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Melbourne gets a Kawaii neon food hall

HWKR by Craig Tan Architects is a new Asian-style hawker market with a dynamic twist.

  • The venue houses a full gamut of seating options for the various tenancies.

  • HWKR Signage


February 20th, 2018

Last June, Melbourne’s much-anticipated Eq. Tower by Elenberg Fraser – comprising 65 futuristic, sky-scraping storeys of reflective glass – was completed. Since then, the project’s patrons have been looking for tenants to activate the ground-floor levels with a retail concept capable of standing up to Eq.’s trafficked location and animated façade.

HWKR Signage

HWKR Signage

HWKR, a new Asian market-style offering, has won out as the permanent occupant of the tower’s lower levels. Except, there’s not much that’s permanent about HWKR at all. Backed by developer ICD Property and delivered in collaboration with BrandWorks, the food-driven offering is unique for its rotating tenancies.

The food-driven offering is unique for its rotating tenancies.

The idea is that celebrated chefs will be invited to fill the various kitchens for three-month slots, after which the spaces are re-invigorated with new Asian-inspired menus. Such a dynamic concept needed a dynamic design to match – not to mention a functionality that bridged commercial viability and flexible branding.

Craig Tan Architects was put in charge of creating the solution, with a brief to create a 200-seat venue that drew on specific elements of hawker markets while reinterpreting them for a modern clientele. This aesthetic sensibility needed to be rolled out across four revolving tenant kiosks that were backed with high technological capability. Obviously, the revolving element meant that the branding couldn’t align too closely with any one particular brand or style. The challenge then became to create a design identity for HWKR itself.

The final concept is split into groups of three: three distinct ‘pavilions’ and ‘squares’, spread over several levels, that house different styles of dining and seating.

Manymore is HWKR's only permanent tenancy.

Manymore is HWKR’s only permanent tenancy.

The first of these hawker-style squares, on street level, is home to HWKR’s only permanent tenant, Manymore. A charitable outpost that is café by day, bar by night, the service bar itself was necessarily the key design element.

Craig Tan Architects conceived of “a starkly sculptural, brick-clad bar.”

For this, Craig Tan Architects conceived of “a starkly sculptural, brick-clad bar” as a gritty foil to the timber used elsewhere throughout the project, such as in the bleacher seats that line the space. The bar is further softened by a series of “ethereal” floating Japanese lanterns along the roof.

Bleacher-style seating adds a fun element to HWKR.

Bleacher-style seating adds a fun element.

The second square houses the primary drawcard of HWKR: its four revolving food kiosks. To accommodate these, the architect created a split level that allows physical and aesthetic breathing space within the narrow-yet-crowded venue. The kiosks themselves are unbranded in a manner that still aligns with the vibrancy of HWKR, “each one featuring shimmering dimpled gold textures that are overlaid [with] grey mesh tenancy skins”. Even the exposed ducting and services along the ceiling are camouflaged according to theme, woven into a “sky” that is painted in the HWKR brand colours and up-lit with neon for graphic effect.

The third area is located behind one of these neon features, emoji-shaped to complement the HWKR logo. This final space is for amenity rather than aesthetic. It is where the preparation areas, cool rooms and storage facilities are tucked out of sight of diners.

The first round of HWKR tenants have been announced as Masterchef 2017 winner Diana Chan with her Malaysian/Singaporean fusion concept, CHANTEEN; fellow Masterchef veteran, Reynold Poernomo, with his Sydney-based KOI and Monkey’s Corner eateries; Khao, the new venture from Melbourne’s Rice Paper Scissors; and Hong Kong sandwich shop, Bread & Beast.

The venue houses a full gamut of seating options for the various tenancies.

The venue houses a full gamut of seating options for the various tenancies.

Despite the (relative) diversity of these offerings, Craig Tan Architects has created a temporary shell that pays homage to the pop-ups respective pan-Asian roots; a balance of traditional and modern market features overlaid with a graphic kawaii sensibility that fits perfectly into its Melbourne context. No doubt, the next tenants will find their three-month home just as accommodating.

Take a look at another project by Craig Tan Architects, Hawker Hall in Prahran.

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