We tell you how it is

When we are first approached by prospective clients, we have found that few fully understand what an architect does. Many interview draftspeople and volume builders also, and find it difficult to distinguish between the various levels of expertise and design engagement on offer. Invariably, a large part of our first discussion is devoted to explaining how our services differ from those of other building designers and why there is great value in the cost of on architect.

What follows is the 5th of ten articles that explore the question: why engage an architect? An archive of the series can be accessed here.

5. We tell you how it is


The building industry has a reputation for being filled with sly half-truths and good intentions that go unfulfilled. If you’ve ever had a plumber tell you “I’ll come around tomorrow” and never call back, or a volume builder lure you with promises of rock bottom prices but then reveal the cost of all the hidden extras, you’ll know what we mean.

Building a house is like navigating between submerged rocks in a fast-moving river: almost impossible to do without a guide who knows the river like the back of her hand.

An architect is such a guide.

How much does it cost to build? Should you knock down your house and build new, or is renovating a better option? What planning zone and overlays affect your property? What considerations do you need to make for your neighbours? What advice should you seek from specialist consultants? What are the highest performing appliances and fittings on the market? Where can you source the most environmentally sustainable materials? With which building regulations do you need to comply? What are the standard construction technologies in use in Australia? Once you start on site, how often do you need to pay your builder?

These are just some of the questions you’ll need to consider when renovating or building your house.

Unfortunately, you will at times also find yourself embroiled in adversarial relationships: neighbours who think you’re overdeveloping your land; specialist consultants who don’t meet their deadlines; subcontractors whose work is of substandard quality. Such interactions are even more challenging as the other party is almost certainly more knowledgable about your dispute than you are.

Architects have significant expertise across all phases of the design and construction process. We appreciate the importance of strong creative vision from start to finish; are familiar with town planning and building regulations; understand the work of allied professionals like structural engineers and landscape architects; and can engage meaningfully with the builder during construction. There is no-one better equipped to understand the opportunities and limitations of your site and brief, and to design your house to navigate every requirement.

Image source:

  1. Truth, author’s own image.
Posted in Architecture practice | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview with Jo Noero

Jo Noero is the principal architect of Noero Architects, based in Cape Town, South Africa. Noero is renown for his work within the shack settlements of South African cities, and is as outspoken on issues of ethics, professionalism and the built environment as his projects are engaging.

Noero visited Australia recently to present a lecture for the National Architecture Conference. I had the pleasure of interviewing him after his presentation, and enjoyed a conversation that touched on many and varied subjects.

red location museum entrance

Thank you for your spirited presentation today. A central part of your work is the importance of quality buildings within disadvantaged contexts, and the possibility they present of influencing the surrounding built environment.

Exactly, this is very important.

Can you talk about how this relates to your Red Location project in Port Elizabeth.

I’ll tell you how it all started. Many years ago when I was teaching, I felt quite alienated from mainstream architectural practices in South Africa, and I was looking for somewhere where I could locate both my research and practice interests. The places that I was drawn to were the informal shack settlements on the periphery of the city. I figured at that time in the country they were the only places where people acted with unfettered freedom in shaping their environment, even accounting for their extreme poverty. I have always held the idea that authentic culture grows from the bottom up: the people living in the shack settlements were outside government control and were just building for themselves, so I went and had a look to understand how they were building, and ended up spending two years researching the settlements while I was teaching.

Out of that experience grew an interest in taking the structural systems and materials that were in use in those areas, and formalising them through my work. I hoped to show local people a connection with what they were already doing themselves. It shows great resilience and energy to build something from nothing, and by incorporating this spirit into my own buildings I was also showing respect to the people living in the neighbourhoods around them.

I’ve read interviews with you where you discussed using packing crates from car manufacturing factories in your projects, a material already being used in the shack settlements.

You saw my talk this morning?


And the reading room I did at the Red Location library, clad in timber?


That’s the same timber that people use on their shacks, except that we took it, sanded it down, fixed it properly and varnished it. It’s the same material but we used it to clad the most important building in the project and in the neighbourhood.

red location archive reading room

Do you know whether that more refined material is now used within vernacular construction techniques?

I’m not sure. My sense is that people appreciate what I do, but I haven’t seen much evidence of whether they are actively trying to take those systems and develop them in the same way I have. The opposite does occur though: the timber cladding I used on the Red Location Library is now starting to find its way into rich houses, built by master craftsman in a shabby-chic style for a tremendous amount of money.

