie project team, alongside their delivery and construction partner.

“My role is to listen to employee and community feedback to understand what we want to achieve, and then we support the architects, design, delivery and operations teams to bring the vision to life.”

“We started the Sydney Metro Martin Place project by engaging with our employees and the community – including First Nations people, school children, older residents and many more – to lay the foundations for the design of the building and public spaces in the precinct.”

The design of 1 Elizabeth and the broader precinct are underpinned by a commitment to community, sustainability, connection to Country and wellbeing.

“We have sought to create highly functional spaces that are important for the city, so based on community feedback, we’ve included things like accessible public seating, personal USB charging stations, parents’ rooms and a large-scale events space.”

“While also enhancing the environment for anyone passing through, with public art, exhibitions, digital screens and an immersive underground light and sound scape.”

“By programming the spaces and bringing them to life, we can also amplify important messages,” Kate says. “The precinct provides an opportunity for us to acknowledge and integrate precolonial history and highlight the work of the Macquarie Group Foundation – our philanthropic arm.”

Kate enjoys the diversity in her work and says, “No two days are the same. This week I’ve worked with several teams on a risk framework and evaluation strategy, looked after contractual arrangements, held a fundraising choir event, and attended a workshop on the South Coast to review an artwork fabrication.”

Within her role, Kate has also been empowered to work together flexibly with her team, while also taking advantage of the benefits of coming together in-person.

“I work in a hybrid way and often start my day working from home for a couple of hours before my child wakes up, then we get to enjoy breakfast and school drop off together before I head into the office. Being able to flex my hours during the day really works for me and I’ve always been an early riser!”


A significant moment in Macquarie’s history

Macquarie’s new global headquarters at 1 Elizabeth is scheduled to open in mid-2024, aligning with the opening of the new metro station.

“The precinct will be vibrant and active and it’s exciting to think that we will all be in a beautiful new workplace, under the same roof for the first time in 25 years.”

“There’s great natural light and it’s an electrified 6 Star Green Star designed building,” she says. “But beyond this, many tiny details have been integrated and considered, to make going to the office or passing through the precinct an enjoyable experience.”

 “For example, sandstone excavated from the site has been hand-carved by Aboriginal artist Jamie Eastwood to create modern day rock art and water features for the terrace gardens in the workplace."

1 Elizabeth includes an atrium and an iconic staircase in 'Sydney blue' that takes inspiration from the city’s sea and sky. The building features recycled timber and sandstone, and an outdoor terrace and workspace connected to 50 Martin Place.

After extensive trials and consultation, unique native landscaping and plantings will feature both indoors and outdoors.

“Our focus isn’t just on the end result; it's about best practice in the process, and consideration around how we get there,” Kate says.

“For me personally, the most important aspect is the acknowledgement of our precolonial history and the ongoing relationships we’ve forged,” Kate says. “From exhibitions to landscaping expertise, integration of art and inclusion of the Sydney language, we've drawn on these relationships throughout the course of the project."

Kate on the rooftop terrace of 50 Martin Place, Macquarie’s current global headquarters which is connected to 1 Elizabeth, which can be seen behind her and is due to open in 2024.

Creating a place for everyone

With all Sydney staff in one location, Macquarie’s new headquarters will offer advantages for informal interactions. This will help spark ideas and collaboration, build business and social connections and, in Kate’s opinion, offers more opportunities for workplace community building and reflects Macquarie’s purpose of empowering people to innovate and invest for a better future.

Buildings are an important platform for our success, enabling people to come together."

While she’s worked intensively on the project for six years, she says the work will "really start" once it has opened.

“The job is to program the spaces in a purposeful way, so they remain vibrant, lively and interesting, with public exhibitions, digital assets, awareness raising, celebrations and events throughout the year,” Kate explains.

“With the bottom-up culture at Macquarie, I have been given the space to pursue ideas and work on projects that are meaningful to me. I have a passion for creativity and community impact, and I feel fortunate that I’ve been able integrate these areas into my role.”

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