The three-level Imperial Hotel in Sydney’s Erskineville is a ‘palace of pleasure’. This project represents the relaunch of one of Australia’s most revered LGBQTI safe havens. As a cultural icon, it was the birthplace of the movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and plays a pivotal role in the greater Sydney community as a historic theatre and event space.
It is dynamically programmed and responsive, turning from dining to dance floor with ease. The three-level space features a ground floor 250-seat restaurant called Priscilla’s as well as the main bar, which includes a glazed enclosure to an inner courtyard. On the upper level is a pizzeria and bar called Imperial UP, and on the lower level is a nightclub. Australia’s first same-sex marriage cathedral will open on the rooftop in 2019.
The Imperial Hotel was officially opened on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras and the Australian vote for gay marriage. Both design team team and client felt that not only was it important to relaunch the Imperial Hotel brand in a way that makes it more accessible to the greater Sydney community, but to tell a story of cultural and community relevance through architecture.
The existing building was heavily dilapidated with no interior works completed in the last two decades. The story of a ‘lost palace’ drove the design, along with the idea of creating a legacy and a feeling of inclusivity for a community in need of a safe haven. The project is best understood as an LGBQTI ‘town hall’ where the various metaphors of gender, masculinity and femininity collide through architectural play, from robust masonry to colour and decoration. But amongst its array of colour and shape is the gravity of its legacy, the shadow of history cast upon its surfaces.
Photography: Anson Smart. Styling: Claire Delmar.