Ovolo Woolloomooloo, Australia

May 4, 2016

Australian design studio HASSELL used the vastness of a public thoroughfare in Sydney’s century old wharf to its advantage in creating an encapsulating space for guests to feel at home away from home.

Sydney’s century old wharf in Woolloomooloo is now home to the Ovolo Woolloomooloo hotel, following a bold transformation designed to appeal to a new generation of guests. After the success of previous projects within Hong Kong-based boutique hotel collection Hind Group, trading under the name Ovolo, international design practice HASSELL partnered with Ovolo to bring the energetic lifestyle brand to life for its first hotel in Sydney and latest Australian venture.

Ovolo represents a collection of hotels that connect people with their locations, and combine their personality with the character of the immediate environment. Together with engineering consultancy Medland Metropolis, HASSELL worked to underpin the design of the hotel with the traits of its brand. HASSELL Senior Associate Matthew Sheargold said: “With the Ovolo guest at the heart of the design process, Ovolo Woolloomooloo embodies everything the brand stands for – young, energetic, cheeky, accessible and effortless.” These characteristics informed every part of the design process from planning to furniture selection, materials palette to artwork.

Sheargold explained that the hotel capitalises on light, the harbour and its cosmopolitan setting, transforming the historic wharf into a place that people can inhabit and truly appreciate. “To inject vitality into the hotel, we first needed to transform an uninviting wind tunnel along the vast central spine of the existing hotel,” said Sheargold. Of key importance to Ovolo was to activate the public atrium space and ensure that it would be utilised all day, every day. “We broke the space into smaller zones to support different experiences and guests’ needs, and inserted pavilions. Pockets of sunlight and tree-filled spaces within the pavilions encourage a variety of uses, which entice people to visit and linger, creating an environment that’s more intimate – more Ovolo.”

The atrium space is a public thoroughfare cutting through the heart of the hotel, which had to be accessible day and night. Full sized trees with integrated LED lights line a pathway through the atrium creating a streetscape, while providing another human scale element within the space and a dynamic and evolving light feature. Further to this, the open roofed structures provide another layer via the skylights in the building roof with natural light casting shadows throughout the day through the timber louvres.

The building itself is a crucial character in the project, and the contrast between old and new is celebrated throughout the hotel. Bringing its own set of challenges, the building pushed the design team and the client to think outside the box, sometimes forcing changes to the design but ultimately arriving at thoroughly realised and exciting outcomes. The building, its challenges and opportunities presented, alongside Ovolo’s requirements, drove the lighting design of this space. “The central atrium is enormous and dwarfs guests, making it a very difficult place to light,” said Sheargold. “As the building is heritage listed we couldn’t fix anything to any part of the existing structure, so we introduced a series of free standing pavilions to allow us to fix lighting infrastructure.” This allowed the team to manage the scale of the space by introducing structures more aligned with a human scale. “We located all light fittings below a 2,400mm datum to create a significantly more intimate environment,” continued Sheargold.

As the atrium is thoughtfully comprised of various sections, guests are welcomed into a lobby space, where Australian manufacturer Touching Space’s Ibis timber floor lamp designed by Stuart Williams sits. With a counter weight at the end of its arm, Ibis’ black powder coat shade nods to guests on arrival. This space eases into the arrival lounge, or second pavilion, where guests are encouraged to relax, rather than simply check in. Here they can sit in wooden seating alcoves to rejuvenate beneath the light of Le Lampe Gras wall lamps, or read in lounge chairs by the task light of Rubn Lighting’s Lektor floor lamp. Adjacent to this is the pool table area, made playful by Muuto’s Unfold pendant lamps in green silicone rubber, with a bold dash of excitement shouting out through the mesh front of Restoration Hardware’s French cinema floor lamp in aged steel.

The atrium’s third pavilion features a private dining room, where Christopher Boots’ Phasmida pendant adds an elegant finish from above. Basing his lighitng on dreams, nature and geometry, Boots’ pendant was a suited addition to the project with its naturally open spaces and geometrical construction. In the same pavilion is a dining area with banquette seating where guests can dine any time of day beneath the luminescence of Rubn Lighting’s Astoria wall fixture with fifteen arms in matte black iron, sitting as a striking focal point of the room’s interior.

The welcoming public spaces and fresh colour scheme contrast with the deliberately atmospheric guest rooms, building drama and interest. In the Ultraroos penthouse suite, Touching Space’s Ibis floor lamp is seen again, peering over the angular lounge area with a soft gaze, ready to illuminate when needed, while standing as an endearing inhabitant of the room when left off. The standard guest rooms are no less impressive, with chaise longues and bespoke art illuminated by wall and table lamps from Australian design firm ISM Objects’ HD3 range, as well as its Shady floor lamps dotted around. The bedheads are adorned with custom art pieces of stylish men and women, with Le Lampe Gras’ black satin wall lamp fixed into the headboard for a soft bedside light. These decorative fittings give a gentle nod to the architectural aesthetic of the building in form and material, be it a reference to the black steel tubing throughout the building or brass references which were evident in the building’s original detailing.

All of the lighting selected for the project is designed to bring a certain magic to the space and the guest’s experience. Sheargold explained: “The building’s palette of cool green-blues and greys can feel bleak and cold, so it was important to create a warm and inviting light. LED fittings were used throughout, including the exposed filament globes above the bar and reception. The LEDs in the trees are all dimmable to allow the space to evolve from day to night and for different functions and events.”

As the oldest finger wharf in Australia and a Sydney icon, there was much sensitivity around the project and how the client’s energetic and youthful requirements could be integrated within a heritage building. “New contemporary forms sit in harmonious contrast to the heritage structure, providing windows and vistas that frame the existing building, allowing visitors to see it in an entirely new way,” said Sheargold. This makes the hotel not just a space to pass through but also a place to linger and enjoy. The history of the building is captured through vignettes as guests wander through, reaffirming its beauty and historic value.

Ovolo Woolloomooloo is a project wherein its multiple challenges, from the overwhelming volume to the heritage elements, in turn became its greatest assets. Working with a hotel brand on its first hotel in a city such as Sydney, in such an iconic building, was a huge responsibility for the design team, as Sheargold explained: “It’s so rare to get an opportunity like this and it’s one that we embraced. We had to get it right.”

The guest experience at this hotel is unique and driven by its architecture; HASSELL allowed the building to become a key character in the hotel and ensured the Ovolo brand could shine in its new, historic home. Through warm lighting and thoughtful interior design, this vast and challenging space became intimate and rife with personality, standing as a desirable space to make memories amidst days of exploring Sydney.


Pics: Nicole England