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Not your ordinary university bar

UNSW is upping the ante on university hospitality venues, employing design to attract and retain talent. The Lounge, designed by Bates Smart, is UNSW’s new hybrid space for academics

Not your ordinary university bar

Universities, like workplaces, have the need to attract and retain talent, and University of New South Wales (UNSW) is employing good design to do so. The Lounge is UNSW’s new hybrid space for academics to meet, work, dine and entertain, driven by the need to retain and build staff, cross faculty academic collaboration and the alumni community.

Located on level 11 of the Brutalist library tower, The Lounge blends work and play. Bates Smart transformed the former administration offices into a sophisticated restaurant, bar and terrace for exclusive use by UNSW staff, alumni and their guests.

It offers casual and formal all-day dining and provides an informal meeting and working environment as well as accommodating a variety of uses, including celebrations and after-work drinks. “In previous years, staff shared the same facilities as students. The Lounge provides a space for staff to unwind and focus on themselves. They are appreciating and embracing the space and investment in their wellbeing,” says UNSW head of hospitality, Gregg Currie.

The entry area provides an intimate café bar with banquettes, tables and bar seating. The main lounge and dining area has the option of semi-private dining spaces that can be screened off, and a boardroom that can be used for dining, meetings and events. The lounge and dining area flow out to the terrace where tables and cabanas take in expansive 180-degree views.

Bates Smart reworked the existing façade to bring more natural light inside and to focus attention on this view. “The view is truly sensational, stretching for miles out to the Pacific Ocean and all the way around from north to south,” says David Birtwistle, associate director of Bates Smart. “We wanted to capture the view and create an outdoor terrace, like an oasis, protected from the wind and sun.” The timber cabanas are like outdoor living rooms, accommodating individuals and small and large groups.

Natural and tactile materials are used to create a warm, inviting and refined space. “We wanted to harness the texture and features of what is a pretty brutalist building and overlay it with a softness and comfort that makes the space approachable,” Birtwistle describes. The black-forest granite bar is striking against the dark-green tile backdrop. Walls are painted a textured French wash finish that mimics the concrete finish of the architecture, and custom rugs with a geometric pattern bring softness and mimic the building’s ordered façade.

The integrated hospitality dining and meeting space raises the benchmark for education institutions in employing design to attract and retain staff and alumni. “Nighttime guest numbers are improving every day as people meet their friends and family here on campus and come to The Lounge. We offer something different, surprising and unique and are coming up to the eleventh floor as an escape,” says Currie.

Photography by Anson Smart.

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