A COEX Benchmark is Set as ICC Sydney Opens

December 16, 2016

Years in the planning, the now complete convention, exhibition and entertainment precinct, designed by joint venture partners HASSELL + Populous, has changed the face of Sydney and will influence the future of COEX design.

It was clear, right from the outset, that this project, like most great opportunities, would represent a challenge that was as complex and formidable, as it was exciting.

The task was to design a world-best convention, exhibition and entertainment space. The site was world-famous  Sydney’s vibrant Darling Harbour, right on Cockle Bay. It would be the most important development in Sydney since the city hosted the 2000 Olympic Games.

Sydney is welcoming, multicultural, energetic and beautiful and we needed to design an ICC Sydney to match.  Our team knew the dark, closed-off box design that has typified many convention and exhibition buildings was never going to work.

To give an idea of the scale we were working with, the total area comprises 250,000 sqm across the three major buildings with  ICC Sydney Exhibition Centre, containing some 40,000sqm of exhibition and function space. The convention centre can accommodate three concurrent conventions and is home to Australia’s largest ballroom, while ICC Sydney Theatre’s red carpet venue seats 8,000.

ICC Sydney

The HASSELL + Populous team are design consultants to the Darling Harbour Live consortium, comprising Lendlease, HOSTPLUS, First State Super, Capella Capital, AEG Ogden and Spotless, in partnership with the NSW Government.

The brief was to ensure that every facet of each building, and every aspect of its complex functionality, had to be world-best. Connections and linkages between the venues, and to the greater Sydney region, had to be in place, and extensive public space had to be incorporated.

We needed to make sure the whole precinct would be enjoyed by every one of the 26 million people who visit Darling Harbour each year.

The HASSELL+ Populous team was able to meet these varying requirements by designing structures and spaces that broke down building mass and blurred the lines between inside and out.

The design for ICC Sydney Exhibition Centre, rather than being a big blank  box, featured responsive, stepped-face, landscaped terraces and we added meeting rooms on the outside of the building, so those inside would feel like they were in the park.

We added the Exhibition Event Deck, 5,000sqm of outdoor event space, to take advantage of Sydney’s great weather and natural beauty.

We wanted the International Convention Centre to present itself out to the harbour, light and water reflecting off its porcelain and glass façade, drama and views on show on each of its different levels.

At ICC Sydney Theatre we designed a fan-shaped bowl, ideal for making concert-goers feel close to the action, and the venue’s lighting, inside and out, was deliberately bold to match the district’s energy.

As part of the goal that the entire precinct be uniquely ‘Sydney’, we focused on using materials, in each building, that came from, or were inspired by the local landscape.


My co-director, HASSELL’s Glenn Scott, described the combined, end result well,

“While the three venues form a cohesive whole, we also wanted to create a unique identity for each, and this is achieved through the exterior and interior design – from the cool reflective nature of the ICC Convention, to the warmth of the ICC Exhibition, and the vibrant red of the ICC Theatre, each has its own unique but cohesive experience.”

ICC Sydney was highly significant on a team and personal front too.

It was 2011 when we first began to discuss the project, producing more than 80 different concepts before tender documents even came out.

The work itself continued to be hard and testing throughout the course of design; at times it was all-consuming with many late nights, and much family time sacrificed.

There was great reward too. For me, the incredible physical end result that is ICC Sydney, and the reaction of people who experience the precinct for the first time, are highlights.

Future convention and exhibition projects will reap the benefits of what was done in Sydney. Finding our way through the complexities of grand scale, big budget, multi-stakeholder and high profile projects such as this are how we progress our skills and thrust design forward.

We’ve already begun to utilise new ideas and techniques as we plan for the next generation of COEX buildings.

In Kuala Lumpur, Populous is designing new convention and exhibition buildings as part of Stage Two of the development of KL Sports City.

Construction, which will get underway after next year’s South East Asian Games, will create 8,000sqm of exhibition space, an 8,000 seat live music venue, a sport themed hotel and a sports hospital.

As in Sydney, one of Kuala Lumpur’s main objectives is that the whole precinct can be used seven days a week.

In the United States, we’re designing, together with local partner HMC Architects, the new LA Convention Centre.

Similarly to Sydney, Los Angeles offers a great climate, and a vibrant, culturally diverse local population to connect with. Again, we’re looking to merge inside and out, and to provide extensive space where residents can relax and play.

Just further south, we’re working on the 180 million USD expansion of the Anaheim Convention Centre.

Like its Sydney counterpart its design boasts impressive ballroom and outdoor event spaces, has a strong focus on sustainability, and draws inspiration from local waterways and nearby coastline.

What we do in the COEX space always aims to put a city on the map by designing a state-of-the-art venue that will thrill convention and exhibition participants.

What ICC Sydney confirmed is the importance of designing something that is special for a city’s general visitors and residents too, a project locals can buy into, and that makes lives better when complete.

This article was originally featured on iSportConnect.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *