Arts, Culture & Design
High Design in Melbourne
By Baze Mpinja
Entrance Lobby

Located in Australia’s vibrant arts and culture capital, The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne showcases the city’s rich history, melting pot of creativity and unique contrasts. Find out how the design team captured the essence of this dynamic destination in every inch of the brand-new hotel.

Designing a hotel that embodies the spirit of a city is always a challenging feat, even more so when the locale in question is as multifaceted as Melbourne. It’s home to the glamorous Australian Grand Prix, beautiful 19th-century architecture, bustling urban areas packed with street art and proud displays of the city’s indigenous heritage. There’s a lot to consider. But a passionate, locally based creative team led by Shane Williams, Principal Architect at Cottee Parker, Rowena Hockin, Curatorial Director of BAR Studio and Mark Chapman, founder of fine art services company Chapman & Bailey, rose to the occasion.

The result is The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne, a gleaming new hotel that occupies the top 17 floors of an 80-floor high-rise situated in the Central Business District. Hockin calls the project, which got underway in 2015, a “slow burn.” Throughout the entire process–mapping out the structure, creating the interior design narrative and curating an impressive art collection–the team had a clear mission. “We wanted to create something that reflected our understanding of Melbourne, which is a city filled with contrast,” says Hockin. Their commitment to showcasing Melbourne’s unique identity shows in every detail of the 257-room property. “I would describe the hotel as raw yet refined, elegant and edgy and international with a local specificity,” says Hockin. In this story, the team reflects on the standout art and design elements that tell the story of Melbourne to every guest that walks through the door.

Lobby Staircase
Skyline view.


The hotel, which has the honor of being the tallest in Australia, sits at the top of a silvery glass tower within a $2 billion mixed-use precinct. Inspired by the soaring Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong, Williams and his team decided to “push the Melbourne tower as high as we could. Due to aviation laws, we couldn't go above 80, so that became the top level,” says Williams. Bucking tradition, the architects chose to place the check-in area, known as the Sky Lobby, on the 80th floor, instead of the first. “To go down to your hotel room is no different than going up, and the view's not going to change that much either. At 80 stories, in its western location, the top floor offers amazing panoramic views. We thought it would be a great experience for anybody coming to the hotel,” Williams notes.

Down below, the property is energized by Melbourne’s distinct laneways. These narrow pedestrian alleys are a big part of the culture in Melbourne. “They add a lot of vibrancy to the city. The way the building is planned at ground level is an extension of that whole street culture–it was really important for us to encourage it,” Williams says. Another aspect of Melbourne’s DNA that he incorporated into the hotel is bluestone, which is used on all the city’s pavements and curbs. It’s also associated with the National Gallery of Victoria, the oldest gallery in the nation. “It’s an elegant bluestone structure that imbues the beautiful qualities of the stone in its stack paneled façade. We sought to emulate this in a contemporary fashion by integrating panels of glass and metal amongst the stone that would further enliven the façade of the hotel, particularly with the setting western sun. The NGV was a great reference for us,” Williams says.  

Panoramic King


Before being whisked up to the Sky Lobby via express elevator, guests will get a taste of the indigenous influences that are embedded into the design of the hotel. The door to the ground floor gallery features bronze handles that are a casting of a welcome necklace crafted by Maree Clark, a First Nations artist. The handles pay tribute to the Wurundjeri people, the traditional owners of the land. Along with touches inspired by Melbourne’s cultural roots, the property also gives a nod to the city’s European heritage and Victorian-era gold rush. “A lot of the classical architecture and the grand buildings here were built with gold rush money. There’s a subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle reference to that story woven into the project, like gold elements and finishes. To me, that’s the connective tissue throughout the entire hotel,” says Hockin. The Lift Lobby on the first level is a prime example. The space is awash with golden lighting and boasts a large, striking wall adorned with gold leaf cutouts. 

Another gilded feature inside The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne is a stunning, Instagram-friendly staircase that leads to the Grand Ballroom. Reaching a height of over 26 feet, the brass staircase is only secured at the base and the top for a dramatic–and highly photogenic–effect.  An equally show stopping metallic moment can be found by the infinity edge pool on the 65th floor. It’s surrounded by an eye-catching, ladder-like structure that makes an observer feel as though they’re peering through an abstract set of folded windows. 

Like Melbourne, the color palette of the hotel is subtle yet confident. Dark wood, soft, white marble and natural stone create a soothing atmosphere. The relaxing vibe allows guests to unwind peacefully after a day of sightseeing or before dining on seasonal dishes at Atria, the property’s inspiring restaurant or Cameo, its sophisticated cocktail bar. “The guest rooms feel like an urban haven. You’re still connected to the city, but you've got your lovely cocoon around you,” says Hockin. 

Living and Dining Room with bay views


It’s no surprise that the paintings, objects and sculptures inside The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne were carefully considered. The city is known for its visual arts scene, and it was important to Chapman and the whole team that the pieces in the public areas and private spaces reflect the creativity of Melbourne. The hotel houses over 1,000 pieces of artwork from 12 different artists. Except for a painting by renowned modernist Roger Kemp, everything is an original commission. The goal was to curate a collection that would help guests connect to the city on a deeper level. 

“Often when you stay in international hotels, the artwork is generic. But if the pieces inside the property have a relationship to the place that you're visiting, it gives you an introduction to the energy of the city, the people and the culture. It creates a unique experience and that's what you’re looking for when you travel,” says Chapman. 

To source the artwork, he sought the input of local artists and made sure to include several pieces that represented the First Nation community. A selection of these items are displayed on the ground floor, such as Clark’s bronze door handles, vivid paintings and sculptures by Aboriginal graffiti artist Reko Rennie and a beautiful set of tall, black and white painted ceremonial poles by Djirrirra Wununmurra. Their placement on level one is deliberate. “The ride up to the 80th floor represents the journey from the earth up into the heavens. We wanted those burial poles to evoke that feeling,” says Chapman. 

The rest of the collection is as eclectic as Melbourne–it’s full of memorable and unexpected pieces. Guests can take in an intriguing wall sculpture by contemporary artist Hannah Quinlivan, iconic black and white prints by photographer Fabrice Bigot, or an 1880s-inspired large-scale drawing by Robert Scholten, an illustrator and muralist. “Throughout the hotel, we’ve created a collection that really engages with the culture of Melbourne. Whether they stop to ponder it or they just catch a glimpse through the corner of their eye, each piece has something to offer everyone moving through the hotel,” says Chapman. Just like Melbourne.

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