Really, I’m not even sure whether I want people to follow what I’m doing. It’s just me saying that I honour the people living in the shack settlements, I’m honoured to work in their space, so I look at how they build and work in the same kind of way. It’s simply that.

The shabby-chic style is curious. There was a bit of Twitter activity following your discussion.

Oh there was Twitter activity, good! Was it positive or negative?

Both sides of the fence were represented. Somebody said they really like the shabby-chic look.


Others suggested it’s a very dishonest architecture, cladding wealth in a surface of poverty.

Exactly, it’s an architectural camouflage. It’s saying, “I’m rich but I identify myself with the poor, I’m a comrade in arms…”

Is it dishonest then, or just a less sophisticated form of honouring the context?

I think it’s a style, that’s all. Some stylists have got hold of the idea and suddenly shack-chic has become fashionable and people follow it. But the connection between the style and the people in the poorer parts of the city is usually lost in translation. I like to think that at the very least there is some residual subconscious sense of the discrepancy.

There is a man called Neil Leach who has written about this process. Around fifteen years ago he wrote a book called The Anaesthetics of Architecture that describes two things that happen in the world. First, is that the greater the flows of information, the smaller the knowledge base. This particularly affects students, who have a tendency to place predominance on the image over everything else, without understand its context.

Because the issue with the modern day is not that there’s not enough information, there’s too much.

Yes, and I don’t think we’ve learnt how to filter it effectively yet.


The second thing that Leach describes is that capitalism depends upon novelty; it’s what sells things. Novelty is as much image based as it is commodity based, and architecture has fallen victim to that. We have to be novel; we have to produce new things. But the problem with new things is that once they are consumed they are no longer of use any longer. So we abandon images as quickly as we consume them. We have this lumbering machine called architecture which takes five or ten years to get a building from inception to completion, and it’s held victim to these lightning fast movements of novelty, images and consumption. I don’t think architects have done a good job of managing or understanding it, or trying to find ways of countering it through other means.

That’s a very fascinating idea. I’ve always thought that architects are largely opportunistic; we do the work that is offered to us. Flipping that status quo around and seeking work out is immensely difficult to do, particularly when we have to make a living off our labour.

Let me talk about what it’s like to be in practice. I get offered lots of houses, and usually they’re these big McMansion briefs, 1000sqm on the beach, all cantilevered, and I just say no. Houses like these are unethical. I don’t think you need anything more than 150sqm to live comfortably. We have limited space in the world and many people with nowhere to live at all, so how can you be given the right to waste resources?

The two or three people who have agreed with that philosophy have been the clients for the two or three best houses I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t think we do enough of that, enough proselytising. We are so stripped of any self-esteem or dignity as architects that we see ourselves as an industry there to serve public. But the public kick us around and tell us what to do. They’re not prepared to take wise advice from us, and I don’t understand why that should be the case.

house sapieka front

I’m not sure if it makes me feel better or worse that this is happening to you in South Africa as well. In Australia, there are so many other voices competing for attention within the built environment, and most of them are focused on all the wrong things. Clients regularly have a real estate agent or builder mate whispering in their ear, saying, “You’ve got to do this because this is what the market wants.”

Absolutely. But I think there are useful ways of dealing with that situation. When I was in Peru about six or seven years ago, I spoke with a lot of architects practicing in Lima. It’s a tough city hit by civil war, but what a lot of the good ones do is build as well.


Yes. And in Buenos Aires in Argentina, the three to four storey, middle class apartment buildings are all built by architects.

Is that legislated or is it just how it works?

No. It’s just how it works. What they do is they find groups of people online who are willing to put money together to build something. It’s an opportunity to get a tailor-made apartment, even if it’s very small, because you are talking face-to-face with the architect rather than having to buy something that some developer has made.

So apartment buildings crowd funded by the end users?

Yes. Some of the best architects in Lima said to me they make money out of the building side of things. They build their own projects and the money they make is used to support them while they enter competitions. So they get the one good project to do, rather than running around after awful people doing shit that they don’t like.

My wife and I are starting to build speculative houses ourselves, tiny little ones. I’ve worked for so many people who make money out of my efforts, I thought, why don’t I put my money in the bloody ground and build something myself? We have two houses that are coming out of the ground now. I think there are lots of new and different ways that we can imagine working as architects in the world.

