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Responsible, quiet luxury: FK taps into the DNA of civic architecture for Crystalbrook Hotel, Canberra

Responsible, quiet luxury: FK taps into the DNA of civic architecture for Crystalbrook Hotel, Canberra


In late May, the Australian architecture and design community was abuzz with news that award-winning multidisciplinary practice FK would be designing the new Crystalbrook Hotel precinct in Canberra. 

Given the scale of the project, which will usher in a transformation of Canberra’s Garema Place and Bunda Street, Australian Design Review wanted to dive deeper into the design scheme which seeks to pay homage to Canberra’s rich architectural heritage and the city’s iconic civic style. We spoke to FK partner Craig Baudin and principal Angela Biddle to unpack and explore how the design team wove history, place and responsible luxury into Garema Place Hotel.

Crystalbrook Canberra integrates seamlessly into the streetscape.
Australian Design Review: What elements of Canberra’s rich architectural heritage and the city’s iconic civic style and design language does the design draw from? 

Craig Baudin: Canberra has a unique and recognisable design language of civic architecture which was a source of inspiration for the project, coupled with the legacy of the Walter Burley Griffin plan for Canberra — an ordered city set within natural surroundings. 

Tapping into the DNA of expressive concrete civic architecture and the city’s identity as the Bush Capital, our approach was to bring a striking, considered new offering for Canberrans and visitors to enjoy.

ADR: How have these elements been articulated and expressed at Crystalbrook Canberra? 

CB: The facade of the hotel responds to the formality of the curved street geometry, which is itself a legacy of the Griffin plan. We have created moments of craft and refinement within this robust concrete expression, using bronze inserts as a fine wrought secondary layering to the facade.

Behind this ordered facade of concrete and bronze fins are moments of surprise where the civic formality gives way to more intimate lobby spaces and a full-height sunlit atrium lined by dense planting and landscape.

A key focus for the design team was improving the public realm in this part of Canberra. We wanted this new hotel to become an elegant and lively addition to Bunda Street, and also to revitalise the neglected public square to the south, Garema Place. The new hotel building will continue to be home to Canberra’s beloved Gus’s Café, which has been given a new lease of life as part of this rejuvenated precinct.

ADR: Can you expand on the material and colour palette and how they express Canberra?

Angela Biddle: The interior design palette will be developed on the foundations of contemporary classicism, with a feminine overlay inspired by the connection of architecture and nature, and its connection to the original vision for Canberra. 

The foundation materials will be authentic and timeless. Materials such as local stones and timbers, which speak to place and endure and age with the building, as we see in classical architecture. The feminine overlay will be soft, warm, meticulously detailed and ephemeral — destined to evolve and change over the life of the hotel. 

A render of the lush, verdant atrium.
ADR: Luxury and sustainability don’t necessarily go hand in hand. How did FK balance the tension that often arises here? 

AB: The definition of luxury is evolving. Where traditional luxury is typically aligned with excess, modern luxury is about refined consideration. This concept of modern luxury extends to the mindset of the guest. The modern luxury guest appreciates quiet luxury — the luxury of exceptional service and personal touches, which anticipate their needs and streamline their life. They value understated elegance and cultivated consumption, emphasising exclusivity and discerning taste over extravagance and excess.  

This naturally aligns with sustainability. Minimising unnecessary details and materials, focusing on local and natural [elements] and carefully considering every design decision to create impact where it matters while minimising our impact on the planet. Crystalbrook Canberra has been benchmarked at 5-star NABERS Energy and Water ratings and has woven into the design numerous innovative sustainability initiatives such as wastewater energy recovery.

A core pillar of The Crystalbrook Collection is the concept of ‘Responsible Luxury’, which very much aligns with these ideas. In Crystalbrook Canberra, this has been achieved through careful thinking about how the fine details of every aspect of hotel operations can be re-imagined in a sustainable way. For this, the client has partnered with global travel and tourism sustainability accreditation organisation, EarthCheck, to certify their operations.

A render of the facade and public space
ADR: What part of the project is the most special or memorable from your perspective as the designers? 

AB: We believe the point of difference in this project is the way in which the narrative of the building connects so beautifully to Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin’s vision of Canberra. This idea that a rational, ordered building can reveal a landscaped central void is quite special.

From an interior design approach, we have been inspired by this feature and its connection to Marion Mahony Griffin’s passion for integrating nature into architecture. There will be experiential moments curated throughout the project which will enhance and reinforce the connection to this landscaped central void.

ADR: What was the ultimate guest experience and mood that you wanted to capture and reflect?

AB: We are designing the hotel to provide a human experience which is, at its core, elegant, refined, sophisticated and timeless. However, we are also layering moments that are surprising, intriguing and ephemeral to create a guest journey which encourages an intuitive desire for exploration and discovery. 

CB: Ultimately, we want this to be a memorable experience for guests. Contrasting the civic-inspired exterior with an unfolding series of warm and intimately scaled interior spaces which reconnect with Canberra’s natural landscape. The mood evoked is one of intrigue, comfort and reconnection to the civic legacy of Canberra and its bush setting.

Render images supplied.

Discover Levantine Hill Estate, another stunning hotel designed by FK


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