Hickory's George Abraham discusses heritage retrofits, hotel sector growth and the 2020 construction pipeline

Hickory's George Abraham discusses heritage retrofits, hotel sector growth and the 2020 construction pipeline
Hickory's George Abraham discusses heritage retrofits, hotel sector growth and the 2020 construction pipeline

Urban.com.au caught up with Hickory's Managing Director George Abraham following the completion of multiple new developments across Victoria. Abraham discussed successful heritage retrofits, hotel sector growth and what's in the construction pipeline for 2020.

Urban.com.au: Recently you’ve completed many notable buildings in Melbourne including Box Hill’s first high rise as well as the world’s 4th slimmest tower. How have you found the reception of these developments?

George Abraham: We are very proud of the work completed on these two landmark developments. The quality of workmanship and finishes is exceptionally high. The reception has been extremely positive for both of these buildings. The façade on Collins House is very well resolved, the interiors are of high quality and the reproduced mouldings in the main lobby, from the original Fitout, look fantastic. On Sky One, the curved, glass façade with LED and the stainless-steel capping add to the impact of the exterior. The 5,000m2 retail area will be completed in March 2020.

U: I understand that the decision to feature a concrete façade on the western side of Collins House was a relatively contentious one – what was the reasoning for this decision and what is your opinion about the decision?

GA: As the builder, we are not part of the decision-making process. We build what has been designed with the materials that have been specified by the architect. The original proposal was for a concrete toned, prefinished cement sheet rainscreen with an inlaid metal herringbone pattern. The removal of this cladding was in part to offset the costs of introducing windows into the façade as part of the planning process. Hickory’s approach was to use precast rather than in situ concrete for this wall and we still achieved a flush inlaid metal finish within the precast panels. Had the wall been in-situ concrete, a rainscreen would have been required, however, given the wall is high-quality precast, cladding over it in cement sheet would not have enhanced the façade.

Hickory's George Abraham discusses heritage retrofits, hotel sector growth and the 2020 construction pipeline
West-facing concrete facade of Collins House. Photo: Nicholas Failla.
Hickory's George Abraham discusses heritage retrofits, hotel sector growth and the 2020 construction pipeline
L-R: The original building at 466 Collins Street, the new development Collins House

U: How do you approach work on buildings with heritage significance, such as Collins House, and how do you maintain its historic integrity?

GA: We always want to treat historic buildings with respect as they are an important part of our cities and history. For Collins House, we engaged the services of a heritage consultant for the project and we worked with them to ensure that the integrity was maintained.

U: Many of your recent projects have been hotels, have you seen major growth in this sector? If so, why do you think that is?

GA: We’ve had a 60% growth in hotel projects in the last year. We have five hotel projects underway at various stages of completion, delivering a total of 1,308 keys. Increased hotel construction, specifically in Victoria reflects the state’s 8.2% rise in tourism numbers in the year ending September 2018. Visitor numbers to Victoria reached 82.3 million in 2018, including 28.4 million overnight visitors. It is, therefore, no surprise that Hickory has seen a surge in hotel projects in 2019.

Key projects include:

Hotel Chadstone

Hickory’s much anticipated Hotel Chadstone Melbourne, MGallery by Sofitel opened on 1st November. MGallery by Sofitel is a key element of Chadstone’s masterplan and strategy to become a destination for travellers seeking world-class shopping, dining, and entertainment facilities. The hotel’s 250 five-star rooms sit over 12 levels, designed by architects Bates Smart. The $130million project for Accor and Vicinity boasts a 5-Star Green Star rating – the first hotel in Australia to do so. The construction of Hotel Chadstone took only 14 months, and the completion date of the hotel was brought forward due, in part, to Hickory’s prefabricated building components such as core walls, prefabricated walls, and proprietary façade system.

Hyatt Centric

Hyatt Centric, located at 9-27 Downie Street Melbourne, commenced construction in June 2019 and consists of 278 keys over 25 levels. Designed by Architectus, Hyatt Centric Melbourne is the newest iteration of the Hyatt Centric Hotel Series with projects already launched in Hobart and Tokyo.