But the important message from my lecture today was that whatever strategies we put in place to survive have got to support the ideal of architecture. We can’t just want to become project managers because project managers are making money. I’m only interested in finding alternative ways of making buildings because maybe I’m being thwarted in one respect. In the end, I just want to make good architecture, it’s what gives me pleasure, and to make a bit of money out of it as well if I can.

house sapieka courtyard

house sapieka interior

If you don’t mind, I’d like to change subject back to the Red Location project. You talked today about how long it has taken, but also how good architecture takes time to get right. For the design and construction of one project to be spread across a generation, I feel that maybe the building is not the only end product, that there’s something even more meaningful to be achieved. Is there value in such a lengthy process?

Well, the project brief set up in the competition has changed over time. I’m still doing work on the project and it’s still seen as part of the competition, but it’s different from where we started. There was lots of community participation up front to formulate the competition brief, after which we built the museum. But then there was a hiatus when we started to talk to people again about the new buildings, and the brief changed and time got gobbled up. There were also issues of funding, and there was a change in local government, so it just took a long time to get things done.

It can be frustrating because the bureaucracy in South Africa works slowly, but having the luxury of a couple of years to work on a library is fantastic. I can design very fast, but then I can take it and show it to people in the community and adjust it if I need to. Buildings just get better when you have time to work on them, that’s all it is.

How important was the community consultation process?

I’m not a great one for upfront community participation. People don’t know what they want. If you just ask, you’ll find that everyone wants a three-bedroom house with two cars on a nice site overlooking the ocean. I find that the best way of getting people involved is to provoke. I make a proposition, present it and then kick it around. I think people feel much more comfortable with that as well. They don’t feel that they are being put on the line to make big decisions. It’s only through an interactive design process that you can reach some kind of consensus.

So when you present the initial concept on a project, which I presume is already a fairly resolved building…


Do you find it changes in response to the community commentary you receive?

Yes, it does. Look, when I talk about participation, I mean talking to all the different groups who are involved in a building, from the local people who use it, to city officials, politicians, community representatives, the architects, library services, gallery services etc. So there are all these layers to the process and the design gets filtered through all of it. A project can take years to work its way through every group, and at every stage adjustments have got to be made.

That’s for me what community participation is. The common idea that you sit down with a group of people and they tell you how their grandmothers lived in the UK isn’t what community consultation is at all. You need to sit down with the people who are actually going to use your building, the workers and the visitors and the cleaners. Why should this be any different when we deal with poor people or rich people? People get strange ideas when you talk to a poor community, that the process is somehow special. But I don’t see any difference between talking to a community or a family or a business. It’s just briefing.

red location museum interior

One of the things I thought about when you were presenting was the earlier lecture by Beth Miller from Philadelphia’s Community Design Collaborative. I felt quite anxious when she was talking about architects working pro bono. There has been a lot of controversy in Australia recently about architects working for free when the whole profession is struggling to make a living.

I never work pro bono, ever. I had a clear lesson on this when I first started working in Johannesburg. I did some work for the Anglican Church under Desmond Tutu. The first church I worked on I did for nothing. You know, I thought that’s the thing to do when you work for really poor people, but all I got was trouble from everyone. I went to speak to Desmond and I said, “Look, I don’t know what the problem is, but these people don’t respect a thing I do.” And he asked, “Are you charging them fees? Make sure you charge them money.”

People respect what they pay for.

Absolutely. From that time onwards it was their money on the line and they listened to everything I had to say. We shouldn’t ever have to work for nothing. I believe strongly in the dignity of labour. It’s like these architects who have interns but pay them nothing. I find that insulting.

That’s the controversy in Australia actually.

Well, I think anyone who takes someone on without paying them should be deregistered as architects. It’s immoral and unethical. What you’re saying to that person is that the value of their labour is worth zilch.

The immediate past president of the Victorian Chapter of the AIA, Jon Clements, made an impressive speech on that recently. I also read that RIBA has established a protocol that removes an architect’s accreditation if he or she is found to be employing someone without pay.

They did that in the US as well.

It will be a challenge to see whether or not there is enough steel within the Australian profession to do the same thing.

Look, I think the work Beth Miller does is great, but one of the things I’m interested in is the difference between architecture and social work.

