Crown Sydney, Australia

29th April 2021

The newly opened Crown Sydney is the latest landmark on the Australian city’s iconic harbour. Lighting design from both FPOV and NDYLIGHT help bring this landmark to life.

Opened at the end of 2020, the towering Crown Sydney resort is a marvel of modern design that brings bespoke luxury to the heart of the city’s harbour. 

Located in Barangaroo, Crown Sydney brings together a luxury hotel, apartments, restaurants, spa, retail and gaming under one roof in a new, world-class venue.

Designed by Wilkinson Eyre architects, Crown Sydney has been constructed not just to frame the views of Sydney Harbour’s icons, but to stand alongside them as a defining landmark of the city. The concept takes its inspiration from nature; composed of an elegant, curved geometry, the tower’s form is reminiscent of three petals that intertwine together towards the sky, and its sculptural shape maximises the opportunity for accommodation to make the most of the views of Sydney’s famous bridge and harbour.

Standing at 271.3-metres tall and spanning 72 storeys, it is the city’s tallest inhabited building, with only Sydney Tower, an observation tower, reaching higher at 305-metres. The curving geometry of the tower was derived using parametric 3D modelling and accommodates a 60º twist in the outer skin, with helical columns on the perimeter while maintaining a vertical core structure.

The curving façade is accentuated further by a series of tall, slender, curved elements pinned as an overlay to the glass and solid structure behind, known as ‘The Veil’. The original architectural concept for the resort included a lighting concept study, prepared by Speirs Major, that addressed intentions for the Veil façade at the lower levels of the development.

Having previously worked successfully with Speirs Major, lighting design studio NDYLIGHT was appointed by Crown Sydney to execute the design in 2015, a commission that not only included the Veil, but also guiding the whole authority lighting approvals process for the exterior lighting, which included aviation obstacle lighting and bringing together input from other consultants on external deck and signage elements to present authorities with consolidated approvals documents.

Steve Brown, Director of NDYLIGHT, explained further: “Not only did the Veil have to look great, but the lighting of it had to comply with AS4282 in terms of spill light, which was especially critical to both the residential developments across the road to the east, and to the nearby Sydney Observatory, with which significant discussions were held.”

With its slender, curving features, the Veil is almost whalebone-like in its colouration and structure, and its curvature made the modelling of the design, and the eventual illumination, an interesting challenge. Brown continued: “The conceptual design included a bit of a journey looking at whether we could affix luminaires to the Veil itself – which was quickly discounted – and studies whether some form of linear lighting solution at the base of the Veil would work; this was also discounted.

“After a serious amount of modelling, we decided that close offset individual luminaires with a significant amount of cross-lighting was the answer. As much as anything, this was driven by the available mounting locations: narrow canopies on the eastern and northern sides, and the glazed roof of the outdoor dining terrace on the harbour side.”

As the Veil is gently overhanging, it was possible for the lighting designers to employ uplighting from the canopies below, yet still terminate the beams of light in the structure by narrow lensing and tight focus, eliminating unwanted light spill.

Brown explained that it was never the intention that the Veil be evenly lit “as if it were a billboard”. But rather, it was felt that the lighting should support the organic semblance of its structure. “From concept through to execution, the goal was always to modulate the light to bring out the three-dimensional curvature of the Veil elements, and try to get some shadow play here and there,” he said. “In essence, the same as a lighting designer would try to do with a three-dimensional object on a theatre set.”

During the process of illuminating the Veil, NDYLIGHT worked with Illumination Physics, who approached the project at the time of tender with an alternative luminaire option that, Brown explained, “seemed to meet all the technical requirements needed for the successful execution”.

The luminaire option was its Circular Wash Series, fitted with asymmetric, Quattro lenses and glare shield accessories. However, as the designers sought to control unwanted light, Illumination Physics needed to design an elaborate anti-glare device. The design of the glare shield was complicated by the optics used, which produce a 60º beam in the long axis of the symmetric lens – honeycomb louvres cannot be used with wide-angle optics, and a standard snoot was also unsuitable as it too would interfere with the lighting effect.

