Once and Again
A modern sensibility and a 19th-century spirit enliven the new Westin Melbourne hotel by Carr Design Group.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 3/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
TIME HAD TAKEN its toll on Melbourne's City Square, a public quad bordered by stately but crumbling 19th-century architectural landmarks. In an effort to halt the park's deterioration, Staged Developments of Australia (SDA) struck a bargain with the city in 1995. SDA agreed to refurbish the park and its historic Regent Theatre, slated for demolition, in exchange for ownership of half the square's acreage, on which it would develop a luxury mixed-use building. The Westin hotel was conceived as the core of the 14-story, $150 million (Australian) structure. To create a design that would reflect the city's European bearing as well as the style of the neighboring Gothic and neoclassical structures-which include the recently-refurbished St. Paul's Cathedral and the Town Hall-SDA enlisted the architecture firms Desmond Brooks International and Robert Peck von Hartel Trethowan. It wasn't until midway through constructing the mansard-roofed, glass-and-brick building, however, that SDA hired home-grown talent Sue Carr, director of the Melbourne-based Carr Design Group. The project scope entailed a complete fit-out of the 262 guest rooms as well as public and conference areas, restaurants, pool, and spa-a daunting task to inherit on such a tight time frame. Moreover, the designers had to meet the demands of the four parties already involved: the property owner, the Westin Hotel management, and the two project architects.
"Once we were on board, the design direction totally changed," says design team member Daniel Stellini. The developers had requested Old World charm and a French-influenced décor (the site is located in the city's "Paris end"), which an earlier designer had interpreted as "a traditional grand hotel with excessive use of marble, a twin staircase lobby design, and an overall Renaissance theme," Stellini describes. Although very grand, the plan did not pay tribute to Melbourne as a diverse, contemporary "city of style." While preserving the French character and the spirit of the surrounding architecture, Carr Design Group pushed for a more liberal, less slavish translation of history.
One step inside the entrance places patrons squarely in the crossroads of City Square's past and present. The large-scale public areas have a ceremonial presence akin to that of a traditional European hotel. But the lofty proportions and spare detailing serve a more contemporary (and civic) purpose by opening to the newly tree-lined City Square through an unobstructed wall of double-height bay windows. The lobby is paved with a combination of French limestone and cut bluestone-a popular local material that was also used to erect the nearby St. Paul's Cathedral. The dramatic sweep of the freestanding reverse spiral staircase, with its stainless-steel mesh balustrade and aluminum soffit, is out-and-out modern, as is the series of sculptural metal chandeliers above. The space's expansiveness is balanced by cozy vignettes of plush, neutral-hued furniture in the lobby and the adjacent library-style bar, which mingle chairs and table groupings of various heights to create visual texture. The native bluestone reappears in panels flanking the fireplaces in the bar; although decorated with classical flourishes, the mantels are fashioned of cast plaster rather than marble. Taking advantage of Melbourne's flourishing contemporary art scene, the design team purchased and commissioned works by local artists to display throughout the hotel. In the spacious guest rooms, many of which have balcony views, headboards and custom furnishings are of a warm-toned American cherry. Bathrooms feature towel racks and freestanding vanities selected to provide a French flavor. The overall design respects the spirit of Melbourne's history while ensuring continuity with its future.
Although the entire Carr Design Group team contributed to the 22-month project, Carr extends special credit to Nick Graham, Ingrid Bakker, Di Ritter, and Simone Fraterman.