Yes, you made that comment at the end of your speech.

I think there’s a distinction between being a professional architect and maintaining active citizenship. I mean, I’m actively involved in my country, but I don’t believe that through my architecture I’m going to create political change. If I wanted to do that I’d join a political party and I’d go out there and change things. Architecture doesn’t work like that. So it’s about understanding the limitations of architecture. Once you understand what architecture can and can’t do, you can be much more effective as an architect.

When I went to the last Venice Biennale, the American exhibition was essentially social work. It was about helping people learn to grow vegetable gardens in their back yards. I mean for fuck’s sake, that’s not what I want to do as an architect. That’s not stuff architects do, it’s what social workers do. We do other things. I think we’ve got to be a bit careful that the pendulum on social accountability doesn’t swing too far and we lose sight of everything.

In the end, the best thing we can do is make purposeful space that’s beautiful, which is bloody difficult to do as it is. If poor people get richer or sick people get healthier in my buildings, then that’s great, but I don’t think it’s a predictable outcome.

You know, I don’t go and look at any buildings I’ve done, I really don’t. When I hand a building over to my clients, it’s theirs and they must do with it as they see fit. I’m not going to go and sniff around and find out what they’ve changed, it’s their right to do whatever they like. For God’s sake, knock a hole in the wall, change the front doors, change the roof, it’s your building, do with it what you want.

Interesting. It’s an understanding that architecture involves the dignity of exchange.

Obviously, the client has paid for it. There’s a famous essay by Adolf Loos called The Poor Little Rich Man, it’s exactly this criticism. This poor little rich man, he went to the architect who designed anything, and then whenever he wanted to change a painting in his house he would have to ring up the architect to get his permission, and to get his advice. Is that what architecture is? That’s not architecture; it’s something else, control beyond any reasonable limits.

I agree, and I really think this shows in your well-built but humble work. Thank you for your lecture today and your candid discussion.

My pleasure.

red location gallery

This article was commissioned by, and first appeared in, Architecture AU.

Images sources:

  1. Red Location Museum entrance, Noero Architects. This and subsequent images courtesy of the architect.
  2. Red Location Archive reading room, Noero Architects.
  3. House Sapieka front, Noero Architects.
  4. House Sapieka courtyard, Noero Architects.
  5. House Sapieka interior, Noero Architects.
  6. Red Location Museum interior, Noero Architects.
  7. Red Location Gallery, Noero Architects.
Posted in Architecture, Festivals | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Between nature and architecture

20140723 sou fujimoto

What was it?

A series of recent lectures by Japanese architect, Sou Fujimoto, touring Australia as a guest of the excellent C + A journal. Fujimoto presented his philosophy of architecture together with a tailored collection of his projects, including the building for which he is best known, the 2013 Serpentine Galleries pavilion in London. Not only did the Serpentine commission elevate him into the rarefied air of the likes of Zumthor, Koolhaas, Nouvel and Gehry, at the age of 42 he became the youngest architect to have achieved this honour.

Fujimoto began his lecture by contrasting the place where he grew up – a small rural town in Hokkaido, the north island of Japan – with the place where he studied to become an architect – Tokyo. Despite the apparent differences between the two environments, Fujimoto explained that he has always felt at home in Tokyo. For him, the forest and city are compositionally similar: immense spaces made up of many smaller pieces. Natural and artificial artefacts – leaves and branches or street signs and window panes – operate in both places at the human scale.

As the title of his lecture suggests, the natural world has long been a fascination for Fujimoto. Indeed, the forest and city anecdote underpins two related themes that drive all his work and were the subject of his lecture. First is his exploration of field architecture, or the fuzzy zone that exists between fixed states. Second is his interest in the contrast and collision of opposites: natural / artificial, inside / outside, simplicity / complexity, small / large.

The projects presented ranged in scale from the very small to the very large; from a single toilet in Ichihara, Japan, to a 1.5km long shopping strip in the Middle East. The two themes wove their way through all of them, finding expression in the cloud-like edges of the Serpentine pavilion, the fragmented floor plates of NA House, or the undulating canopy of jutting balconies in the White Tree Tower.

