Qantas' new first class lounge in Singapore is virtually unbelievable

I'm standing in the middle of Qantas' new first class lounge in Singapore, and it's eerily quiet.

A sea of dining tables lies waiting for hordes of hungry passengers enjoying an à la carte meal before their flight – a habit that's especially useful on the relatively short overnight leg back to Australia.

At one end of the shotgun-straight lounge is a wide marble-clad bar and cooking station.

The other end, behind me, contains a laptop-friendly bench, an eclectic variety of seating and a VIP nook reserved for elite members of the invitation-only Chairman's Lounge.

Off to one side sits a second bar serving everything from spirits and cocktails to barista-pulled coffee.

I don't mind the lack of passengers. This gives me time to appreciate details of the lounge's design: the European woods and perforated screens, the Carrara marble and terrazzo, and a premium palette which manages to bring all that together and add touches of soft ash, sand and green.

There'd be little unusual about this, except that this upscale lounge hasn't opened yet. Indeed, construction hasn't even begun.

Virtual reveals

I'm actually standing in a corner of the Qantas first class lounge at Sydney, some eight hours and 6000km from Singapore, wearing a virtual reality headset and being guided through an impressively detailed mockup of the upscale space by Qantas designer David Caon.

This virtual walkthrough of Singapore's first class lounge – which will open in November at the far end of Terminal 1, near the Aerotel airport hotel and its appealing outdoor swimming pool – even extends to the spacious and well-appointed shower suites, which include blue LED lighting panels to help travellers reset their body clock.

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Caon, who has taken over the airline's design duties from Marc Newson and added his own contemporary touch to everything from aircraft seats and cabins to lounges and cutlery, first enlisted VR for shaping the two new business class lounges which will grace the upper deck of Qantas' Airbus A380s when they begin a tip-to-tail upgrade in July and take wing from August.

Now he has fully embraced VR for the forthcoming Singapore first class lounge as a way of exploring and experimenting with not just the space but the materials and finishes.

It's a mood

"From our perspective we're focusing a lot on mood, because in architecture (things) can tend to still be quite cold," Caon tells High Flyer after we swap the headset for an espresso martini.

"And that was very important to us, getting the lighting and the materials right."

While Caon still sketches and collects material samples, he find the VR stage smooths the process of bringing everything together.

"VR is becoming more important for the dialog between designer and client. It shows them exactly what it's going to be like, even though it's not one hundred percent realistic, but the interpretation is a lot closer to what the reality will be."

From what we see, the Singapore first class lounge will share some DNA with its siblings in Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles – the European oak and Carrara marble, for instance – yet boast its own character.

"We're trying to create a sort of a lighter palette that's sort of softer and blends in with the greenery, which is very Singapore and important for wellness as well as that regional aspect of the design."

"But it's also having a sort of tonal difference," Caon explains. "A lot of what we're also trying to focus on is texture, so rather than having a lot of contrast and a lot of different colours we're trying to bring a really nice texture to everything, so that everything is quite tactile and beautiful."

Layered enrichment

Some design elements serve double duty, such as the perforated wooden panels which could almost become a signature part of the new Singapore lounge.

"The screen details is a design element that sort of flowed across from the Brisbane Chairman's Lounge, where I started to experiment with a lot of first class architectural finishes, but from a regional aspect I think it sort of gives a bit of a sense of Singapore."

The hardware behind Caon's VR setup is a grunty gaming-level PC, while the software can also be used to create games. No accident, then, that as I explore this virtual lounge I half expect to see some angry alien or brain-starved zombie lurch around the corner. Maybe it's a reflection of the nights I spent as a youth playing first-person shooter games like Doom and Wolfenstein. Perhaps if I push in the right place on the lounge's walls, a secret compartment will open to reveal a health pack, a shotgun or a shiny black Chairman's Lounge card.

Global hub

Of course, this is no game for Qantas. Alison Webster, the CEO of Qantas' resurgent international arm, tells High Flyer that Singapore is the airline's largest hub outside Australia.

With over 50 return flights into and out of Changi Airport each week – including six daily Airbus A380 arrivals and departures – plus 26 destinations tapped by Jetstar, this multi-million dollar lounge overhaul is long overdue.

Qantas' decision to reinstate Singapore as the stopover for its London flight (the Lion City briefly lost that role to the Dubai hub of Emirates between 2013 and 2018) has added pressure on the Singapore lounge, which opened in early 2013

Limits on the number of passengers allowed into the Singapore lounge during peak evening periods has seen Qantas Club members diverted to the adjacent and sub-par SATS Lounge, with entry denied altogether for travellers holding the free lounge passes issued with Qantas Frequent Flyer Silver flyer membership or through an assortment of Qantas partner credit cards.

With seating for some 240 passengers, including top-tier Platinum or Platinum One frequent flyers, the new first class lounge will alleviate much of that overcrowding.

Likewise, the current business class lounge will be expanded by-mid-year to gain an extra 50 seats to help ease the Singapore squeeze.

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