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Text: Gillian Serisier. All photography: Trevor Mein
Returning the human to the towering International Towers of Barangaroo, Woods Bagot has designed intimate and superbly crafted interiors that flow and pool throughout the lobby. This is no mean feat given the colossal scale of the atrium void and excessive elevator enclosures.
Not unlike the monolith of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the shafts are black on black and unrelentingly present. From an architectural/psychological perspective, they work well to establish gravitas, the dominance of the building and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of awe. Woods Bagot has complemented this superbly with solutions that both celebrate the venerable and acknowledge the human, as Domenic Alvaro, Woods Bagot principal and project principal, explains. “They wanted an architect that understood the international nature of what Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSH+P) were producing and… find the right balance in terms of how to make that foyer a contemporary progressive environment that doesn’t interfere with the beauty and monumentality created by RSH+P,” says Alvaro.
To set the scene, Two International Towers, or T2 as it is known, is the central of three towers delineating the inception curve of the Barangaroo foreshore. Designed by RSH + P for Lend Lease, each tower is separately identified by façade panels of red, blue or yellow. The buildings are large. Very large. They are, however, adequate for accommodating Sydney’s projected growth with the additional future-proofing of a pedestrian bridge (also Woods Bagot) linking directly with Wynyard Train Station’s new access tunnels.
The interior, then, is just as grand with the aforementioned monoliths residing behind a wall of glass. Yet it is the graceful curves of the spiral staircase that hold the gaze on entering. Emerging from the travertine floor, the stairs read as a double helix of white steel and glass. It is a beautiful gesture and the perfect female counterpoint to the robust male elements of the base architecture, as Alvaro explains: “It has a very strong visual presence and responds to the monumentality, and it also has an engineering discipline, which comes from Rogers’ work (it’s suspended from four rods). I wanted it to feel that it could have been designed by Rogers rather than make our own statement.” Moreover, the circularity of the staircase visually reinserts the three floors as tangibly present and, in doing so, starts to bring the scale back to human, while remaining a grand gesture unto itself. That a café is tucked below the first curve drives this home, as does the material and form selected for this area.
A north to south through transparency of the master plan has trees sitting within the public domain. “We sought to bring the trees inside as a conversation with the master plan, while speaking specifically of T2,” says Alvaro of the Aspect/Oculus landscaping. The trees, Port Jackson figs (Ficus rubiginosa), are in fact glorious. The scale is perfectly attuned to the surrounding marble of the planter, as a demarking canopy, a reiteration of the human scale and as a series of avenues that break from the central thoroughfare and more formal arrangement of seating. “It creates a reprieve that connects you with a sophisticated environment that is working to create different levels of intimacy and connection with nature,” says Alvaro. That the marble is lovely to sit on is a bonus, as are the bespoke leather clad elements, which more formally declare seating. Either option makes a good claim for this build’s exemplar quality and Lend Lease project manager Andrew Colangelo’s steadfast resolve for excellence.
Running parallel to the trees is the first of the BassamFellows furniture used throughout (Living Edge). A combination of the CB-42 wide bench and CB-50 low-back lounge chairs in semi aniline leather are elegantly luxurious and a solid departure from foyer-by-numbers. They are also extremely nice to sit in. It’s an element that has no doubt been considered for the anchor client Westpac’s club lounge, which benefits from the low-back settee version as well as Walter Knoll’s Oscar and Turtle chairs (living Edge). Joe Colombo’s Coupé floor lamps (Euroluce) add a touch of quirky glamour, while Coupé F floor lamps (Euroluce) and Tolomeo Mini desk lamps (Artemide) are paired with the BassamFellows Salon sofa and lounge chairs (Living Edge) for the working lounge.
The key element to the design strategy is the balance achieved through the central reception area. Reading more like a concierge counter than a typical office, the elements of desk and separating walls are freestanding and robustly sculptural. Continuing the datum line used throughout the foyer from lighting to partition height, the elements reiterate the curved edge rectangular form of the tower’s footprint. “The fundamental idea was that everything is like a set design, like an installation within the space where nothing breaches the base building walls, so there remains a legibility where the curve and straight line become the narrative,” explains Alvaro.
Woods Bagot has addressed both big picture and human needs with exceptional clarity. Its design is strong, warm, human and entirely usable. The furniture is comfortable, looks amazing, and provides a range of solutions without looking like a furniture showroom. “It is a beautiful corporate experience for the modern corporate worker,” says Alvaro. It is arguably the use of trees as a natural reference point, for the remaining human scale elements to be drawn from, that makes the space so habitable. But then again, it may just be the delight of having such beautiful trees in a corporate foyer! Either way, it is hardly surprising that Woods Bagot has just been awarded the two remaining lobbies.
Now in its eleventh year, Shaw Contract’s Design Awards program honors architecture and design firms that are changing the way people engage and interact with a space.