In today’s global business climate, convention centres compete globally. Facilities perceived as dated or lacking in technology and sustainability will be passed over for newer facilities.

Sydney’s new International Convention Centre (ICC Sydney) will open soon with a contemporary approach to hosting conventions and engaging the public. Designed by Hassell and Populous, the new structure boasts contemporary technology, green credentials, and a welcoming public demeanor.

The ICC Sydney’s location on Darling Harbour claims a key space in the Sydney Harbour waterfront precinct, and embraces its public role much more than the previous structure did. According to Paul Foskett, interior designer and senior associate at Populous, two different approaches to convention centres dominate around the world: in-facing, and out-facing.

“The facility has a very city-facing aspect and great connection to the city,” he said. “The previous convention centre and exhibition centre were quite closed off so they didn’t have great views out or great views in.

“We’ve really focused on that as a key aspect, so anyone who is coming to the convention centre for a conference, they can be out in the pre-function space outside their meeting room, and they can be looking out over the skyline, and over the water.”

In addition to welcoming the public, the design team focused on creating a project that represents Sydney.

“We wanted to focus on what makes this a Sydney building, and we took aspects of the locale, and brought that into the interiors and architecture zone,” Foskett said.

According to Graeme Spencer of Hassell, the building’s design “was inspired by its spectacular inner city, harbourfront location, and our indoor-outdoor lifestyle.”

The ICC Sydney houses 70 rooms, including Australia’s largest ballroom, capable of accommodating 2000 people in banquet mode, and 3000 people in cocktail mode.

According to Spencer, the Grand Ballroom “is the signature space for the whole development, and Australia’s largest ballroom.”

While ballrooms tend to be placed in the basements of hotels, the Grand Ballroom is uniquely located at the top of the building, boasting unforgettable 270-degree views of the Sydney city skyline and beautiful harbour.

Other elements of the ICC include the Plenary Theatres, Event Deck, and 8000-seat Sydney Theatre. Each was designed with a unique approach.

“Our design of the new venues,  each with their own distinctive personality and unique architectural character, ensures delegates and visitors are connected with Sydney, through expansive views of the city and the harbour, both from within the buildings as well as from open-air balconies and decks,” Spencer noted.

The entire project boasts updated technology, such as integration of projectors, speakers, microphones, and lighting. All can be run from a hand-held tablet, including functions controlled by the speaker at the podium.

The new ICC, as mentioned, replaces the previous ICC on the same site. Incorporating sustainability throughout the project was a prime element for the design team, Spencer said.

“In addition to a range of energy and water initiatives across the project, all of the steel structure from the existing site was recycled and the demolished buildings were used as hard core for landscaping throughout the site,” he noted.

Foskett added that roughly one-third of the building is a simple reuse of the existing convention centre structure. In addition, he noted, the design approach struck a balance between site and structure. The tight footprint of ICC Sydney “allows the building to inhabit a small site, leaving the rest for public amenity.”

Design specs reinforce energy efficiency.

“Minimal north- and west-facing glazing reduces the solar gain of the building,” Foskett noted. “The outer expanded-mesh skin provides shading and an air buffer to the inner roof sheet, allowing warming air to draw up and away from the building.”

Other notable elements of sustainability include the first Green Star Communities 6-Star designation to be awarded. On-site power is provided by a 520-kilowatt photovoltaic array spread across the Convention and Theatre buildings, the largest PV system in an Australian CBD. Rainwater for irrigation and toilet flushing is collected in a 200kL rainwater system.

Both Foskett and Spencer will be speaking about the ICC project at the DesignBUILD EXPO in May.