The Ludlow Formation by Maddison Architects

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Configurable glass partitions allow patrons to enjoy Yarra views.

Configurable glass partitions allow patrons to enjoy Yarra views. Image: Rhiannon Slatter

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Contrasting materials were chosen for the interior.

Contrasting materials were chosen for the interior. Image: Rhiannon Slatter

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The more intimate cocktail lounge at the back has soft furnishings and warm colours.

The more intimate cocktail lounge at the back has soft furnishings and warm colours. Image: Rhiannon Slatter

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Stepping inside the Ludlow Formation by Maddison Architects, you’re in for an experience, where taste, touch, sight and sound create a lasting impression.

Creating a distinct visual identity can be a challenge when working within a riverside precinct such as Melbourne’s Southbank. Oftentimes, tenancy restrictions can preclude any direct external modifications to a venue, making it difficult to create cues for your audience as to what to expect inside. This is the case here; however, once inside the venue, there is little doubt that things are done a little bit differently at the Ludlow Formation. According to Drew Carling, design director at Maddison Architects, the challenge of the design brief was to create three distinct spaces – a bar, cocktail lounge and restaurant – within a single, large tenancy. With structural alterations limited, and a desire to maintain fluid movement between the spaces, Carling has drawn inspiration from theatre design to create a series of “sets” which sit within the raw shell of the building and offer a level of flexibility for tenant and clientele alike.

Contrasting materials were chosen for the interior. Image:  Rhiannon Slatter

The public bar is best described as a grotto, a cave-like shelter from the winter winds of the Yarra River. A lowered ceiling over the entrance invites patrons in from the cold, before opening up to the space that serves as the main bar. An eclectic arrangement of finishes at first seems uncoordinated, but soon harmonizes to tell a story. Herringbone parquetry from reclaimed French oak plays a major role, creeping across the floor and up the walls, and is repeated on the tables, at which leather stools are positioned. These are juxtaposed with harder finishes, such as exposed cement blocks, and marble and painted tiles from South America, which add warmth to a large space.

Make a short trip around the marble bar, and a very different space reveals itself in the cocktail lounge. Standing room is replaced by intimate seating clustered to create pockets for conversation over martinis. Soft furnishings create a sense of privacy without enclosing the space or compromising the visual link to the main bar. Creating those links was an important part of the project, says Carling. “It’s about achieving a continuity and rhythm of design expression throughout the project, which is quite a special thing to accomplish in design.”

Despite being sheltered from the elements, the Ludlow Formation exudes a strong sense of place. In the throes of a cold Melbourne winter, thanks to the innovative use of configurable glass partitions, patrons can continue to enjoy Yarra views. Vaults, overhangs and undercrofts typical of the local riverfront heritage are also referenced within the design.

The more intimate cocktail lounge at the back has soft furnishings and warm colours. Image:  Rhiannon Slatter

The final act in the Ludlow Formation is the restaurant. A sleek, contemporary space, it pulls elements from both the bar and cocktail lounge to consolidate the design. The oak parquetry is revived on the tabletops, and works equally well against the bronze mirrors and cloth-trim chairs. Like any good stage production, lighting is used to great effect. Ambience is created by soft tealights and the gas fireplace; this is heightened by the considered use of artificial light fittings as sculptural accents to the main event. Lights from Volker Haug’s Cable Jewellery range mesmerize in the cocktail lounge, twisting and turning like dancing girls performing the cancan above the bar, while the Henry Pilcher Block 2 chandelier above the dining table creates a talking point.

Like a night at the theatre, the final result at Ludlow Formation is a lot of fun. Carling and his team have developed a strong storyline in their design, which is brought to life by a cast of unusual yet effective materials and finishes. It responds to its audience through its adaptability, and leaves them begging for an encore.

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