Interview: Chris Wilkinson, Architect / Founder WilkinsonEyre
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Interview: Chris Wilkinson, Architect / Founder WilkinsonEyre

Meet the man behind Crown’s One Barangaroo.

By Terry Christodoulou
Wed, Apr 14, 2021Grey Clock 6 min

Crown’s One Barangaroo has forever changed the drab Sydney skyline. Acclaimed international architect Chris Wilkinson – of WilkinsonEyre and the man responsible for the project – opens up about the impressive legacy project he labels an ‘inhabited sculpture’.

Kanebridge News: A very broad question, granted, but in your opinion, what are the fundamentals of good architecture?

Chris Wilkinson: I would say that there are several important factors. A building in context is very important. I really don’t like the idea of having a design for a building and then finding a site for it. You start with the site and then you work from there. Linked to that is the whole ‘placemaking’ situation where you’re trying to create interesting places to visit, and the architecture is part of that. I’m also interested in both art and science; technology and innovation are very important. I like the idea of using the latest technology in architecture, and looking at ways to make something interesting out of it.

KB: It’s impossible to match the pace of new technology, though…

CW: Technology is, of course, moving at a pace, yes. But I do think, on the whole, it’s for the better, rather than anything else, because we can do things that we couldn’t have dreamt of before. Building Barangaroo now would have been very difficult 10 years ago because of the way they manufacture systems, construction methods… they have all evolved.

KB: Before we enter into a detailed discussion about that specific build, what do you make of Sydney’s cityscape in general?

CW: Like all cities, there’s good and bad. There’s some brilliant buildings in Sydney, but I suppose, when you look at the centre, the skyline, you’re seeing a lot of buildings from the 1960s. I’m not saying they’re bad, but they’re of their time. I do think there are some fantastic modern buildings, like Finger Wharf in Woolloomooloo, where things evolve—they’ve been updated and sensitively done. What’s interesting is that Sydney has got great aspirations. That’s what’s exciting for us, because I think there are aspirations to create some beautiful buildings, and some beautiful places to visit. So Sydney, it’s already great, but it’s going to evolve more. It’s a world destination, but it could get better.

KB: There’s one Sydney building that’s caused some recent consternation—the Sirius building in The Rocks. Due to a focused and loud public outcry, original plans to level this brutalist structure have recently been rescinded, and future proposals now involve preservation and refurbishment. What are your thoughts on the original design? Would you want to demolish such a building?

CW: I think it’s a building you must keep—it’s of its time and we need to keep that, we need to keep the story of how it was. It’s really like the Barbican in London—
it’s brutalist and all, but it’s also very strong and has a big impact.

KB: One Barangaroo sits not too far from the Sirius building, and is another project set to make its mark on the city. This is an ambitious build. Was it always part of the plan to go big or go home, so to speak?

CW: Well, the brief was extremely detailed. We knew exactly how much accommodation and how many rooms—which is good, because if you’ve got all the facts you can start working on it. And then there was a mid-term interview, which was a really helpful way of doing things. At that stage, you’re throwing ideas around—and in this instance we had a very positive conversation. And then when we went into the final stage, the last six weeks, we were able to develop our ideas, meaning we began the build with some confidence.

KB: Can you talk us through the design inspiration for the tower.

CW: I always had a feeling that the site needed a sculptural building. And I went into the final presentation saying that we wanted to design an inhabited sculpture, which is quite a strong thing to suggest. There were these sketches that came from a competition that I entered with my wife and son, and among them was an idea for three petals twisting as they rise up… I was looking for something completely new and it just looked exciting to me.

KB: There’s a notion of architecture being the bridge between art and science. How much does art influence your approach to architectural design?

CW: I’m a bit mixed. I sit on the art side, but then, as I said earlier, I’m also very interested in technology and the engineering aspects of buildings.

I started painting when my wife went to art school as a mature student. I began drawing and then moved more into abstract painting. But it’s very difficult. It took me a long time to get anywhere, so I carried on drawing in my normal ways in architecture. When I draw I’m the architect, and when I’m painting I’m more of an artist. But my approach to architecture has been opened up by the work I was doing as an artist. It gave me a certain liberty and confidence, and now I feel like I’m more prepared to take risks and push things as far as we can. Whereas in studying architecture, there’s an obligation for the buildings to ‘perform’. Of course, they always have to perform, but it’s a matter of how you approach it.

