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    Technē on their viral pub project and the future of hospitality design

    Kirsty Sier

    The design team at multidisciplinary practice Technē are used to working on high-profile hospitality projects, and have established a particularly strong presence in Melbourne. But even within such a large and successful portfolio, their latest pub project, Hightail, has received a disproportionate amount of attention around the A&D traps.

    Sitting in the sleepy Melbourne suburb of Docklands, Hightail has been responsible for injecting life and colour into its context, which has recently been the focus of numerous rejuvenation initiatives. According to the architect, the project’s success has been partly attributable to its defining concept, which drew upon a children’s book, The Water Hole, by the iconic author Graeme Base. From there, the architects created a pub that represented a watering hole of a more adult variety, keeping one eye on this childlike sense of playfulness as a point of reference for material choice, form and layout.

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    Hightail is symptomatic of what Technē says is a burgeoning trend towards the casualisation of hospitality venues. These days, there’s less of a focus on aspirational and exclusive design, and more of a shift towards people using pubs, bars and restaurants as a sort of urban living room.

    In the wake of Hightail’s successful completion, we sat down with some of hospitality design’s reigning pioneers at Technē to unpack just what the future of the discipline might look like.

    Your recent hospitality project, the Hightail pub in Melbourne, has received quite a bit of attention around the design media traps. In a saturated hospitality market such as Melbourne’s, what do you think it was that made Hightail stand out?

    It is a vibrant and unique design that was defined by the concept we created for the project. Using the colloquial term for a pub, ‘watering hole’, we were inspired by the idea of an oasis and the Graeme Base book by the similar name, [The Water Hole]. 

    Hightail-Bar-Charlie-Kinross-10-1.jpgHightail takes its cues from a Graeme Base children’s book for its lush illustrations, murals, and rich layers of colour and texture

    Technē has been at the helm of its fair share of high-profile hospitality venues. During that time, do you think expectations have changed about what a pub or bar or café should look like? And if so, do you think it’s changed for the better?

    Expectations have changed as the market has become more competitive and the value proposition and points of difference need to be more clearly defined for the design of these venues. For the most part, it is has changed for the better. The importance of good design is clearly recognised and the great clients we work with have a clear vision [and] understanding of their offer. [They] engage a strong team of professionals to bring together the design holistically from architecture, interior design, styling, decorating, graphics [and] branding [perspectives].

    Hightail-Bar-Charlie-Kinross-13-1.jpgHightail features two bars: a beer bar finished in cork, concrete and copper, and a more intimate wine bar featuring brass, terracotta tiling, deep blue carpet and natural timber

    Has the nature of briefs changed during this time? Do you think clients have become more progressive and willing to take risks?

    Historically for us, it has been an exciting aspect of working on hospitality projects that clients are willing to take creative risks and be progressive in their outlook. For the most part, the risks pay off, but when they don’t quite work as expected good clients recognise the failure quickly and work with us to change it as required.

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    Briefs haven’t changed a lot per se, in that we mostly work one-on-one with the key business owner of a project, who establishes the project brief with us collaboratively. Project budgets have certainly increased and the attention to all details seems to have risen over the years. In terms of project briefs, the casualisation of restaurants is probably the broadest general trend of the changed nature of the work we do these days.

    How does hospitality design differ from other areas of architecture?

    Its [more] fast-paced [in] nature, [and has more of an] interior design orientation. Hospitality design is progressive and risk-taking, [and] always looking for new angles.

    With something like residential architecture, the final design outcome tends to be influenced heavily by context, and by the prevailing housing typology within the area in question. To what extend to you think hospitality architecture needs to be informed by context?

    To give a project authenticity, we always try to express the context of the venue. [We] draw inspiration from the local culture, embrace existing structures, [and] allow ‘stories’ of the past uses of the site to shine through.

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    Many of your recent hospitality projects have been in Melbourne. Do you think that city is pioneering the way when it comes to progressive design outcomes?

    It feels like Melbourne tends to lead the way. Notwithstanding many great projects [and] venues around the country, Melbourne does have a critical mass to the population that our venues are serving, and a historical cultural identity for progressive hospitality that we tap into and draw upon [for] its momentum.

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    What do you see as being the future of hospitality design in Australia? What will we be seeing more of? And to what extent do you think it will differ from city to city?

    From city to city, the successful venues will continue to draw upon the uniqueness of the place.  Great venues are an authentic expression of the location, the architecture, the local culture, the local personalities and identities, local produce etc.

    We will continue to see growth in the hospitality sector and prevalence of more casual dining offers to meet the market. As our cities get denser, the hospitality industry plays a key role in the liveability of our cities and the opportunity for inhabitants to live their lives in the urban/public realm. Restaurants, bars and pubs become the living rooms of our lives as opposed to our own dwellings. Hospitality will continue to be vibrant and diverse in its offerings and it will respond to the market very directly and quickly, as it has always done. Mobile technology will continue to grow and influence operating models of businesses through ordering, pick-up and deliveries.

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