Serpentine Galleries pavilion, 2013

serpentine pavilion setting

serpentine pavilion gathering

serpentine pavilion detail

Fujimoto seemed in awe of the Serpentine Galleries and their investment in the annual pavilion programme. He noted the ambition of their commissioning body, who each year seek to recreate the spirit of inventiveness of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. With some whimsy he also described the designs that were rejected, first for being too Fujimoto-like and then for being too not-Fujimoto-like. The successful design proposal managed to stay connected to, but was still a departure from, his existing canon.

It is remarkable that both he and his client could have such confidence and self-awareness to be able to appreciate and direct this process. Insightful self-reflection is not often a trait associated with architects, though perhaps the international speaking circuit has pushed Fujimoto into understanding and articulating the trajectory of his work. It is clear also that the Serpentine is no ordinary commissioning body. They seek out and attract some of the best architects in the world, demand enormous creativity and effort from them (highly experimental pavilions executed from commission to construction in just three months), and have achieved a lineage of follies that are covered by architectural and mainstream media in every corner of the globe.

Fujimoto’s winning proposal started from the idea of a continuous surface wrapping around the core cafe function of the pavilion, a simple sketch that looked a bit like a rolling wave. But both surface and programme were dissolved and deconstructed into a repetitive matrix of 20mm white steel pipes, assembled across a combination of 400 x 400mm and 800 x 800mm grids. From a distance the pavilion resembles a soft white cloud, a carefully determined shape that somehow resists a determined form. Constantly shifting, from one angle (the first photo, above) it mimics the roofline and window reveals of the Serpentine Galleries behind, from another it becomes tree-like, from yet another the rolling wave reasserts itself.

Drawing the design in two dimensions was unhelpful, nothing more than fields of dots on a page. Even the three dimensions of a digital modelling environment lacked the depth and nuance the project required. So Fujimoto’s studio built a 1:10 model and the design development process saw him stalking it with a pair of scissors in hand, pruning a stick here and there as though the model were a topiary hedge. A staff member would trot after him, attaching coloured tape to the modified areas so the minute changes could be fed back into the computer-based documentation.

In this project, the field is strongly evident. The pavilion’s form is somehow both finite and constantly shifting, its programme is intimate yet undefined. Even furniture has an opportunity to unravel the order of the grid: standard cafe furniture create plinths for the “bottom parts of the body, their charming quality offseting the clarity of the grid.” The spacing of the grids permits further disruption: by dogs that walk through them and children who climb into them. The pavilion is a symphony of opposites: simple grids of sticks achieve great formal complexity; inside and outside are indistinguishable from each other; the traditional tectonics of buildings (walls and roofs, stairs and seats) are playfully dissolved.

NA House, 2011

NA house from street

NA house interior #1

NA house interior #2

In a hip, lively part of Tokyo, NA House is located on a typically small Japanese parcel of land measuring just 6 x 9m. Fujimoto felt that a large room on this site was not possible: it could only ever support a large small room. Fortunately, the clients were a young couple enthusiastic about (and presumably wealthy enough to take a risk on) an experimental house.

Fujimoto’s response was based on two radical gestures: first, the front and side facades are almost entirely transparent (even curtains appear to have been avoided); second, the floor plates are split across many levels, dissolved into small parts.

Fujimoto spoke mostly of the floor plates, describing them as mini platforms operating at the scale of furniture. They are separated vertically according to the heights of chairs, tables and benches – the dimensions of the human body. In some instances, ceilings are as low as 1500mm, creating nooks to be crawled into. Life is distributed fluidly across the platforms, a nebulous field that expands and contracts to fit the activity and size of gathering at hand. There is nothing as prosaic as a living room, meals area or bedroom in NA House. The platforms become whatever is needed: a bench seat now, a work surface later. This intent is revealed by photos that show bags, books and computers strewn freely across the floor. The house is full of edges, each creating temporary territories that its residents configure and reconfigure as required.

Though he didn’t discuss it, the transparency of NA House is truly bizarre, particularly in a city as dense as Tokyo. It is far more common to see Japanese architecture that carefully orchestrates views into and out of the interior volumes (indeed, last week Dezeen published a 2009 project by Hiroshima-based UID Architects that incorporates a solid floating fence that wraps the site in a privacy screen). The interior life is entirely on show here, as much a part of the streetscape as Tokyo’s famous Omotesando flagship retail stores. Not unlike Fujimoto’s glass toilet in Ichihara, private space is pushed right up to the edge of public space. We wonder what it would be like to live here at night, with each window a glowing billboard of one’s life? Would the house’s residents feel exposed, or would they feel protected by the anonymity of the street?

