Solotel launched three distinct venues in one of Sydney’s most distinctive pieces of architecture.
Story: Christopher Holder
35 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo NSW
(02) 8587 5400 or barangaroohouse.com.au
It’s ambitious and exotic.
Barangaroo is a new suburb developed by Lend Lease characterised by sky-scraping thrusts of concrete and steel. And then there’s Barangaroo House. Perched on the harbour’s edge, the Collins & Turner-designed building is instantly identifiable as something truly special.
The story of how Barangaroo House went from ‘cool building’ to the biggest story in Sydney hospitality isn’t short or simple. In fact, it’s a story that spans four years of painstaking design and development.
For Solotel, the operator, it’s a story of high ambition. For COO Justine Baker, it’s a project that put everything on the line: “Looking back, I think it was pretty courageous. But we’d like to throw ourselves out there and do more like this. Historically, Solotel has employed a more organic acquisition strategy, so Barangaroo House was a departure in that regard. It’s a unique architectural space and an exciting challenge and we will use it as a launch pad to do more like this.”
Behind the seductively-curved, burnt timber facade of Barangaroo House are three distinct venues: the 300-seat House Bar on the ground floor, Matt Moran’s signature 200-seat Bea Restaurant upstairs and the 250-seat Smoke rooftop bar.
Let’s be frank, not every venue has been an instant success in Barangaroo, and the position and the base building design in no way guarantees a winner. Planning was crucial. The practical challenge of designing an efficiently functioning hospitality venue in a round building was not to be underestimated. But it was matched by the challenge of what manner of venue people would want to visit again and again.
Justine Baker: “Sydney is very casualised and accessible, so we didn’t want to create something that felt above what Sydney loves. We wanted to get that sweetspot that sits between a really special experience and an experience that you want to have all the time. We call it causal sophistication. Sydney loves dressing up but it also likes strolling on a Saturday afternoon in casual clothes and dropping in for an Aperol spritz on the deck. We’ve created a place to drop in as well as a place to treat yourself.”
OUTSIDE THE BOX
H&E Architects worked with the Solotel team and interior design firm Etic to create the ultimate Sydney hospitality venue; a venue that embraced everything Sydney loves about the great outdoors.
“This is a venue that’s as much about the outdoors as it is about the indoors,” observes Christopher Grinham, Director H&E Architects. “On many days, as much as 80 percent of the patronage will be sitting outside.”
“The desire was to create a seamless connection between the indoors and the outdoors,” notes Emilie Delalande, director of Etic. “For example we use the same flooring inside and out, and both share much of the same furniture. We’ve got big frameless windows and doors and the ceiling is also a continuation of what’s happening outside. People sitting outside aren’t looking inside thinking their missing out on something of the experience.”
Solotel COO, Justine Baker, is very satisfied with the result: “Sydney is incredible when the sun is out and there’s no wind. We can have every door open and we have our awnings out for shade. It feels fabulous. But Sydney also has days that aren’t perfect and it was about making people feel comfortable during cooler nights outside. The Bromic heaters are great and work well with the outside awnings that trap the heat.”
From an interior architecture and design perspective part of the trick was to ensure the three venues felt distinct yet connected. Chris and Emilie both mention the sizeable staircase as a literal and figurative linking device. Emilie’s use of an evolving colour palette helps to ensure patrons moving between levels will feel the difference without any jarring design jolts.
Emilie Delalande: ”The base palette is the same, whether you’re in the House Bar, Bea or Smoke and there are aspects that remind patrons of the venue as a whole. For me it was about creating a sensory journey for the guest through the building — design elements that make you feel something. The tiles in the dry bar of the public bar; the leather and timber tops in Bea restaurant; they create tactile moments for the guests.”
The level of sophistication rises in Smoke. All the furniture in the champagne bar is bespoke, something Emilie points to as a hallmark of luxury.
“Everything is high quality and unique,” notes Emilie.
It’s a big departure from days gone by when sophistication was measured by how many Italian designer brands you had conspicuously on show. “Now the real sophistication is to have someone look at your space and design a chair especially for you,” concludes Emilie.
This isn’t Solotel’s first rodeo. It has dozens of venues but you could argue it also had a ‘groove on’. There’s undeniably something more ambitious about Barangaroo House, and not simply an ambition described by the landmark position and the media noise.
“When you’re a group of 31 venues it’s easy to replicate,” admits Justine Baker. “And that’s Business 101 — driving efficiencies. But we totally challenged that: just because it worked ‘there’ it doesn’t mean it needs to come ‘here’.
“We asked ourselves those challenging questions and a lot of the time the answer was ‘no’ — we changed a lot of what we held as our standard approach to new projects. Instead we let teams create within broader terms of reference and come back with new ideas and I think the result reflects that.
“It’s the biggest project Solotel has done and we were all very passionate about what we were delivering. It was hard work but a joy.”
Collins & Turner: (02) 9356 3217 or collinsandturner.com
H&E Architects: (02) 9357 2288 or h-e.com.au
HEAT IS ON
Emilie Delalande: “The Bromic heaters are a really good solution because they’re almost invisible but they’re really doing their job and really contributing to the comfort of people sitting outside when it’s cooler.”
Christopher Grinham: “Bromic also gave us the technical assistance we needed with respect to the design and the integration of the heating into what is a tricky building — installing heaters near timber is never easy; getting big heaters next to big sheets of glass is even harder! They gave us everything we needed to make it happen.”
Bromic Heating: 1300 731 280 or www.bromic.com.au
AUDIO: GOOD NEIGHBOURS
Dave Coxon of DJW Projects is Solotel’s go-to audio guru. Dave needed to draw on all his experience to deliver an audio system that could provide the level of detail and power without disturbing the neighbours.
Christopher Grinham ably outlined the challenge as we sat in the rooftop bar, Smoke, pointing to the next door neighbours — balconies of a nearby high-rise apartment that almost seemed within arm’s reach: “AV was a massive challenge with our residential neighbours so close. You want warmth and ambience and character in a venue like this but you’re treading a fine line keeping those neighbours happy. It isn’t easy. I think Dave Coxon has provided a tremendous experience for the patrons.”
The audio system is based on EAW loudspeakers and Powersoft amplifiers. It’s a distributed system (with a larger number of smaller loudspeakers) to keep overall levels down while still maintaining extensive coverage to every patron.
DJW Projects: (02) 9114 9993 or djwprojects.com.au
PAVT (EAW, Powersoft): (03) 9264 8000 or productionaudio.com.au