Sandra Furtado, principal and design director at Crone Architects, specialises in strategic planning and contextual, sustainable design, and her work is informed by a distinct Portuguese aesthetic.

Furtado was recently involved in the 25-storey hotel that is part of Dalian Wanda’s $1 billion redevelopment of Gold Fields House at 1 Alfred Street, Circular Quay, Sydney.

Architecture and Design spoke to her about the Wanda Vista Hotel, why incorporating sustainable design has become harder and how she uses Portuguese aesthetics in her work.

What were some of the challenges of the Wanda Vista Hotel project?

The building is located in a congested city block where multiple towers are being planned. The site constraints are many: building separation, setbacks, access to view corridors from neighbouring properties, light access to rear plaza, among others.

The brief for the Wanda hotel was rigid in that it specifically outlined the building programme and room sizes. We then balanced those parameters against our own philosophical agendas and design aesthetic. For us, the main challenge was to make sure we could fit all the brief requirements in a building envelope that was beautiful and considered. 

The team felt that the Stage 1DA envelope was too constrained to allow us to achieve an elegant tower. Having worked with Wanda during the stage 1DA we understood the competing interests around the site and where to focus our attention. In our proposal we challenged some of these rules and developed a design that balances these restrictions and achieves a better urban design outcome.

You specialise in sustainable design. How much easier or harder has it become over the past few years to incorporate sustainable design into projects?

Over the years, sustainable design practice has become harder. Projects with high-environmental agendas are less of a priority or at least are not a main priority for our current commercial clients. The profile of a project and the expectations of the end user are a key factor.

High profile commercial developments tend to push green building rating tools as these attract high paying tenants. However, in the residential market the approach is quite conservative. Perhaps this is due to the fact that developers and investors haven’t built a business case for it yet. 

I believe genuine environmental design begins at the inception stage, when the designer is given a brief and begins the design process. Passive design initiatives, a conscious material selection and energy efficient and water fixtures can be embedded on any project as a starting point. This is a cost-effective way to achieve environmental efficiency, even if the client doesn’t want to specifically invest on green building certification.

How does your Portuguese aesthetic influence your work?

Portuguese architecture has developed from local vernacular architecture and design. Buildings are considered against their own environment and designed with special attention to craftsmanship.

New buildings are bold and striking and they defy the human scale, but at the same time they can be intimate and warm. Light and shade are used as devices to create a journey through a building; solidity and the framing of views are used to surprise and delight users. This school of thought inspires me and informs my design practice.

What is your favourite building in Australia?

The Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane. The building was designed by Robin Gibson & Partners and completed in 1982.

I visited the building for the first time in 2005 and immediately I fell in love with it. The imposing yet restrained architecture balances light and shade beautifully, the sequencing of spaces is smartly arranged, and the integration of nature and water within the architecture is powerful and striking. Every time I wander around the building I feel at peace, like the outside world doesn’t matter. Architecture can be this powerful.