If anything, NA House is as clear a demonstration of the experimental quality of Sou Fujimoto’s work as the Serpentine pavilion. In a typology generally defined by conservative, risk-averse commissions (a topic we have previously discussed here), it is a radical redefinition of the programming, tectonics and urbanity of inner city living.

White Tree Tower, 2014

white tree across river

white tree balconies

white tree aerial

Fujimoto won the White Tree Tower project following the aptly named Architectural Folly of the 21st Century design competition. It is perhaps no surprise that a competition so named would be won by an architect who wraps toilets and inner city houses in glass. It is a multi-residential tower located amongst the good food, good weather and good life of the Mediterranean, with an undulating facade sprouting a dense canopy of deeply cantilevered balconies.

The interior volumes of the apartments look much like any other contemporary apartment design, but the balconies are a clever and formally evocative gesture that responds well to the local climate. Fujimoto observed that the majority of Mediterranean life is spent outdoors, is indeed the defining characteristic of the region: why should living in an apartment not provide the same opportunities? The building not only functions like it belongs in a warm climate, its tree-like form makes it look like it does too.

The balconies are this project’s expression of the fuzzy field. In Australia, we are used to seeing facades designed parametrically to obscure unwanted sun, with each window carefully finessed to achieve maximum thermal performance. Fujimoto is not interested in performance-driven architecture though (the balconies wrap 360 degrees around the building, despite the fact that the north face will not receive much direct sunlight): for him, narrative and social context are more valuable. The randomly jutting balconies and roofs will provide shade in an unpredictable pattern; a true intersection of natural and artificial constructs. The tower’s residents will live at the edge of a built forest, shifting positions on their (sometimes multi-storey) balconies to catch the last rays of sun or find relief in the last square inches of shade.

Like NA House, White Tree Tower pushes the most intimate of residential spaces to the very edge of the building. Life is put on display, the building energised by the activity within it. The exciting parts of the building are at its edges, precisely where the field likes to operate. Fujimoto has juxtaposed the public and the private, but big and small, inside and outside, climate and climate-control also.

What did we think?

We recall studying the theory of field architecture during our Bachelor of Architecture degrees, but until hearing Fujimoto speak, have never encountered a practicing architect who proactively explores it in his or her work. It’s not just rhetoric either: Fujimoto’s buildings are genuinely strong expressions of the undefined area between opposites. Edges of roofs are slowly dispersed to blur the boundary between inside and out; deterministic room types are dissolved in favour of platforms that support shifting regions of activities; balconies provide shade without symmetry.

Across all scales, Fujimoto is deeply experimental. Even the 1.5km long Souk Mirage masterplanning project explores the juxtaposition of natural and artificial orders, and the possibilities of undefined, field behaviours that can be found in the zone between. This is an impressive trajectory that reinforces the clarity in Fujimoto’s self awareness: each project teases out the issues further, finds new formal expression for old ideas.

He is also a great distiller: a project is reduced to its core idea, which is then expanded to cover all facets of a design. This is of course true of his formal gestures: for instance, a grid of sticks to makes walls, roofs, stairs and furniture. It is also true of his ideas: he “thinks about nature simply,” proceeding step by step to deepen the relationship between the architectural and natural environments.

Our lasting impression of Sou Fujimoto is a man of embedded contradictions. Like his work, he is the result of the contrast and collisions of opposites. He is confident in himself and his work, but he is also modest. He is playing on a world stage against architects pushing into their 70s, but he is still young. He makes serious architectural enquiries but retains a sense of lightness and humour.

It is easy to overlook his predominantly pristine, white work in a country of highly creative architects producing pristine, white work. But to our pleasure, we discovered that his architecture becomes much more interesting below the surface. It is inventive, rich and complex. Even the whiteness contains a story. When asked whether he’s ever thought about using colour, Fujimoto responded by saying, “I hate white. It is a very powerful colour, it grabbed me and doesn’t like to let me go.”

And why should it indeed?

