Images courtesy Rothelowman.
Once a celebrated feature of office foyers and Baz Lurhmann films in the 90s, fishtanks may well be a relic of the past. Brisbane’s hip new Habitat restaurant has a living ant farm in the bar. With a contemporary earthy appeal, the versatile restaurant, bar and café space is serving considered and original design solutions alongside its culinary offerings.
In this Q&A, Rothelowman senior interior designer Olivia Lockhart discusses the current state of Australian design, the projects that excite her, and the story behind the creepy crawly design.
ADR: How did the Habitat project come to Rothelowman?
Olivia: Habitat is essentially our ‘local’. The space is located directly beneath our office in what once was an undercroft car-parking area. Our task was to convert this underutilised space into a prominent corner venue offering all-day food, drinks and entertainment.
Can you briefly take us through the design process from the initial conceptual stages to completion?
The design was a highly collaborative process with the venue owners Scott Higginbotham and Malcolm Watts. The initial brief and concepts for the branding and interior design stemmed heavily from the architecture of the inserted building form as previously designed by Rothelowman. This collaboration recognised the eclectic nature of the location and exaggerated the rawness and ad hoc into a fully realised series of spaces.
What were the key challenges of the project?
Given the transformative nature of the project from car-park to venue, a large number of existing conditions posed major challenges. Existing services, structural form and the complexities of topography across the triangular site influenced many of the spatial design decisions. These constraints were approached as opportunities to create a layout that offers varied levels and experiences within a relatively small space. With corners that act as retreats, platforms that serve as places to perch and open spaces that facilitate gatherings, Habitat offers a diversity of experiences that compliments the owners’ vision for the venue’s food and beverage service.
What were the key points of inspiration behind the design of Habitat?
The major influences were very much industrial in quality. Eclectic and moody, the finishes were kept raw and honest. The overall design process was fluid and conversational; a true collaboration with the client, whose knowledge of the clientele and location was instrumental in influencing the mood of the space.
Was the ant farm bar always a major element of the overall design? What led to that decision and what were the logistics involved in installing it?
What started out, as a left-of-centre suggestion from the client, quickly became a reality. We were immediately drawn to the idea and set about establishing the critical visual connection with the ants through the use of glass and light. Constructed in situ, the concrete bar captures the ants in their natural habitat and frames the series of networks they have established.
Tell me a little about your background, and the experiences that have led you to the career you have now.
I have always been intrigued by the arrangement of space. Even as a child I would pester my parents until they would take me to inspect the latest open show home. Combining my love of interior spaces and a penchant for art (drawing, painting, sculpture) I instinctively gravitated to a vocation, which, in my view, combines all of these. Art meets functionality.
Can you give a little insight into the challenges and highlights of your position?
I find the greatest challenge those in design-based roles encounter is finding a balance between practicality, functionality and the finished aesthetic. It is always rewarding to see how these processes and considerations inform the final product and how they are incorporated into the completed design.
The opportunity to work interactively and collaboratively, to take a client’s vision and turn it into something tangible, is an aspect of my position that I really value.
Where do you turn for inspiration, and which architects or designers have had the biggest influence on your work?
Inspiration can be derived from many sources, not just the design world. If I were to pick a modern day designer I would tend towards the Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola. Her work epitomises my approach to the design process, where the use of refined detail combines with traditional design techniques to give a sense of ‘softness’ and comfort.
What excites or frustrates you about the current state of Australian architecture and design?
I think that generally, Australian design has evolved considerably. Through a better culture and understanding of architecture and interior design, we, as an industry, have been able to develop a healthy attitude towards competition. The result has seen the design community push themselves beyond the cookie cutter creations and establish their own voice and personality. It goes beyond budgetary considerations and has become more about being savvy, creative and doing more with less or the same.
What has been the proudest achievement in your career?
My proudest achievement would be the completion of my first major commission. This was a restaurant fitout that involved a complex, multifaceted brief. Seeing people finally using the space in a manner that I had envisaged was amazingly fulfilling.
What is your favourite space/place in Melbourne or Sydney – is there a spot you wish you had designed?
One such spot comes to mind in Abbotsford, Melbourne. Overlooking the Yarra River, this development stands out as one of my favourite projects from a design perspective. I am quite jealous of our Melbourne team who have had the opportunity to work on this three-stage project. With stages one and two, Eden and Haven, now complete you can really appreciate how the interior design has lived up to the prestigious location.
Being a proud ‘Brisbanite’ I must add, that closer to home, my favourite space is New Farm Park and the Brisbane Riverwalk. Taking time out of the office to enjoy subtropical Brisbane helps clear the mind and inspire new ideas and approaches.
What is your favourite project from your own body of work and why?
Botanica Apartments in South Brisbane is a project I am particularly fond of. It is currently under construction, however, the sense of place can already be felt even though it is only a mass of concrete and scaffolding. I can look out of our office window each day and see things evolving on site, which is a great thrill.
What is Rothelowman working on currently?
It is an extremely exciting time for the practice – we were recently named UDIA’s Consultancy of the Year and have just appointed Nigel Hobart as our new managing principal. Nationally, we have myriad mixed-use, commercial, hospitality and residential projects in design and development. In Brisbane, we are involved in a multitude of projects; we recently launched Ivy Terraces with ARIA and continue to collaborate with Pradella on Liberte, Sky View and Light + Co.
We are expanding our office in Sydney to service NSW and the ACT markets and consolidating the scale we’ve achieved in Brisbane and Melbourne. We see this continued growth as a result of our persistent focus on creating highly marketable and commercially sound design solutions for our clients.