Little Albion Hotel

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Location: Surry Hills

Brick Layer:Top Knot Brick Laying

Architect:Terence Yong Architecture and Shed

Photographer: Courtesy of Terence Yong

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A glazed white brick-clad extension references the rich history of Surry Hills, marks the entrance to Little Albion Guest House and rejuvenates the rear laneway.

Little Albion Guest House is a 35-room boutique hotel built on a dense infill site in Surry Hills, Sydney. Designed by Terence Yong Architecture, with interiors by Archemy and Space Control, the hotel revitalises a heritage-listed building on Albion Street and rejuvenates the disused Little Albion Street behind it. Terence took a back-to-front approach to the layout and transformed the neglected, light-deprived laneway – rather than the historical building – into the entrance.

From the back, Little Albion Guest House is a three-storey Victorian Gothic-style building with red brick and pointed-arch windows. The heritage building was a former school convent, built in 1903 and part of a Victorian church complex that included a church and a presbytery (now commercial office buildings) and a school hall (now mixed-use apartment block). From the front, Little Albion Guest House is a white brick building wedged between the church and apartment block with a narrow courtyard that welcomes people in.

The client, Paul Fischmann, CEO of 8Hotels, wanted to create a one-of-a-kind accommodation experience that would appeal to modern travellers; those who seek out local experiences, authenticity and to stay in a place that feels like home. Paul brought together a unique mix of design studios to achieve his vision, including Terence Yong Architecture and Shed for the architecture; Archemy and Space Control for the interiors; and Nicholas Samartis for art curation.

“When we saw the heritage building and its rich context, we recognised an opportunity to create an experiential hotel that engages guests with the significant elements and stories of the former convent, its neighbours and Surry Hills as a whole,” says lead design architect Terence Yong. “We created a neighbourhood-centric architecture. It’s humble and socially-connected; a microcosm and storybook of the local area.”

The design demolished an insignificant old extension between the convent and church, and introduced a white brick-clad addition. The new extension fuses with the heritage building with a steel-and-glass lift tower that provides access to the guest rooms and rooftop terrace offering views across Surry Hills and beyond. As the extension stretches through the confined space it culminates with an acute angle at Little Albion Street that references the gable of the church and provides a modest, low-impact insertion.

The design takes cues from the neighbourhood and its heritage context. Surrounded by steel palisade fencing and a courtyard, the extension with steel-flat Juliet balconies is a contemporary interpretation of traditional Victorian terraces. The glass-enclosed steel lift tower is inspired by Surry Hills’ industrial past, and a copper-box projection on the extension evokes the eclecticism of the neighbourhood.

The use of bricks is also a nod to Surry Hills’ historical architecture. However, wanting to create a clear distinction between new and old, Terence selected Indulgent White glazed bricks from Austral Bricks’ Burlesque range. “As bricks were once the main building block of Surry Hills because of its proximity to the former Brickfield Hill brick pit, the white bricks reference the rich local history whilst blending in and seemingly dematerialising into the neighbouring buildings by reflecting the surrounding lights and colours,” says Terence.

Clad in high-gloss white bricks, the building serves as a landmark for guests and provides a fresh aesthetic to brighten up the rear laneway. Outside, the bricks subtly reflect the neighbouring church and bounce light into the light-deprived infill site. Inside, they provide a clean backdrop for the richly coloured and textured interiors.The historical narrative and eclecticism of Surry Hills continues. The “old-meets-new” interiors are inspired by the 1920s and 1970s, with references to art deco, mid-century and Victorian-era design. Architectural details of the former convent have been restored and reinstated, and Ann Cape’s portraits of Surry Hills ‘notables’ hang in the grand stairwell to serve as a kind of ‘living museum.’ A 1970s-style sunken lounge is submerged at the end of the extension and is surrounded by glass for views of the courtyard and lane, and dark timber and deep colours provide warmth. “It’s a nostalgic and intimate experience that creates a strong sense of connection and affinity with the Little Albion Guest House brand,” says Terence.

The new and old buildings are naturally lit, ventilated and insulated. “The use of cavity brickwork and lightweight construction systems, including locally sourced energy-efficient fixtures, fittings and equipment, are a sustainable and buildable option when construction logistics in a tiny infill site are concerned,” says Terence.

Little Albion Guest House is a microcosm of Surry Hills – its architecture, history and eclectic character. Intimate and nostalgic, yet undoubtedly modern, the hotel provides travellers with the authenticity, local experience and one-of-a-kind stay they’re searching for.

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