Architect and director of Woods Bagot’s global design studio, Domenic Alvaro is one of the industry’s most original thinkers. Working across every imaginable sector the world over, Alvaro’s design philosophy is simple: agitate traditional typologies.
“When I say ‘unique’ I’m referring to a design’s relevance and connection to its client, the brief or the specific location of the project. ‘Unique’ is the responsiveness to the needs of an individual project. And when you really tap in to the core nature of the brief, or the client or the site, then you end up finding its unique qualities. I’m a true believer that buildings and interiors need to be and feel site specific; they need to have a sense of locality and place not just in terms of materiality, but largely through site and context.
For example, we’re in the process of completing a transport project here in Sydney called Wynyard Walk, which is a transit orientated development. It’s a project that connects the city to Barangaroo. We need to, of course, make the site feel civic and public, but we also need to have a strong site response predicated by the brief. So how then do we create an architectural response so tailored that it creates a highly unique experiential result? The interior for instance, is based on a really beautiful flow of language. It’s a transit-space. It enables the volume of around 22,000 people per hour to move from the city through to Barangaroo. It’s an important connector for the new direction of this city. It’s a big piece of infrastructure that sits partially underground and partially at a confluence of highways and plazas and other existing infrastructure throughout Sydney. So the question then becomes: how can you create a site-specific sense of place when your ‘place’ is made up of so many disparate pieces?
Wynyard Walk is a good example of using design language to connect all the seemingly random bits and pieces, so that there’s this constant association back to the flow-line in the project. Whether that be the line of the ceiling, the line on the wall, the geometry of the resulting interior, the portal shape, the way the sandstone carves at the end of the portal. That sense of curvature and flow-line language gets carried through from the macro concepts through to the minor lighting pelmets. It’s that narrative that’s incredibly important in connecting the broad urban narrative down to the tactile point of touch. Woods Bagot is constantly moving through a whole range of typologies and sectors. The majority of our projects are increasingly becoming more mixed-use. We also just recently won a competition for a new 55-storey tower development in Parramatta, which will house, among other things, a new QT Hotel and 314 apartments sitting above a public thoroughfare precinct. Again, there is always a challenge in trying to define a unique response for a tower that is specifically for the city of Parramatta; a catalyst for urban rejuvenation. It’s a project that has really brought Woods Bagot’s global intelligence together around specific design know-how on both the residential and hotel sectors.
When thinking about how I would define something as ‘unique’, the typology can be so varied. For a tower you’re looking for the shape and available geometry you can work with, and then how to make that unique. On top of that, there are so many different readings of a tower; from the distant reading in the skyline, as you approach and then enter the building, as well as the amenity of the tower. This particular project has a rooftop destination bar, which we needed to consider, being the culmination of the greater experience. What I looked for there was this kind of playfulness in standard leisure typology being revealed to the public. This is a good example of honing down on what is unique, finding that narrative and then curating that narrative throughout every aspect of the project.
Those phrases ‘design language’ and ‘design narrative’ really do get misused, and we really try to redefine them when training our teams. My methodology for example, is very much about using the design narrative as a tool to unlock the bespoke and unique solutions within projects. That’s the key. It starts from the larger more urban narrative, and works its way down to the finer rational materiality. In doing that, you’re always forced to assess your design processes and the validity of them for projects. For me, you’ve got to be critical within that phase of review – within the narrative and within the language. Being a harsh critic of your own work is very important.
What we’re trying to bring is that rigour to every aspect of our work, yet the hand can be quite different. In fact, we’ve got some of the best young talent in the business. I’m constantly astounded by what they are able to accomplish. So it’s more about harnessing that talent to be able to harness the available narratives and in many respects, curating that as a harmonius package.”