Australian architect SJB is behind The Fanatuzzo, an Art Series Hotel designed to integrate with the environment so much that it is almost a “non-building”.

A renewal of Howard Smith Wharves

This $100 million hotel is part of a bold new plan to reactivate Brisbane’s Howard Smith Wharves precinct.

Howard Smith Wharves
Howard Smith Wharves in 2009. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The precinct forms around a heritage-listed wharf on the Brisbane River at Boundary Street, Brisbane City and Fortitude Valley. Built between 1934 and the 1940s, the heritage-listed site is one of Brisbane’s most culturally and historically significant riverfront locations.

One of the reasons the precinct is significant is because its heritage-listed wharf buildings provide rare physical evidence of the pre-1940 Port of Brisbane. The area is home to five air-raid shelters built during World War II that are the most intact group of shelters remaining in Brisbane.

In 2009, an extensive commercial development of the precinct was suggested by Brisbane City Council. After much back-and-forth with the plans, a developer was chosen in 2014 and the redeveloped site opened in 2018.

Designing a “non-building”

SJB new building exterior

The Fantuzzo sits underneath the Story Bridge, nestled against a rocky cliff face. The hotel has been designed as a contemporary, abstracted representation of the cliff.

According to SJB, the building is able to camouflage with its surroundings due to the fractal nature of its front elevation, as well as the lush, tropical landscaping and overhanging vines on the façade that complement the cliff’s natural foliage.

“We wanted to create a building that was almost a non-building,” says SJB’s director of architecture, Tristan Wong.

SJB building nature

“This was so the hotel could site quietly behind the heritage buildings – giving them their moment in the sun – while the tonal qualities of the façade allow it to become part of the cliff face. We also took the structural forms from the trusses of the impressive Story Bridge and that’s what informs the diagonal, repeating forms across the façade.”

In an effort to integrate the building with nature, double-height windows facing the cliff light up the ground-floor lobby.

“We wanted to create a sense of coming into a cave and seeing beyond the reception area to the cliff wall,” says Wong.

“It will be subtly lit at night, reinforcing the theatre of the space, almost as if you’re standing in ruins. [It] is the exact opposite of the light and airy perception most people have of Brisbane.”

There are more references to the cliff throughout the interiors, with a materials palette of concrete, rock and timber, and use of emerald green furniture.

“The toughness of the concrete aesthetic relates back to the industrial nature of the bridge and warehouses and the emerald green touches are a nod to the vegetation on the cliffs,” adds SJB director of interior design Andrew Parr.