As the head of the National Architecture Awards jury Paul Berkemeier spent two "intense" but "fun" weeks travelling across Australia visiting about 60 sites in contention for a gong from the Australian Institute of Architects.
But when he walked into Hotel Hotel's lobby-cum-bar-cum-restaurant, he was bowled over.
"It's really memorable," he said.
"It just has such a strong, quirky sense to it, both the architecture but also the social aspect really works."
The "exciting and original design" of the hotel's lobby scored its designers, north Melbourne firm March Studio, a national award for interior architecture – one of three handed out by the institute.
The Australian Institute of Architects' 2014 National Architecture Awards were announced on Thursday night in Darwin.
Across Australia, 43 awards and commendations were given to 36 projects, but Hotel Hotel was the only ACT winner.
Mr Berkemeier said the "playful" way timber and concrete was assembled in the hotel "sings".
"You feel like you're almost in a set of caves walking through where the architecture dissolves from one place to another," he said.
"It's not like any other hotel foyer … it feels like partly a restaurant, partly a bar and partly a place of arrival as well."
Mr Berkemeier praised the way "intimate spaces" and "vibrant places" were contained within the one space, but said it was the hotel's staircase connecting it to the cinema downstairs that was the "tour de force".
"Just when you think you're beginning to understand the whole thing you discover something spectacular, the big stairs that lead down to the lower level," he said.
"It's a mad timber construction, painstakingly put together
"There's a beautiful overlap between the art of the architecture and the art that's there as well."
Mr Berkemeier said repurposing of timber was a powerful force in Australian architecture of the last decade, but the inventiveness in the way March Studio used timber in Hotel Hotel took it to another level.
He said the awards brought more work for the firms who were recognised but also raised the bar for the standards of architecture.
"They are taken very seriously by not only the industry but also by client groups because they're seen as being the top standard," he said.