Image sources:

  1. Sou Fujimoto portrait. Image source: Bustler.
  2. Serpentine Pavilion context, this and subsequent photos copyright Iwan Baan. Source: Domus.
  3. Serpentine Pavilion interior.
  4. Serpentine Pavilion detail.
  5. White Tree Tower context, this and subsequent images copyright of the architect. Source: Designsity
  6. White Tree Tower aerial.
  7. White Tree Tower balconies.
  8. NA House context, this and subsequent images copyright Iwan Baan. Source: Domus.
  9. NA House interior #1.
  10. NA House interior #2.
Posted in Architecture | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We have creative vision

When we are first approached by prospective clients, we have found that few fully understand what an architect does. Many interview draftspeople and volume builders also, and find it difficult to distinguish between the various levels of expertise and design engagement on offer. Invariably, a large part of our first discussion is devoted to explaining how our services differ from those of other building designers and why there is great value in the cost of an architect.

What follows is the 4th of ten articles that explore the question: why engage an architect? An archive of the series can be accessed here.

4. We have creative vision


Designing a building is a sophisticated exercise in problem solving. Our clients come to us with a problem (you need your house to accommodate a growing family) and we provide the solution (a renovation comprising extra bedrooms and mixed use living spaces). This is much easier said than done. To design a house, we must navigate many oceans full of potential icebergs: functional performance, sustainability, contextualisation, planning regulations, building regulations, structural engineering, construction, durability.

The best solutions are the simple ones, the ones that resolve all the parts of the problem into a singular, holistic form. Neither draftspeople nor volume builders attempt this. The products that they sell are solutions for only a tiny fraction of the full problem. They sell houses that ignore the unique requirements of site, context, history, culture and client.

The reason for this is that simple solutions are very difficult to produce. They require deep research, sustained effort and a great deal of patience. They require creative vision.

The great German industrial designer, Dieter Rams, preached the maxim, “Less but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects… Back to purity, back to simplicity.”[1] Steve Jobs passionately followed this philosophy in establishing Apple, the largest and most design-focussed company in the world. He observed, “It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”[2] Jony Ive, Apple’s head designer, agrees: “Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity… You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.”[3]

A building is as complex a product as any, requiring not only technical expertise to reconcile its many different requirements, but creative vision to do so in a simple, sustainable, resourceful, inventive, enduring and beautiful way. This is perhaps the greatest advantage of engaging an architect: our creativity stems from both technical and artistic understanding. We are able to solve your problem with both pragmatism and imagination.


  1. Dieter Rams; 10 Principles of Good DesignVitsoe; accessed 22nd June 2014
  2. As quoted in Walter Isaacson; Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography; Simon & Schuster; United States of America; 2011; p. 343
  3. Ibid.

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  1. Creativity, author’s own image.
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What you see is what you get

When we are first approached by prospective clients, we have found that few fully understand what an architect does. Many interview draftspeople and volume builders also, and find it difficult to distinguish between the various levels of expertise and design engagement on offer. Invariably, a large part of our first discussion is devoted to explaining how our services differ from those of other building designers and why there is great value in the cost of an architect.

What follows is the 3rd of ten articles that explore the question: why engage an architect? An archive of the series can be accessed here.

3. What you see is what you get


The name, architect, is protected in Australia by the Architects Act, first established in 1922 to govern the registration and performance of architects. Only someone meeting the educational and accreditation requirements described by the Act is permitted to call herself an architect.

Thus, when you engage an architect, you know with certainty that she must have studied and graduated from an approved 5 year Bachelor or Master of Architecture degree. She must have trained for a minimum of two years under an already registered architect, and gained experience across a broad range of professional activities. She must have passed written and oral examinations that test her contractual, administrative and construction knowledge.

You also know that once accredited, an architect must be registered by the relevant State authority, which in Victoria is the Architects Registration Board of Victoria.[1] You know that in order to maintain registration, she must be covered by a professional indemnity insurance policy with a minimum $1,000,000 coverage. And depending on the State, she must undertake a minimum of 20 hours of continuing professional development each year.[2] You can view the national list of architect registration boards here or view the database of Victorian architects here.

Many architects, ourselves included, are also members of the Australian Institute of Architects, the professional representative body for architects in Australia. The AIA maintains a professional code of conduct, which requires members to uphold values of “ethical behaviour, equal opportunity, social justice, aspiration to excellence and competent professional performance”. The AIA also provides professional support and advocacy, and recognises the best new architecture each year via an extensive awards programme.

The minimum expertise of an architect is therefore well established, all that remains is your connection to our work ethic, client engagement and design philosophy.