Illumination Physics therefore designed a custom solution based on a full snoot with cut-outs to allow the 60º axis to function. Longitudinal louvres were also added in the same orientation, further reducing any view of the light source.

Brown continued: “The biggest issue was how to mount the luminaires above the canopies with a system that allowed the luminaires to achieve the requisite pan and tilt to ensure effective cross-lighting. A site mock-up was held, which confirmed both that the mounting would work, and the effect was ‘as expected’ – always an important milestone!”

The final installation of the Veil lighting was commissioned in December 2020, with the outcome looking “remarkably like the modelled version”. All the Veil lighting is dimmed, and runs at pre-curfew levels before 11pm, with a lower curfew level after 11pm to comply with light spill requirements.

Stepping inside the vast, curving tower, lighting designers at FPOV were tasked with designing the interior illumination. The studio has a long-standing relationship with Crown Resorts, dating back to its work on the City of Dreams project in Macau in 2005, and it has since worked on projects in Crown Melbourne, City of Dreams in Manila, and provided advice on projects in the UK and Sri Lanka.

In this instance, FPOV was asked to work with a team of various designers from around the world to make this flagship location “a benchmark project for the region”.

Mark Elliott, Global Creative Director at FPOV explained the interior lighting concept further: “Key to the client’s expectation was a feeling of drama, light and shade, all those tag words that we use in the description of what we deliver, but with a well-educated client, they really meant it and expected it to be delivered, and understood what was needed to deliver that.

“With a client like Crown Resorts, they are so knowledgeable about what the best in the hospitality industry are offering globally, why venues are successful and why some are not, that there is no hiding behind jargon or baffling with technology; you are pushed to deliver the best, anything less is unacceptable.”

Given that the project spanned five years from concept to completion, Elliott added that FPOV had to be careful in the initial design stage that what they were proposing would still be forward thinking when the project was complete and that “any of the innovations of iconic selections that were made would still be individual and not mainstream in the future”. As such, customised solutions for decorative equipment were fundamental, with a background of architectural lighting to support. Architectural lighting in this instance predominately came from IBL’s Lightkit, with additional fixtures from unonovesette and Intra Lighting complementing the statement decorative pieces throughout.

With the resort including a hotel, apartments and a spa, as well as a number of bars and restaurants, FPOV had the mammoth task of providing the lighting design for all client-facing spaces. However, while for some, such scope could be quite daunting, the FPOV team instead relished the additional challenges that a project of this size brings. “It was great because it meant that we were in control of the whole client journey from one space to the next, so we could create both harmony and contrast between spaces where appropriate,” Elliott said.

“The key challenge on a project of this scale is not necessarily the design, but the project management and the other 50% of what being a lighting consultant is about, a part of our job that is not only equally, but sometimes more important than the design: the consulting.

“The client takes many aspects of what we offer when selecting the right consultant, and sometimes the experience of ease of collaboration and coordination with a consultant can carry a heavy influence.”

The need for collaboration and coordination was intensified by the multiple design teams involved across the many aspects of the project. Elliott continued: “As with any large project, it’s a collection of smaller projects held together by the interconnecting transition areas, and there’s where the consistency comes in. The majority of our coordination was between Meyer Davis out of New York, which did the hotel and apartments, together with the MICE and some F&B spaces. Bates Smart worked through the gaming spaces and associated F&B venues, and then beyond that a series of specialist F&B design teams did the various venues across the tower.

“We were very lucky that we had worked with Bates Smart consistently on previous projects, and so there was a level of confidence in us that enabled us to make the suggestions we felt appropriate. They had specific ideas around what they wanted to achieve, especially in the decorative lighting arena, but we worked with them during mock-ups and samples.

“Meyer Davis were also a great team to work with, very calm and accepting of suggestions and input from other consultants. Their design is very personalised and far from a corporate approach to hospitality: layers of details, purposeful selection of materials for all applications, creating an accessible, luxury design aesthetic.

“They were both very collaborative and we all had to be that way on a project like this to ensure that we provided a fully integrated solution.”

