Six months after opening, the fifty-acre Elements of Byron resort in Byron Bay is wowing visitors with its “leisure by design” approach to place-making.
Occupying arguably Byron’s most enviable land parcel with almost two kilometres of absolute beach frontage, thirteen acres of critically endangered littoral rainforest, tea tree creek, lake and ponds, it’s not difficult to understand how the site became subject to two previous very public battles for development.
Owner Peggy Flannery did not rush to capitalise on her investment after purchasing the property from Becton in 2010 following their global financial crisis hit. Instead she supported a six-year process of planning, design and development, a very organic process with a core objective of delivering a “landscape first” outcome which considered the site, its history and a community heavily invested in the land.
“You can’t separate this land from the local community,” outlined Development Director Jeremy Holmes. “Most long term locals have personal stories which connect them to this site in some way”.
In 2012 a 1987 development approval over the site for 193 beach shack style cabins was dusted off, tested with Byron Council and embraced over Becton’s recent hard won larger scale approval for modern two storey holiday homes.
This was the first surprise.
Many others followed, perhaps the most surprising being the reinstatement of a train service along the three kilometres of track linking the resort, the Sunrise Beach community and the Byron Arts Estate with the Byron town centre. Through a not-for-profit accredited heritage rail enterprise Flannery is investing $1.1 million in the service, which is intended for use by the general public as well as resort guests.
“We identified early on that we could not contribute to Byron’s traffic problems,” Jeremy Holmes said. “So for the past four years we have been working on the train reinstatement. We will take our first public passengers in December and in the medium term will convert the 106 seat two carriage train to solar hybrid operation.”
Whilst Flannery cites Mother Nature as Creative Director, the design team also had at its helm renowned architect Shane Thompson, Rowena Cornwell from Coop Creative and Andrew Green from RPS Landscape.
Despite the sizeable land parcel, significant restraints in addition to working within existing approvals influenced the design outcome.
“Being within a flood plain the buildings have to be elevated,” said Shane Thompson. “The site is also an area of high fire risk and is traversed by native fauna – it’s the habitat of a lot of native species such as the black cockatoo.” A strong totem for the resort, the black cockatoo is celebrated through five blown glass works in the lobby by acclaimed Byron artist Noel Hart. Hart’s works feature throughout the resort, as do sculptures and paintings by Suvira McDonald and other local artists.
The signature curved organic form roof design for the central facilities group of buildings reflects the sand dunes bounding the resort to the north east. The tension steel frame held together by graphite purlins spans up to 38 metres and represents 5500m2 of post tension technology roofing.
“1800 individual panels each had to be measured exactly,” said Simon Johansen from ZC Technical, “as no two panels were the same”. Manufactured in ZC Technical’s Brisbane workshop, the panels were installed over twelve weeks. The roof is very low at the edges and the buildings are arranged so the landscape dovetails into the building form. “So you are not aware that the buildings are as big as they are,” explains Thompson.
“We also wanted to include an awareness of the sky as part of the experience, particularly within the infinity lagoon pool precinct where people go to worship the elements. People tend to think of landscape as things that touch the ground, but it includes the sky.” The liquid architecture throughout the lagoon pool precinct was contributed by Beau Corp and complemented by bespoke furnishings including Dedon cantilevered day beds overhanging the water in the adults only play area.
The balance of 99 villas are currently being constructed as Stage 2, with an expected completion in September 2017. An Eco Education Centre constructed from repurposed buildings from previous development on the site is scheduled for opening at the same time. With gardens, solar power and its own rainwater harvesting the Centre is intended for use by resort guests as well as local schools, environment groups and universities.
“With four unique ecologies present on this site – rainforest, dunal, eucalypt and wetland – we are an ecological hot spot,” Holmes said. “So quite separate to restoring habitat we have a further obligation to use this land for environmental education.”
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