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There’s nothing mediocre about Babylon Brisbane by Hogg & Lamb

Having previously designed Babylon Sydney, it was important for Hogg & Lamb that Babylon Brisbane becomes a sister restaurant while responding anew to Brisbane’s climate and clientele.  

There’s nothing mediocre about Babylon Brisbane by Hogg & Lamb

The site for this latest Babylon by Hogg & Lamb offered considerable challenges – a layout that couldn’t be changed, with no bar, and both the kitchen and bathrooms in the wrong place. “For a venue, we always love to get all of the thinking in the plan. We don’t rely on the finishes and the lighting to build the character of a place; we try to do that with the spatial qualities and then fill those things in with finer details,” says Greg Lamb, Hogg & Lamb Principal. 

Spatial gymnastics, however, are a hallmark of this talented practice which took the labyrinthian idea of a bazaar as a conceptual framework with a series of connected – yet distinct – open rooms and arrangements. Effectively, the circulation flow moves past and through these areas without disrupting patrons. This includes the private dining room, which would typically be more closed off from the main.

Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane

Instead, this area – while framed by an enfilade of smaller dining areas – is open to the rest of the restaurant: “The more hustle and bustle between those spaces, the more it seems like a bazaar, and a handy way to solve some problems with the planning,” says Lamb. 

Aesthetically Babylon shares a palette with the Sydney counterpart of terracotta, stone, brick, timber and leather in natural and tan tones. With the Brisbane layout, however, the materials are lent a lightness and countering shade that is quite striking. Patricia Urquiola Celosia breeze blocks, which were inspired by roman numerals, for example, are used extensively for the upper portion of dividing walls.

Here in the bright Brisbane light there is wonderful play of colour and differences of shade across the open walls. Moreover, with the configuration of many small rooms the rhythms and overlap of the material gives a misreading of depth and capacity. It works a treat: “There’s a level of opacity that’s ideal when you want people to be able to see in to be intrigued, but not to be able to work everything out,” says Lamb. 

Working with legacies of the site, the street-facing restaurant was set back with a large unused space (mostly used for Parkour and smoking). To create greater connection, the entire front section was terraced. Given sparse engineering information, Hogg & Lamb created a strategy of visually building on, rather than removing from, the site.

“We didn’t have any information on the structure, so all of the engineering is very conservative. Because we didn’t know how it was built, and a lot of the concrete might be pre-stressed, we basically had to adapt the design so that everything was built up on top. But for whatever we did build, we had to take weight away to avoid over-stressing the structure. In the end, it looks just like things arrived and plants went in, but there was an awful lot of work in trying to get that to look like a natural plant space,” says Lamb. 

Introducing the landscaping, plantings (which continue in the restaurant) and restaurant palette to this space gives the whole an anchored and natural connection, framing the restaurant and guiding the eye upwards. It also provides a simple buffer between the restaurant and public space that softens the view both ways (narrow-faced bronze railing details provide a discrete buffer and speak to the breeze blocks inside in both tone and degrees of opacity). Taking the side stairs to enter the restaurant, the paired walls (high and straight, low and zig-zagged) of pale rendered brick allow the restaurant to come and go from view as guests ascend. It is a clever entry as it gives patrons a glimpse without setting up a fishbowl situation.   

Related: 55 North by Luchetti Krelle

Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane

The immediate outdoor portion of the restaurant is heralded by an arch of white bricks cut off at just above apex. This is followed by a series of sculptural white brick pillars to the same height, which support timber beams in the external area and are connected to the ceiling by narrow supports in the interior. Effectively the pillars create small rooms of space without truncating space. Transitioning from outside to an intermediate space is gentle, with paving becoming smaller as one moves deeper inside. Leather is introduced too, with long double roll-back rests and banquettes of tan leather used for the internal periphery, while simpler versions form a repeat within. These are each paired with dark green marble topped tables and curved back timber chairs.  

Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane

Shifting floor material again, the inner sanctum is a pronounced departure. Here the floor is filled travertine with parquetry inlays of spotted gum. This is paired with an unfilled travertine reception desk featuring stepped layers of stone in reference to Italian architect, Carlo Scarpa. This same layering is used to give the dark green marble bar an interesting form and comfortable toe recess. Faced by a long window fronted room overlooking the river, the idea of the bazaar is realised as a street of activity with pockets of interest off to the side.  

“We tried to work out what the preconceptions are for Babylon – sometimes we lean right into a preconception and sometimes we challenge it. So, if you think of Babylon as a ruin, there are ruinous components to the design (such as the truncated arch); but then, with Babylon as a living place, the contrast is this velvety sumptuous lining on the inside. We push the two different personalities – there’s nothing mediocre,” says Lamb of the significant contrast between inside and out.  

Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane

Leather banquettes, marble tables, translucent bronze curtains with a slight lux of shimmer, the small dining room and larger private dining room are most definitely sumptuous. They are also comfortable, airy and at home in Brisbane. Moreover, with a vaulted ceiling the private dining room is afforded a surprising experience of height.

Mirrors positioned high above doorways, gold framed mirrors in the bathroom and extremely interesting graphics for all signage add an additional layer of detail and interest. From a patron perspective, there is the choice of outdoors – open and with views – or intimate with partial views and those great bricks; or the velvet rope occasion of the private dining room… It’s a hard choice!

Hogg & Lamb

Cieran Murphy 

Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane
Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane
Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane
Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane
Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane
Hogg & Lamb - Babylon Brisbane

We think you might also be interested to read about Hogg & Lamb’s work on Gemelli and Tano.

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