CASE STUDY: Breaking New Ground – Sofitel Darling Harbour

In the year 2000, Sydney was hosting the Olympics, the GST was introduced, and everyone was talking about the so-called Millennium Bug. It was also the last time a major, internationally branded new hotel was built in Sydney – until now.

The Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour is a statement in the Harbour City. It is an ambitious project using the latest technology, offering visitors the chance to try something completely new.

Chief Engineer Anton van den Brink knows he is part of something special. He has seen this new build come together for close to a year. For someone with extensive industry experience, working on Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour has been an unprecedented opportunity. Shortly before its official opening, Van den Brink described the chills he felt during a final walk-through inspection.

“I could hear everything,” Van den Brink says. “Every step, every tick, every rumble. There was not a scratch anywhere in the building. This is a very high quality build, and I’m confident the opening will go off with a bang.”

The hotel was developed by Lendlease as part of the $3.4 billion, 20 hectare transformation of Darling Harbour. It opened on October 6, three weeks ahead of schedule. Since the first pouring of concrete in July 2015, more than 2500 workers have contributed more than 1.1 million hours of work. 

The quantity of material used to build Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour is staggering. It has:

• 20,000m³ of concrete,

• 3,000t of reinforcement,

• 19,500m² of façade,

• 12,000m² of blockwork,

• 17,000m² of marble tiles for guest bathrooms,

• 500km of power cable, 20km of sub mains, 250km of data cable,

• More than 21,000 light fittings, 10,000 GPOs and 4500 data outlets, and

• 191 baths.

SOPHISTICATION THROUGHOUT

The only other time Van den Brink had worked on a new hotel build was 17 years ago in Melbourne when the 52-year-old brought a smaller, 220-room apartment-style hotel to life. His task at Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour has been on a much grander scale. It boasts 590 guestrooms at a cost of close to $500 million.

“I really wanted to put my hat in the ring for this role,” Van den Brink says. I officially started on the project in May. Initially, I was working on policies and procedures and talking with and engaging suppliers. I have been working very closely with the builders during handover. We were checking up to sixty rooms each afternoon to make sure each one was perfect.”

Every facet of the building features advanced technology. Creating the hotel from scratch means you can be sure only the latest equipment and procedures will be put in place.An impressive feature is the hotel’s backup generator. This can power the building to full capacity for up to 24 hours in the case of an outage – most buildings will only power essential elements, such as essential services and lifts. The generator is fed by a huge, 10,000 litre diesel storage in the basement.

Six thousand external LED lights are installed on the hotel’s exterior facing towards Darling Harbour. Animations and text can be projected to the public.

“We can tailor the LEDs so  

we can be part of events in the city, such as (light and music festival) Vivid,” Van den Brink says. “Over Christmas, we 

can change it to have digital snowflakes falling down the building. There are so many different ways we can use it.”

Guests entering the hotel will have a similar eye-catching experience. The pool on the fourth level is another stand out. The Chief Engineer says the pool gives an impression of being able to swim into Darling Harbour.

A hotel on the size and scale of the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour presents a unique set of challenges. To cover security, around 200 CCTV units have been installed. An extensive antenna system is needed to make sure guests can receive mobile phone coverage throughout the property. In the near future, the hotel is looking to offer guests the option of using their smartphone as a key card to access their room. 

“It is built to be sustainable, with a four-star as built green rating,” Van den Brink says. “There has been so much to learn and take in with the new technology, understanding the HVAC, CCTV, access control, electricity, fire and hydraulic systems. 

The Chief Engineer has maintained good contact with everyone involved in the project. A strong culture and friendship between the various builders and contractors ensures help is never far away – this will be particularly important post opening.

HVAC AND OTHER SYSTEMS

The extensive property uses a technically complex and largely automatic air conditioning system. Common areas are served by air-handling units with chilled water and hot water coils. The air is distributed from the air-handling unit to each area via internally insulated sheet metal ductwork and variable 

air volume boxes reticulated in the false ceiling space. The operating air pressure of the building is provided though relief air fans discharging through louvres in the façade.