Holiday Inn Express, Southbank

Southbank’s newest hotel, the Holiday Inn Express is due for completion in November 2019. Retaining the original 1930s façade on City Road, the Holiday Inn Express is one of the few remaining buildings in the city to feature the distinctive art deco façade detailing. The hotel designed by Reid Campbell consists of 345 rooms over 23 levels. The project aims to achieve a 5-star NABERS performance rating. Levels 8-22 were constructed using Hickory Building Systems, enabling a compressed construction timeline through the integration of structural prefabrication and SYNC prefabricated bathroom pods.

Holiday Inn Express, Little Collins Street

Currently, under construction, the Holiday Inn Express hotel on Little Collins Street makes the best of a small footprint of only 1,254m2. Designed by Reid Campbell, the development includes two retail tenancies on the ground floor in the hotel vestibule, putting every inch of the site to use.
The tower above is set back from the 4 boundaries and contains 24 guest levels, totalling 312 suites. Hickory’s prefab construction has accelerated the construction schedule and completion is expected in June 2021.

Mojo Ovolo Hotel

The Mojo Ovolo Hotel is a boutique hotel of 123 rooms across 6 levels. Designed by Woods Bagot, guests will enjoy aground floor gourmet café on-site in verdant South Yarra. The project is expected to be completed by September 2020 and is located at 230 Toorak Road, South Yarra.

U: Do many projects in your construction pipeline place importance on sustainability?

GA: A Hickory development and construction project, Market Lane is an innovative office development taking on new design thinking and a focus on sustainability for a more people-centred, biophilic workplace. With extensive landscaped terraces and open-air atrium, the light-filled project is targeting a 4.5 Star Green Star and 5 Star NABERS rating. High-tech building management systems allow occupants to control temperatures and the Caroma Smart Command installed in the bathrooms will monitor water use in real-time. There is also provision for 10 electric vehicle charging stations and electric bike charging and bike storage facilities. The Holiday Inn Express project aims to achieve a 5-star NABERS performance rating. Once certified by the Green Building Council of Australia, Hotel Chadstone will be the first five-star Australian hotel to receive a 5 Star Green Star Design & As Built rating. Currently under construction is Nexus Corporate in Mulgrave, which is also a 5-Star Green Star and 5-Star NABERS energy efficient designed building by Gray Puksand.

U: How influential is Hickory on the choice of building materials used in construction and what are your favourite materials to build with right now?

GA: As the builder, we simply build what has been designed with the materials that have been specified by the architect. In our experience, we can certainly make recommendations if we feel there is a higher-performing material but ultimately, the architect and our clients have the final word. We love working with glass for façade work. Three of our recent projects, Conservatory, Opera and Sky One all feature glass facades that curve to stunning effect.

U: What are some of the key reasons why you choose to accept a project?

GA: We are always willing to accept a challenge and look for innovative projects that allow us to disrupt the status quo. One example is the Hawthorn Park project that will see Australia’s first suspended sky pool bridge. We’re excited to bring the architect Rothelowman’s vision to reality. The glass-bottomed swimming pool, designed and manufactured by Myrtha Pools in Italy, spans between two buildings and is a complete commitment to engineering and innovation. Hickory is exploring the newest technology available in order to support the structure and ensure all runs smoothly during the installation.

U: What is your favourite Hickory project to date and why?

GA: How do you choose a favourite child?! We enjoy all the projects we work on, but most recently, Hotel Chadstone presented Hickory with an opportunity to construct the only five-star hotel outside Melbourne’s CBD and the first five-star Australian hotel to receive a 5 Star Green Star Design & As-Built rating once certified by the Green Building Council of Australia. With extensive ground floor lobby, kitchen, bar and restaurant facilities, as well as rooftop pool, bar and dining, this 12 level building spans across 19,000m2.
Another unique feature of this project is the Chadstone Link, a seamless connection between Hotel Chadstone, Tower One Offices and the retail precinct, designed by Make Architects, and also built by Hickory. The travellators are housed in a glulam timber structure with tensile fabric roofing to make for a tranquil and fashionable route for hotel guests and shoppers to make their way from luxury hotel to Chadstone Shopping Centre.

Lead image: Chadstone Hotel, supplied. 

Olivia Round

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of urban.com.au. Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

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Hickory Australia Melbourne

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