Woods Bagot

The new Qan­tas Lon­don Lounge is an­other suc­cess for ar­chi­tec­tural firm Woods Bagot. Fiona McCarthy meets CEO Nik Kar­alis.

VOGUE Living Australia - - Art & Design - VL

There seems no job too big or small for Woods Bagot, one of Aus­tralia’s largest ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tices, with 17 studios in four con­ti­nents and more than 850 em­ploy­ees. From a brass pop-up style cof­fee kiosk and sub­ter­ranean pedes­trian walk­way in Syd­ney’s Baranga­roo district to the newly opened Qan­tas Lon­don Lounge at Heathrow’s Ter­mi­nal 3 and ho­tels such as the new West Ho­tel in Syd­ney and In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel in Perth, Woods Bagot’s vi­sion­ary de­sign is lim­it­less. De­spite its roots dat­ing back to 1869, it’s a mod­ern com­pany. “We don’t base de­sign de­ci­sions on what hap­pened in the past,” says CEO and di­rec­tor Nik Kar­alis. In­stead, the firm has rein­vented the way it works by cre­at­ing a Global Stu­dio model that al­lows the de­sign teams, whether in Syd­ney or San Fran­cisco, to work col­lab­o­ra­tively across time zones and bor­ders, us­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy to share their in­tel­li­gence across ev­ery pro­ject. “We’ve re­joined our map of the world and em­braced the rich­ness of life that comes from cul­tural di­ver­sity — it con­stantly forces us to come up with new ideas. We say: ‘ Never stop think­ing.’ That’s real cre­ativ­ity.” Al­though Aus­tralian in spirit — en­er­getic, open-minded and lat­eral-think­ing — Woods Bagot is “not na­tion­al­is­ti­cally bound”, says Kar­alis. “Each pro­ject is de­lib­er­ately dif­fer­ent. We work in­stead with a com­mon lan­guage that comes from the ex­pe­ri­ences we want peo­ple to have through the sto­ries we tell in our ar­chi­tec­ture.” For a cur­rent pro­ject, a ho­tel on Lon­don’s Le­ices­ter Square due to open in 2019, Woods Bagot plans to build eight storeys both above and be­low ground. This “rein­vents the way peo­ple use sub­ter­ranean space be­cause such prime prop­erty is oth­er­wise so ex­pen­sive. It was an in­ter­est­ing prob­lem”. The Qan­tas Lon­don Lounge was opened last Novem­ber to mark the 7oth an­niver­sary of the ‘Kan­ga­roo Route’ and this March the next evo­lu­tion launches with di­rect flights be­tween Perth and Lon­don on the new Boe­ing 787 Dream­liner. The in­te­ri­ors of the multi-mil­lion-dol­lar lounge ref­er­ence its lo­cale, mar­ry­ing a sense of the city’s twi­light colours in deep greens and rich blues with warm ma­te­ri­als like wal­nut, stone and brass associated with Bri­tish gen­tle­men’s clubs. The mix of oak her­ring­bone floors and the punchy Flos track light­ing, along­side ban­quettes by Stel­lar Works and chairs and crock­ery by Syd­ney de­signer David Caon, lend a mod­ern mood. A gin bar serves both Aus­tralian and Bri­tish gins; the menu is as much Bri­tish com­fort food as it is light, fresh Aussie good­ness. Woods Bagot’s ap­proach to ‘peo­ple ar­chi­tec­ture’ means re­think­ing phys­i­cal spa­ces. The fluid curves of the award-win­ning Mar­garet McRae Cen­tre, at Ruy­ton Girls’ School in Mel­bourne, re­flect the task-based, stu­dent-cen­tred learn­ing spa­ces de­signed to turn the clas­sic class­room on its head. Sim­i­larly, NAB’s Vil­lage Cus­tomer In­no­va­tion Cen­tre, over­flow­ing with plants and drop-in desk spa­ces, re­flects the ‘work any­where, any­time’ dig­i­tal age. A stun­ning open-air gar­den atrium at the new West Ho­tel in Syd­ney has cre­ated a re­laxed oa­sis where guests and lo­cals can es­cape city life. Woods Bagot’s Perth de­sign stu­dio in the his­toric Palace Ho­tel, which has just won the 2017 De­sign In­sti­tute of Aus­tralia (WA) ‘Best in State’ award, blurs a sense of the work­place with hos­pi­tal­ity. “To­day, the qual­ity of our lives is judged by the sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences we love — not by wealth,” says Kar­alis. “We have to al­ways be learn­ing, chang­ing and rein­vent­ing. That’s what ar­chi­tec­ture has to be about.”

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