Working with such a wide range of designers on the project could have created a series of headaches for FPOV as they sought to create a harmonious lighting scheme throughout the resort. But for the lighting designers, the challenge was working out when to create harmony, and when to do something different. Elliott continued: “With the plethora of interior designers on the project, and the variations in their styles, we needed to ensure that the lighting enhanced their aesthetic, while creating harmony throughout the project.

“We had to take prompts from the usage of the various spaces, together with the overall design aesthetic. An example of this would be in the Italian restaurant and the Nobu restaurant – the lighting techniques are generally the same, but there was a heavier focus on decorative lighting in the Italian restaurant to create a soft, warm ambiance, whereas in the Nobu restaurant, there was a much higher contrast, and it was more architectural.”

Integral to the building’s design is its twisting, curved form; while this is architecturally incredibly impressive from the outside, such a shape caused further complications for the interior design.

Elliott explained: “The building is effectively a twisting, irregular-shaped cone, so all the external walls tapered either in or out. Each of the hundreds of guest rooms were therefore not only a different size, but also a different shape, which meant that every room needed individual consideration. This is an epic task, given that in a typical hotel you would have a handful of room types, but here we had many.”

Alongside the many contrasting guest rooms, an integral architectural feature within the hotel is the vast, swirling podium spiral staircase, which forms a key focal point for the main entry. Although the staircase doesn’t extend into the lobby, visitors have a clear view through the void from the lobby space. Accentuating this iconic statement, FPOV used light to enhance both the form and volume of the staircase, while providing an additional layer of luxury that “only a hotel resort provides”.

“I’m particularly proud of the solutions we used for the focal staircase,” Elliott said. “Wilkinson Eyre created the space, form, volume and flow of the staircase through the 3-4 floors it transitioned as an architectural statement at the heart of the building, but a hotel resort demands some sparkle and luxury extravagance; so we designed what I would term as an “architectural chandelier”, fused into the structure of the balustrade so that the form wasn’t impacted, but the visual impact was definitely there when you needed it through the opportunity to create dynamic and colour changing solutions for special occasions.”

Following the hotel’s opening in December 2020, Elliott reflected on how this project, and in particular its sheer scale, compared to others that he has worked on in the past. “Years ago, during my time at Isometrix, I worked on the Hotel Puerta America in Madrid, which had a multi-faceted team of interior designers on a single project, but it didn’t quite have the scale of areas this project had.

“Subsequently, I have worked on a number of large hospitality projects, but this would be the first that brought the two challenges together on this scale.

“One thing that held this project apart from others, for me, was the quantity of custom-designed feature elements, driven by the need for individuality, that were always designed via a collaborative process between my team and the interior designers and clients – sometimes led by the interior design team, sometimes by our team, and sometimes by the client.”

The strong collaborative nature of the project is something that has stuck with Elliott since its completion and is one of the defining aspects of large-scale projects such as the Crown Sydney, maybe even more so than the design itself. “On a project of this scale, one that challenges you over a number of years, you can expect to form relationships with other consultants that will endure. And hopefully the design we delivered, and the process of our consultation and collaboration has formed these relationships to take forward to other challenges,” Elliott reflected.

“It’s an exercise in design, but also a journey to improve on your weaknesses and expand and take advantage of your strengths. At the end of a project like this, there is a feeling of relief, but also pride and gratitude that you have learnt something new in the process.”

While the strong sense of collaboration is one of the crowning achievements for Elliott, he and his team at FPOV have created a lighting design that beautifully complements the wider design of the Crown Sydney and its myriad areas. 

Looking back at the overall lighting design, Elliott concluded: “As with any project that is appropriately illuminated, lighting brings the project to life, enhances materiality and form, encourages clients to move through the spaces, to enjoy the venues in an environment conducive to a luxury experience and provides a multi-dimensioned, day-to-night, tailored and bespoke destination.

“You can tell very early on when a project is going to be one to remember, I have a few key projects that I think define my career, and this is now certainly in the fold.”

Pic: Brent Winstone