After another hiatus my ponderings are finally making it to print. It has been a busy few months at work with several very exciting projects under construction and a couple of new ones on the drawing board. However I am very mindfull of not falling into the trap again of simply doing the work and not thinking about how to generate new projects.
The current climate is particularly concerning for Architects, especially those, like me who specialise in Residential projects. While the past couple of years have been incredibly fruitfull with a bouyant market and low interest rates, the recent fall in house prices and a more conservative approach to lending by the banks has left a few of us considering our options.
As Architects make up a very small percentage of Building Designers in the Residential market our services are often seen as a luxury. Coupled with Home improvement shows like the Block and Websites like Pinterest, there are many home design experts out there. At a meeting at the Board of Architects recently I did question how Architects differ from Building Designers and the response was resoundingly positive in favour of our profession. The six year degree at University fosters a design thinking that is essentially solving complex problems, while the Registration process demands competancy levels well above those of any other design profession.
However I still do wonder, is Architecture a dying Art ? A recent article via Twitter confirmed all the professions that will no longer exist in the future. Architects were on that list. Along with Lawyers, Real Estate Agents and a huge assortment of jobs one could not imagine we could do without.
While there is certainly a chance of house design no longer needing the services of an Architect, every other building over Three Storeys is required by law to be signed off by an Architect. Officially they should be designed and documented by one too.
So does this mean we won’t have any new buildings over three storeys? I highly doubt that !
While accreditation and competency standards required by the Board of Architects may push the profession into an elitist categorary out of touch with the needs of our society, I see it quite differently. We are adding value in every situation. This is important not simply for now but for the future. It may not be true of every Architect, however this is the philosophy of those I know and respect.
My colleague Philip Graus, former Director of Cox Architecture and now director, Western City at the Greater Sydney Commission and Chair, North Sydney Design Excellence Panel wrote an excellent article recently in the Fifth Estate
So..... I wrote this article over six weeks ago and never published it. The questions I am asking are quite big and possible beyond the remit of the purpose of this blog, however they are incredibly important to our profession. Recent article on Twitter have questioned exactly how we value the role ofthe Architect, beyond merely telling a story and I guess that is where my resolve has ended.
Unlike other professions, ( Lawyers and Doctors for example ) it really does seem difficult to place a numerical value on the work Residential Architects do other than to say you will have a better designed home with a smoother process, saving you time and money. However that is not always the case and certainly doesn't seem to be the perception in Australian Society. Although it should be.
I think I could rample on this topic for a while, moving from houses to apartments and the percieved overdevelopment of Sydney. Also the neo-liberal state of affairs that means value is purely a monetary offering not an improvement to wellbeing or community. But I wont. We are a week and a half away from the summer holidays and despite two ill-fated Christmas Days I am positive that things will turn around.
Many conversations with friends lately have highlighted the subject of authentically designed furniture and lighting. At a dinner party I hosted on New Years Eve we played a game of spot the replica, with my friend struggling to determine the replica from the original. I hate to admit that I do own replica furniture as it goes against most of my beliefs, except for affordability.
The replica market has enabled the masses to experience great designs without the price tag. Yet this is the problem. The mass production diminishes both the quantitative and qualitative value of the item and the original designer does not benefit from the licence. The originality and uniqueness is also watered down to create a same same, bland aesthetic in interiors.
When I purchased my replica Eames moulded plastic dining chairs and coffee table 16 years ago Matt Blatt didn't even exist. Now this retro furniture is available EVERYWHERE, not just in Architects and their discerning clients homes. Without sounding too self-righteous I now find the replica market something I would hope to avoid, regardless of affordability. I think this is a reflection of the current sentiment in Australia.
There appears to be a growing awareness of the detrimental impact our disposable culture is having on the environment as well as the need to respect and maintain the integrity of originally designed furniture and lighting. While the initiative to remove and recycle old IKEA furniture should be applauded, the sheer quantity of products available is overwhelming.
Yes, Ikeas certainly serves a purpose, providing affordable, relatively well designed furniture, yet the quality is often compromised and the durability limited. Having said that I think the Expedit bookcase is still one of the most functional, well designed and affordable storage solutions available. I have even upcycled one as a bed head.
Yet I digress from my argument. The ideal of doing more with less to lead a more sustainable and environmentally sensitive life means consuming less and considering quality.
Where possible I like to work with clients to source either Australian Designed and made furniture or Australian designed, ethically produced pieces.
