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Marta Figueiredo’s large-scale ‘diva’ is the centrepiece of a new Melb...

Marta Figueiredo’s large-scale ‘diva’ is the centrepiece of a new Melbourne hotel

Marta Figueiredo’s large-scale ‘diva’ is the centrepiece of a new Melbourne hotel

Placed in the middle of a central atrium within the Dorsett Melbourne is a colourful and playful installation by architect and artist Marta Figueiredo – introducing the Diva Garden.

The Dorsett Melbourne is a new 316-room hotel that recently opened in Melbourne. Located a short walk from Southern Cross Station and Marvel Stadium, it’s positioned within a new precinct that is revitalising this southwest pocket of the CBD. Developed by Far East Consortium and designed by Cottee Parker, the site includes a combination of residential towers alongside hospitality offerings including the hotel.

The lobby of the hotel shows the first sign of the art featured throughout, with an AR-enabled painting

Presented with an unusual eight-sided building, the resulting internal atrium presented an opportunity to create something unique. Enter Portuguese-born, Melbourne-based artist Marta Figueiredo.

A trained architect, Figueiredo has more recently stepped into furniture and sculpture with her work often exploring notions of femininity and playfulness. Both of these come to life in a large-scale work in the centre of the Dorsett Melbourne with a series of sculptures titled ‘Diva Garden’.

While the connotation of a diva may have a negative influence for some, to Figueiredo a Diva is a virtuoso, someone who fights for their position and has earned respect and recognition – it’s a positive message of female empowerment worth embracing.  

Cross-disciplined creativity, coded meanings hidden in plain sight and design layered with sensorial elements are all things that repeat through her work. It’s no surprise to learn her mum was a history teacher and great uncle an antique dealer.

We sat down with Figueiredo in the hotel bar to discuss how the project came about and what the inspiration was behind the towering Diva sculptures.

Inspiration for the Diva Garden sculptures came from a performative art piece the artist saw years before

How did the commission for the Dorsett Melbourne come about?

The commission came to life with a phone call from Anna Flanders, the curator leading the project. She told me I’d been shortlisted as one of three artists for the proposal. I was excited to dig deeper into the opportunity and I immediately requested images, plans and access to the site. I wanted to have a comprehensive understanding of its scale and layout. 

To truly grasp the essence of the space, I created a 3D render of the atrium and its contextual surroundings. It was crucial for me to immerse myself in the intricacies of it. As I explored the location, it became increasingly clear that whatever was placed in this expansive space was going to be the beating heart of the hotel. 

This courtyard would be observed from multiple perspectives – both from the towering vantage points of the four surrounding residential and hotel skyscrapers and from the intimate perspective at the atrium ground level.

What was the inspiration for the Diva Garden?

The inspiration for my concept draws from a memorable experience that left a lasting impression on me. It was during the London Design Festival (LDF) back in 2011 when I encountered an extraordinary performance called REDDRESS, created by Amu Song, a talented Finnish artist. 

The centrepiece of the performance was a magnificent, oversized red dress made entirely of wool. People would cosy up inside the detailed folds of the dress, immersing themselves in the enchanting atmosphere it created. Throughout the event, two female artists – a captivating opera singer and a skilled violinist – took turns wearing the dress, using it as a vessel for their captivating performances. The dress became a symbol of connection, both for the artists and the audience.

Drawing inspiration from this remarkable experience, I began contemplating the design of the rooms that surround the hotel atrium. I wanted to establish a parallel, a tangible link between the intimate pockets of the REDDRESS and the adjacent hotel bedrooms. Just as the REDDRESS cradled its occupants, the Diva sculpture in the hotel atrium casts a mesmerising spell on guests, enveloping them in a soothing embrace of ethereal lights that dance throughout the day and night. The Diva’s presence evokes a sense of power and pays homage to the strength and beauty of women.

A playful centrepiece for the Dorsett Melbourne

How did the site inform the form that the sculptures took? 

Since the atrium was on the third floor with conference rooms below, using natural elements like landscaping was unfeasible.  In response, I conceived a design that embraced biomorphic elements, introducing a feminine form to harmonise with the rigid architectural geometry of the buildings. Vibrant hues and the ethereal glow of lights became my tools to infuse the space with exuberance.

The form of the sculptures was inspired by the graceful fluidity of organic structures. I wanted them to flow in the atrium, resembling the curves and contours of flowers, while their scale and presence would ensure visibility from all perspectives. From the very beginning, the idea of the design being visible at night held central importance. I envisioned the sculpture being captivating at night, with flowers seemingly blooming in the darkness. I imagined people looking at this magical ‘garden’ from their hotel rooms or residences in the surrounding buildings.

Once the design was approved, I immediately enlisted the expertise of the talented light designer Edward Linacre, who took the lighting design to an extraordinary level in public art. The skill displayed by Edward in light design and the programming by Joshua Batty surpassed all expectations. Joshua even developed a unique script for controlling the lighting, along with a repertoire of complex light sequences for DMX lighting that have never been seen before.

Lit up at night with an ever-changing landscape of colours, the Diva Garden is constantly different

From the very beginning, I sensed the enigmatic allure of the reflective surfaces enveloping the atrium. A vision took hold of me – of an infinity garden, where the boundaries between reality and illusion would vanish completely. The transformative power of lights, particularly under the cloak of night ignites a realm of enchantment, transforming the area into an ethereal playground that inspires delight and wonder.

The culmination of this collaborative effort was an awe-inspiring moment when we finally saw the Diva standing proudly at the centre of the atrium. 

Marta Figuerido

Dorsett Melbourne

Marta Figueiredo's Diva Garden can be viewed from inside the hotel rooms
The Dorsett Melbourne Diva garden
The Dorsett Melbourne

We think you might like to read about the opening of the new Ritz-Carlton, which is right next door to the Dorsett Melbourne


Aleesha Callahan is the editor of Habitus. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Aleesha seeks out the unique people, projects and products that define the Indo Pacific region. Aleesha was previously the editor of Indesignlive.com and has written and contributed to various publications and brands in her 10 years in the architecture and design industry, bringing intimate insight to her stories having first trained and practised as an interior designer. Her passion for mid-century design and architecture began while living and working in Berlin.