KB: Back to the design of One Barangaroo. Ever since you won the competition in 2013 and plans for the site were made public, there have been loud criticisms regarding the proposed height. Do you think those attitudes have changed now that people can see the building at its tallest and because, well, we’re seven years on?

CW: The politics of height is the same in almost every city actually, where there’s a reluctance to allow tall buildings. But the reality is, when it’s a cosmopolitan city, which is expanding in many places, you’re only going to end with a bit of a sprawl, or you densify the centre and go up. Of course, there are implications for densifying the centre, but I think Sydney is spread out enough. The idea of going off and densifying the suburbs doesn’t seem right to me because you tend to lose the power of the city. And in the Sydney CBD, there were a lot of buildings of a certain period… there was an opportunity to replace them, which is exactly what’s happening now with taller buildings.

KB: Ultimately, One Barangaroo is set to define the Sydney skyline. It’s likely to become a symbol, one that enters the culture of the destination. Do you think that the idea of buildings as ‘cultural capital’ has altered the way architects think about designing structures such as this?

CW: I’d say yes, but for the better. Because when you go to a city, your reactions are related to the architecture and the spaces around it. So why wouldn’t you want it to be good architecture and interesting—it’s a logical thing.

KB: The One Barangaroo tower is also an intrinsic part of Sydney’s urban regeneration, isn’t it?

CW: Absolutely. Often these post-industrial areas suddenly become popular and fashionable places—but to transform them you have to get it right. We’ve been working in Kings Cross and on Battersea Power Station in London, both urban regeneration projects, and there is a kind of pre-requisite to make them interesting and attractive without them being superficial. Kings Cross was a no-go area 15 to 20 years ago. Now it’s one of the most popular places in London. That’s all about the mix of uses and the quality of the public spaces as well as the architecture.

KB: Is an eco-conscious approach now key to design and what’s delivered?

CW: It is a chance to innovate, it really is. And it’s a most important subject on our agenda. We’ve done some projects which are really fundamental to it. [Singapore’s] Gardens by the Bay, for instance, is all about climate and the effects of climate change. What we’ve done there is build two artificial environments. We created a Mediterranean climate, which is an endangered climate, and a ‘cool moist’ climate, which is a mountain climate. Very few places in the world get both, and we’ve recreated those under a glass dome. Most of the energy is created on site, so it’s not like we’re stripping the grid to make this. We proved that you can do it. In the worst situations, we may need to have an artificial environment one day. Architecturally, we’re conscious of the want and pursuit of sustainability, and believe that we’ve been at the forefront of that. I believe that the only way we are going to fix the problems of the future is through technology. You could build a house with straw bales, and it would be sufficient, but you can’t build a central office building with the material—the only way you can build an office is through technology. And this is where we’re going to progress, through all the new ideas that go into how we can create sustainable buildings. It really is the most important thing. And everyone needs to look at it.

KB: And what do you hope its legacy will be 25 years from now?

CW: I haven’t really thought about that—but I hope that it will be of its time. Good for its time. Maybe even slightly ahead of its time. Obviously, in 25 years’ time, it’ll be of this period, and I hope that it will still be appreciated as a good example of this generation.

Crown Sydney One Barangaroo is now open, with a 349-room hotel, 14 restaurants and bars, and selected retail outlets. Crown Residences, located on the upper levels, are set to become habitable during the first half of 2021. onebarangaroo.com.au

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Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.

By SHIVANI VORA
Mon, Aug 15, 2022 6 min

When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.

“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”

Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.

According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.

In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.

“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”

Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”

Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”

A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought  one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.

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An Aston Martin came with the sale for some buyers at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Aston Martin Residences

The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.

“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer.  “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”

The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.

Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.

But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm  duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.

It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.

“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”

On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”

Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.


The Grand Salon at at Baccarat Residences Brickell in Miami.
Baccarat Residences

Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.

There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.

When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”

Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.

The family moved in a few months later.