There are some wonderfull initiatives to raise awareness of Australian Design and Authentic Design. I wrote about the reincarnation of the Object Gallery at the Australian Design Centre for the Architecture Bulletin, a few years ago. Local Design is another fabulous initiative and online platform that collaboratively brings Australian Designers together to showcase and promote their work digitally as well as on the world stage at the annaul Milan Furniture Fair.
I recently admitted that I was in love with a chair. Yes, sad but true. I really do love the Thonet No. 18 Chair, designed by German, Michael Thonet in the 1800's. A timeless classic that graces the beautiful Infinity Sourdough Cafe and Bakery on Oxford Street, Paddington. My cafe musings were inspired by this wonderfull space that has seen many incarnations over the years since it's beginnings as a ceiling plaster showroom at the turn of the century.
I have recently specified this chair for a project and it's cousin, the Hoffman Chair for another project. Their design and craftsmanship reflects the values so deeply esteemed by my practice as an Architect and designer. Simple, practical and comfortable yet sophisticated and beautifull.
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I don't know about you but I have never been a huge fan of Winter. I have grown to love the change of seasons over time, the soups, the slow cooked meals, the crisp clear mornings and of course the snow. However, I have never lived in a warm home and that impacts on my enjoyment of the cooler seasons.
Ironically, although probably typical to the profession, I don't own my own home. As my kids are now at an age that they understand what I do, I am constantly being asked if we can build our own home. One day my darlings, one day. I love our rented apartment, we have lived there for seven years and it feels very much like home. It has a beautiful garden and terrace for outdoor living but it suffers the fate of many homes built at the turn of the century - It is cold. Freezing in fact. In Summer it is wonderfully cool, which I am eternally grateful but at the moment even with several layers of warm clothes and heaters, it is cold.
I recently submitted our Aperture House(s) project for the Sustainability awards and I asked my clients how the house was performing :
" We are warm and the house is light and bright. We enjoy looking at the clouds and moon through the skylight in the living room. Once warn, the house maintains heat in most living rooms, the extra sliding door at the edge of the kitchen helps keep the warmth in the living room too. "
I was so happy with this response as it validated the thought and consideration given to the design when the brief specifically asked for the homes to be sustainable. While I do not market my business as a 'Sustainable Architect' , the ideas behind Passive Thermal Comfort drives alot of our designs. I believe that Architecture should be sustainable and that it should not be a separate field of expertise. While the Construction industry contributes a considerable amount to CO2 emissions, in my opinion every small attempt to reduce this, as well as reducing the cost of running a home and improving the comfort levels, is of primary importance.
The Aperture House(s) were only the second project we have designed that involved building a new home. Two identical, mirrored images of each other we were able to achieve fabulous northern daylight access for one living room but not the other . All of our other projects have been alterations and additions. Having carte blanche with a new home enables more control to achieve passive design, however with this project there were significant limitations with the site, given that one house would achieve more northern light than the other. Skylights and voids helped to bring needed sunlight into the homes.
On suburban blocks achieving orientation is always difficult. Some Architects believe Northern sun is God, others do not. I probably sit in the former category. If you can face the living rooms to the north you are guaranteed that Northern Sun infiltrating the room and lighting and heating it passively. Even better if it can warm a concrete floor or wall that retains the heat through it's thermal mass and releases it slowly over time.
I love courtyard layouts for this very reason. The insertion of an open space into the middle of the house enables northern light to penetrate any orientation and creates a serene private outdoor space. The research I undertook in Vietnam, after being awarded a Byera Hadley Travel Scholarship by the Board of Architects Supermodel Housing: Long, Thin and Dense , looks at several exemplar contemporary housing projects and examines the plans of these houses, adaptations from Southern Chinese courtyard homes.
Our Courtyard House Project came to us via Cameron Rosen, a Project Manager and Builder I had met whose own home had been designed by renowned sustainable architect Caroline Pidcock, and built to a high level of Sustainability as required by Cameron and his wife Daphne. Working closely with their company Australian Living and my clients to achieve an 8-star rated house enabled us to explore together the best way to achieve this, on a very tight budget.
As the owners of the Aperture House(s) reported that their home was warm in winter, my client for the Courtyard House was so delighted that her home needed hardly any active heating in Winter. This feedback is why I love being an Architect. Both homes use PV Cells to reduce their energy costs too, adding yet another level of sustainability and care to their projects.