Supersized Viridian glass in Melbourne's Fine Art Hotel

Sheathed in super-sized viridian thermotech double-glazed units, the whole ground floor lobby makes a sculptural connection to its parkland & garden setting.

Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital enjoys a stellar reputation for its life-saving service spanning a little over five decades at Parkville. The addition of a hotel adjacent to the recently expanded hospital, provides welcome support for patients' families, visiting medical staff and general tourists.

Bates Smart has helped create a whole new dimension for the Larwill Hotel – and adjacent hospital. So much so, that within a few months of opening, this low-key building on the southern flank of Royal Park has seen the Art Series hotels zoom to top ranking on Trip Advisor's 171 most recommended.

Grand, but not grandiose, the whole ground plane rises with lofty volumes behind the original entrance and across much of the existing footprint. The result is a shining example of place-making. The expansive use of Viridian glazing virtually absorbs the lush landscape and does so with light-filled, non air- conditioned interiors. Named after the Australian artist David Larwill, whose works feature prominently, the hotel is the latest in the Art Series group including the Olsen and Blackman.

Kristen Whittle, design director of Bates Smart's Melbourne studio discusses a project where glass magnifies the setting to such great effect.

Its location is a surprise along with a unique guest experience. Sheathed in super-sized viridian thermotechtm e double-glazed units, the whole ground floor lobby makes a sculptural connection to its parkland and garden setting. And, In a world of globalization, it seems, the unique experience.

Hospital and hotel make an interesting, yet unlikely, duo.

Kristen Whittle: It's unique to plug a hotel onto a hospital. We imagined bringing together mixed uses into a hospital, and the hotel was one of the key components anchoring the second stage of development. The hotel services families, visiting researchers and a range of people needing accommodation. It's also one of the very first hotels encountered on Flemington Road en route from the airport upon arrival in the city.

So the best part of the old building is retained.

Yes, and by keeping it, we had to look at how best to use its structure and layout all anew. Our main objective was to create a highly legible, simple promenade of spaces and utilize the gaps between the old and new hospital buildings. This allowed us to capitalize on views across the new gardens towards the city.

What provides the signature design identity?

An Art Series hotel is a good choice. It brings Melbourne and it's rich personality into the building. It's essentially a bespoke, boutique hotel that also brings art into the hotel and art into the hospital. While it benefits the hospital it operates autonomously. It's for the general public too. For anyone working in Carlton or commuting into the city and wanting a quicker exit to the airport, this is the hotel.

It shouldn't be stereotyped as purely for hospital patients and staff?

It's certainly not that. It has great views over the gardens. Once retail is fully in place it's going to be fantastic. I've seen it as a place, a getaway, for those people who don't want to be in the big café spaces, who maybe want a quiet time between a doctor and a patient or parents. It's a respite as well. It works fantastically well because you walk in there and see kids and their parents actually smiling. I'm always delighted by that.

It's essentially a bespoke, boutique hotel that also brings art into the hotel and art into the hospital. Kristen Whittle, Design Director

Is the original tower building sitting in front of the hotel a burden or asset?

We wanted to try to maintain this building for sustainability reasons. We decided to integrate and use it for extra clinical space. The whole RCH campus uses several facade systems to allow, over time, other buildings to be added as opposed to behaving as one larger, singular building. We overclad one of the existing buildings because we didn't want to have an incongruent relationship between the new and the old, so we did try and harmonize those existing buildings into the new. The front entry building also became important where we were able to neaten up the front. The building has got a feeling of a being a much higher quality drop-off or porte cochere now suitable for the Larwill Hotel.

How important is the landscape?

You'll notice a lot of views into the landscape. We removed side-walls from the rear of the front entry building to create views into the gardens. We installed very large glazed panels to again reinforce visibility beyond the building. The result opens out, compresses down as a sequence of spaces. By the time you arrive into the internal ‘street', there is a whole new connection into the park anchored by a new large scale child-care center at that north-east end. The whole entry sequence is about spatial continuity, simplicity and views into landscape.

How important is the aim to avoid institutional architecture?

Hopefully the human rather than institutional experience is what most people feel in the entire development. The new, stage 2 buildings are, like stage 1, really focusing on developing a sense of a place that promotes health and well being

You provide the equivalent to the big daylight pill.

The planning strategy was to simultaneously create a social hub where everyone who arrived felt orientated and connected. The second was literally connecting the sun and views to the inside spaces so that people always know where they are in time and space within a very large building. It's a fact that being enriched by nature and sunlight, is proven to be fundamental to people's happiness. The hotel is essentially a machine to make people feel well.

Just to get the Green Star question done with, just what is that rating?

Five Star. Our project is filled with sustainable features making it the greenest hospital in Australia. These features include catching rainwater runoff from the roofs and surrounding parkland and reusing it, installing solar panels on the roof of the IPU and installing big co-generation plant in the basement. There are roof gardens and naturally ventilated spaces in the internal street fed by the basement labyrinth which cools and re-distributes outside air to the public spaces. Large scaled, Viridian ThermoTechTM E Double Glazed Units are also critical to maintain heating and cooling efficiency.

The new ground floor foyer space at The Larwill feels large.

It feels bigger than many of us thought it was going to be. We're pleased that the hotel had a positive and well-assigned treatment to those spaces. It means that it feels well connected to the first stage hospital development. It has that same spirit. Maybe one of the successes was being able to have an open connection from the foyer to the street. It could have been a patchwork of different styles, but instead but there is a strong continuity.

We installed very large glazed panels to again reinforce visibility beyond the building. The result opens out, compresses down as a sequence of spaces. Kristen Whittle, Design Director

Were there any issues or lessons with the glazing program here?

It was originally specified as imported glazing but Viridian was able to deliver and install to a tight schedule. They worked with local glass, made up samples and had these approved and were able to make the glass in a shorter lead time.

What about issues of glass colour and real

life sampling rather than reliance on computer renderings? We always check the glazing colour and reflectivity with an on site sampling process. We also try as much as possible to do virtual reality modeling. On a large project there tends to be a variety of glass panels and a thorough checking process allows us to ensure we have the right coloration. We're particularly interested in external reflectivity, the colour of the outward reflectivity, and making sure that there isn't any untoward discolouration in the glass. Glass is probably the most complicated material to control. It's important to understand what delivers the glazings performance, such as coatings, thickness, tinting, number of panes etc. They all change the coloration of glass.

Some of that glass is still a performance glass because you're obviously getting sun penetration to the north and in the child care area into the east on the main hotel lobby. This is a pretty expansive wall of glass although there is some overhang near the gardens.

We didn't want the glass too dark or tinted. The philosophy of the glass specification is to do with ensuring there is a natural visual connection with the gardens. I would say that most architects will try to use clear glass in order to get better colour rendition and minimal interference between inside and out. Certainly in this instance, we didn't want a patchwork, or kaleidoscope of different colours appearing from room to room.

What you touched on earlier is really that role of natural light for wellness and recovery – and memorable experience. Here we understand that this isn't just another global hotel; it is about a subliminal experience.

I think really good architecture provides for a certain level of intimacy. A lot of current architecture you see, certainly in Australia, is difficult to understand and in a simplistic way, is difficult to love. I certainly struggle to connect with it. Good architecture invites you to take ownership of it and to feel connected to it. That is the difference between real architecture and that of a simple building.