  1. The ARBV is soon to be absorbed into the newly formed Victorian Building Authority, however its existing course accreditation, professional examinations and registration, and disciplinary processes will remain. The Architects Act will also remain as the regulatory framework within which architects practice.
  2. Continuing professional development is compulsory in New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. It is also compulsory for A+ members of the AIA nationally.

Image source:

  1. WYSIWYG, author’s own image.
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Our work is site specific

When we are first approached by prospective clients, we have found that few fully understand what an architect does. Many interview draftspeople and volume builders also, and find it difficult to distinguish between the various levels of expertise and design engagement on offer. Invariably, a large part of our first discussion is devoted to explaining how our services differ from those of other building designers and why there is great value in the cost of an architect.

What follows is the 2nd of ten articles that explore the question: why engage an architect? An archive of the series can be accessed here.

2. Our work is site specific


Just as important as your requirements are the requirements of your site. It has a specific climate, context, history and landscape. It has a specific shape and relationship to the street. It is regulated by local planning and building controls, and has a specific vegetation pattern and soil profile.

We ask questions like: do you live in the city, the suburbs or the country? Are your neighbours clustered in close or spread out over the horizon? Are you near the sea or deep inland? Which way is north? From where do the prevailing winds originate? Does your site have a rich environmental, cultural or building history? Is it bushfire, termite or inundation prone?

These may seem like simple questions, but neither a draftsperson nor a volume builder will ask them. The former will commit to paper whatever you tell her, with minimum contextual modification. The latter will simply rotate one of its off-the-shelf plans to face the street, the source of sunlight and wind neglected.

We believe however that these questions are essential to understanding the limitations and opportunities of your site. In designing for you, we consider and address them all. We spend time on your site, photographing and measuring it. If you are renovating your house, we draw it in detail, capturing every wall, door and window. We commission a land survey to confirm the location of your site’s boundaries, its trees and services, its contours and fencing. We investigate the planning regulations that cover it, its zoning and overlays, and determine any likely areas of non-compliance. We ask what you like about your site and what you don’t like about it.

If you live in the city, we examine the local built fabric. Do you live in an area recently established or dating back a century or more? Does it have a unified or mixed neighbourhood character? If you live in the country, we examine the landscape. What is its topography? Where are the best views? Are the plants native or introduced? Where is the best place to put your house?

If you were to commission us to design two houses on two different sites, even right next door to one another, you would receive two different designs. Our ultimate goal is a building that is as much a part of the land as the grass and the trees.

Image source:

  1. Site, author’s own image.
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Our work is all about you

When we are first approached by prospective clients, we have found that few fully understand what an architect does. Many interview draftspeople and volume builders also, and find it difficult to distinguish between the various levels of expertise and design engagement on offer. Invariably, a large part of our first discussion is devoted to explaining how our services differ from those of other building designers and why there is great value in the cost of an architect.

What follows is the 1st of ten articles that explore the question: why engage an architect? An archive of the series can be accessed here.

1. Our work is all about you

20140702 you

Every client is unique. You have a unique personality and lifestyle. Your tastes are unique, as are your work habits and hobbies. You might work from home, entertain regularly or have your parents visit each month. You might be a passionate chef, film enthusiast or weekend craftsman. You may be starting a family, on the brink of your children leaving home, or not interested in kids at all. You might be cautious with the money you spend on your house, or excited about stepping into the unknown.

Unlike volume builders, we do not assume we know what your house should be like before we’ve even met you. We do know that your home should complement your personality and nurture your daily life. It should fit you like a glove, growing and changing as you do. It should delight, inspire and comfort you. It should be as unique as you are.

Which is why we design every project from scratch.

We start each project with a blank page, and keep it blank until we have taken the opportunity to learn about you, your family and your lifestyle. We assist you to formulate a detailed project brief, describing everything from how long you hope to live in your new house, to how many bedrooms you need, to what sort of storage requirements you have. We ask you to explain the requirements you have for every room, their sizes, intended furniture and connections to one another. We encourage you to develop a portfolio of space, joinery and materials ideas that you like, either online or in hardcopy.

Only then do we put pen to paper and begin our design work.

In architecture, there is no such thing as one size fits all. The house we design for you will be unique, with no other like it on the planet. It will be as powerfully influenced by your personality as it is ours.

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  1. You, author’s own image.
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