Set within 17.5 hectares of lush rainforest and wetlands only five minutes drive south of the Byron Bay township, the Byron at Byron resort is designed as a haven for the visitors calm enjoyment and revitalisation, removed from the demands of modern life. The complex includes a central facility building with associated pools and decks, 92 one-bedroom suites, and kilometres of linking timber boardwalks that meander through the rainforest to a viewing platform overlooking Tallow Creek.
In addressing the brief for the resort, the architects aimed to fashion a stunning retreat where residents could revive their senses and feel at one with nature in facilities that respected and preserved the ecologically fragile surroundings. The main building is the heart of the resort. From the first, the architects felt that the ideal solution for this element would be a large open pavilion built off an extensive timber platform. The textures and feel of the wood in the platform would underpin the intended ambience of calm and relaxation while the notion of an open platform and structure would ensure that the scheme could touch the ground lightly, reducing potential construction impact on the site. This option also created the opportunity to blur the concepts of inside and outside, and conventional delineations between functions.
In developing these ideas further, the architects felt that the essence of any incorporated verandah would be its transitional nature − a space between inside and out whose partial enclosure offers sanctuary from the sun, wind and rain, yet provides ready escape to nature and the exposure of being truly outside.
The completed buildings hold true to the essence of these initial concepts. With generous verandahs running almost its entire length, the building on its platform floats above the land. Tall bi-folding timber doors along significant sections of the façade allow the inside space to connect directly across the verandahs to the adjacent rainforest canopy. The major material characteristic that changes between the two is the texture of the floor. Polished boards inside give way to ribbed profile decking in the verandahs and boardwalks. With so much opportunity to peel back or re-establish sections of the enclosing walls, the building can also be tuned easily to the climate: opening and closing depending on the season, time of day and prevailing breezes.
While the resort was built to exploit the naturalness that surrounds it, the detail of the building, pool and associated landscaping gently but deliberately distinguishes itself from that naturalness. The extensive use of wood and river rock in the interior spaces reflects the buildings context but the arrangement of these materials is generally rectilinear and definitely man-made. All introduced planting close to the building is trimmed and manicured.
The main reception building, by necessity arranged along a north-south axis, houses the reception, restaurants and veranda dining areas, the bar, a conference centre, gymnasium and spa areas, and associated staff facilities. The approach to the building is from the west, establishing an axis roughly cental to the façade that runs through the porte-cochere, into and past the reception areas and verandahs and through into the rainforest. A three metre wide western verandah shields the building from afternoon sun while a generous six metre wide eastern verandah extends its eaves towards the forest.
The major structure consists of a series of steel portal frames projecting through a dominantly timber clad floor plane. The portals form a series of mono pitched skillion roofs that slope away towards the west. The higher eastern side of the pitch opens up to welcome the morning light and provide a clear view to the rainforest.
The floor plane is a dominant element in the composition, with mostly red ironbark tongue and groove flooring inside and spotted gum decking outside. Inverted bowstring trusses are used to support the roof above the two major open spaces, the reception and restaurant areas. Projecting below the stained plywood ceiling, the curved 185 x 85 mm bottom chords of these trusses are pairs of glue laminated pine members. Steel truss webs are fixed between them. The ceiling is clear grade pine plywood. Like the timber chord of the trusses, this has been stained to the desired colour.
Acoustic panels are incorporated in the ceiling with soffits both inside and out. The internal panels contain and reduce any noise from the major spaces when the building is closed up. The outside panels serve a similar function when the building is opened up.
Banks of bi-fold doors, fabricated from New Guinea rosewood make up much of the façade and provide the desired versatility in spatial arrangement and climate control. Timber louvres in fixed wall panels provide further ventilation options in the more private rooms of the spas.
To establish an ordered viewing sequence from the first verandah to the grassy surrounds and then into the forest, the pool deck is set below the major floor level. A ramp running from directly behind the reception area provides a direct connection between the levels.
The spa areas to the south end of the main pavilion have external timber framed privacy screens. Finished with translucent acrylic and horizontal timber battens, these provide a delicate light quality inside the spa and massage rooms. While detailed to add to the composition of the dining areas, the shutters to the bar were originally developed to provide security. In use, they have become a feature of the space and the owners never take them down.
The central building appears to be operating well, especially climatically. The majority of the building is not air conditioned and only the restaurants and verandahs have ceiling fans. However, when the glass louvres near the ceiling on the high side of the mono pitched roof are open, hot internal air escapes and a cooling breeze is drawn through the buildings. In winter, the verandahs are heated but the mild climate and the colours and textures of the timber in the internal spaces keeps them feeling comfortable. The result is a building that has a warm and welcoming ambience but remains cool in operation, even on the hottest days.
The accommodation units are arranged into two double storey strings of buildings away from the central pavilion. Each single bedroom apartment features a kitchen, separate lounge, dining area and two enclosed balconies. The architects took considerable care in fashioning the apartments to provide visitors with the maximum flexibility from a restricted space. The full six metre width is made available. The generally private bathroom and bedroom walls are semi-transparent and glazed sliding doors open them up to the space. The dining area and kitchen are designed as pieces of furniture opening to reveal appliances.
The apartments have bamboo flooring throughout. The doors and screens to the bathroom and bedrooms are fashioned from single large wood panels, with cut-outs for the sections to be glazed. They are finished with a decorative veneer and trimmed.
Written by Greg Nolan
Public Spaces Floor
Red Ironbark, Eucalyptus sideroxylon
Spotted Gum, Corymbia maculata
Doors and Louvre Screens
New Guinea Rosewood, Pterocarpus indicus