A central chilled water plant, featuring one water-cooled chiller for low load operation, and two water-cooled chillers of equal capacity, provides cooling. Heat rejection from the chillers is handled by three counter flow fibreglass cooling towers.

Meanwhile, heating is provided by two gas-fired, forced draft, fully condensing hot water heating generators. Hot water is distributed to the air handling units and fan coil units through insulated pipework and a primary hot water system.

The system is managed via a digital direct control system operating over a local area network. It allows the hotel to easily reprogram the system, while keeping advised of any malfunctions. It allows temperature adjustments for the public and common areas. In guest rooms, the fan coil unit is automatically set to ‘off’ or ‘low’ fan speed when occupants leave the room to save power.

Supplying water throughout the building requires an extensive potable cold water system. At Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour, a 100mm rising main service is reticulated up the building via dual pressure boost pumps from the basement. A 40,000L water storage tank is located on one of the higher levels. The hot water system features two natural gas fired boilers and a separate storage tank. Water is provided to lower levels through a flow and return circulating system, reticulated through Type “B” copper tube and insulated to minimise heat loss.

The fire sprinkler and hydrant system consists of three diesel fire pumps and a hydrant and sprinkler storage tank in the basement with a 190,000L capacity. In the event of a fire, the loss of water pressure in the system will cause the primary diesel fire pump to operate. Water is pumped into a 150mm main to service all levels of the hotel. Fast response heads have been installed to the fire sprinkler system throughout the building.

To wash the windows and inspect the façade, the hotel uses a Building Maintenance Unit manufactured by Manntech. The hotel uses Brintons carpet for its guaranteed quality throughout the building. This is designed to hide soil, achieved by employing wool-rich fibres. Sleepmaker Commercial is providing Sofitel’s MyBed products.

FLAGSHIP PROPERTY

Naturally, Sydney’s first major new hotel build in nearly two decades attracts special attention. Media, competitors and Accor have their eyes on the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour. Anton Van den Brink is not daunted by the attention, but acknowledges there is a healthy dose of anticipation.

“The materials and workmanship is excellent, so I have no doubts the opening will be seamless,” he says. “It is a case, however, of going from zero to one hundred per cent occupancy overnight. It means all the showers will be used at the same time, along with the air conditioning systems and lights. As an engineer, you can never fully test for that kind of stress.”

The hotel is an architectural delight. The glass exterior features a triangular accent and a striking porte-cochère. The area’s waterside heritage is incorporated into the design. While the architecture pays tribute to the maritime industries that formerly occupied the site, the hotel’s cutting-edge design places it squarely at the centre of Darling Harbour’s future.

Along with Chief Engineer Van den Brink, the engineering department includes Assistant Chief Engineer (Ben Fahey) and three duty technicians. The tight-knit team feels a sense of pride working on the project. The engineering team will be boosted (post opening) by a further five engineering specialists to ensure the property is maintained to the highest standards.

EXPERIENCED OPERATOR

Part of the reason why Anton Van den Brink took the role at Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour was to enjoy a sea change from Melbourne, where he has previously lived for close to twenty years. He brings to the project a wealth of experience from elsewhere. He entered the industry as a duty technician at City Gardens Apartments in Melbourne. From there, he worked his way up to become second in charge at the Novotel in Collins Street. Then, he moved to Tasmania.

“I got my first Chief Engineer role at the Novotel (now Grand Chancellor) in Launceston,” he says. “Tassie was an amazing lifestyle. I love the outdoors, so I spent my days off going hiking and enjoying the fresh air. I made some friends for life during my time in Tasmania.”

The lure of career advancement eventually took Van den Brink back to Melbourne, where he worked at the Saville Hotel Group for eight years in a range of roles from Building Manager to Regional Building/Maintenance services manager. He returned to a Chief Engineer position and ACCOR at Sofitel Melbourne on Collins, where he spent nine years before heading to Sydney.

LUXURY OFFERING

The project has been successful and rewarding for the entire team at Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour. Although working on a brand new hotel is a rare experience, the rewards have been extensive. With a premier location and an outstanding experience on offer for guests, the hotel is expecting strong occupancy right from its first day of trade.