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2015 ACT architecture awards

NewActon Pavilion Reconstruction by Fender Katsalidis Architects.
NewActon Pavilion Reconstruction by Fender Katsalidis Architects. Image: John Gollings 

The 2015 ACT Architecture Awards were announced on Saturday 20 June, at the refurbished QT Hotel on London Circuit. The New Acton precinct by Melbourne based Fender Katsalidis Architects was recognised as the standout project, and was awarded the Australian Institute of Architect’s highest accolade, the Canberra Medallion.  The precinct also won awards in the following categories:

  • Urban Design
  • Sustainable Architecture
  • Interior Architecture
  • Art in Architecture
  • Heritage
  • Small Project Architecture (Roji Salon by Craig Tan Architects).

Canberra Developers, the Molonglo Group were also acknowledged for their significant long term role in bringing their vision for the precinct into reality.  A vibrant precinct that Canberran’s will enjoy for many years to come.

Canberra’s controversial new convention centre design

An artist's impression of what a new Canberra convention centre might look like.

The controversial winning submission for Canberra’s proposed new convention centre is a  conceptual design. The project that will eventually be delivered will likely be a significantly different design. The competition judging panel unanimously selected the winning design by Canberra based GMB, who have a proven track record with significant projects having recently designed the new Canberra Airport Terminal. Their real claim to fame however is new Parliament House…although the practice now is no doubt quite different to how it was 20-30 years ago. GMB have partnered with notable Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas, who would have contributed the design flair evident in the design.

It’s an interesting, and in many ways practical arrangement for delivering iconic architecture. A renowned (international?) design architect to handle the front end design work…and a locally based practice to undertake the detailed documentation and construction stage. It’s not an altogether uncommon relationship. For example this is how the new Frank Gehry building at UTS Sydney has been delivered, in partnership with the Sydney office of Jackson Architecture.

Although Fuksas + GMB have one foot in the door, they aren’t guaranteed the final commission. At this early stage they have merely been appointed to work with the various stakeholders in order to develop a ‘reference design’ and business case for the new centre. The design and will undergo many design iterations and value management exercises, and will more than likely look quite different.

The Sydney Opera House was controversial and exorbitantly expensive too. But it’s importance to Sydney as a tourist destination is huge . Is it time for Canberra to think bigger than that of the country town it used to be?

Is it a case of…’Build it, and they will come’?

a denser & more sustainable Canberra

Hot-air balloons fly over Canberra, which will be transformed by 2060.

After over seven years at Daryl Jackson Alastair Swayn, I established MTarchitecture to focus on residential architecture. In conjunction with private practice I continue to undertake freelance work for them. As well as being the Principal Director of this company, Alastair Swayn is also the ACT Government Architect. In this article from the Canberra Times, Alastair writes about how he sees Canberra changing over the next 45 years…how it needs to change.

Research shows that Australian houses are getting bigger. Canberra houses are amongst the largest in the world, averaging upwards of 240 square metres. Alastair Swayn writes that this is up from 140 square metres 45 years ago in 1970. For context, I believe a standard 3 bedroom 1 bathroom ex-govie in Canberra is about 100 square metres. In contrast to this increase in house size, there has been a significant decrease in the average number of persons per household.

I find this dichotomy both interesting and somewhat obscene, particularly in the context of sustainability. Surely one of, if not the most fundamental tenet of sustainable design and construction, is to build compact houses and to forgo the third bathroom, home theatre, rumpus room, dedicated guest room and triple garage etc (even better would be to renovate and re-purpose an existing dwelling). Clever planning and flexible multi-purpose spaces within a house can often cater for the changing needs of todays families, without building separate spaces to cater for all potential eventualities. All things being equal, a smaller building footprint is going to be less expensive to construct, less expensive to heat and cool, and will be easier to clean and maintain. It could be argued that the money saved by opting for a smaller house, would be better spent by investing it in passive design strategies, quality materials and progressive energy efficient technologies.

When it comes to sustainable design…it is quality rather than quantity that matters.

architectural sketching

Architectural Sketching Supplies

The teaching semester at the University of Canberra has finished, and it always fascinates (and frustrates) me how much the sketching and drawing ability varies amongst the students. Some probably have a drafting or an artistic background, so it comes more naturally. Whereas others prefer to focus on using digital media, and will avoid picking up a pen or pencil in the studio. But even with today’s prevalence of sophisticated CAD and 3D modelling software, there is always a place for the simple things. I’ll always use a roll of trace, a scale ruler, and a thick and a thin pen. It may sound clichéd, but sketching on napkins in cafes, and on the back of coasters in bars does sometimes happen.

I’ve always found it much easier to explore ideas and potential solutions using the medium of pen and paper. This means the wrong solution is also much easier to discard when it’s simply a sketch, allowing the designer to focus on finding the right solution, which usually takes time and numerous iterations.

Sketching is a way of learning about the problem you are trying to solve.

Architects will inevitably develop their own style during their years of training and their professional careers. I’m always fascinated to see the initial concept sketches for well known buildings. For example, the famous American architect Frank Gehry has a style which sees him sketch in a continuous and fluid motion, not lifting his pen from the page, progressively getting a feel for and refining the forms and spaces. I see many similarities between my style and the author of this blog.

plywood joinery

plywood joinery

I’ve been working with a joinery contractor to develop a cost effective way of fabricating plywood joinery for the Red Hill townhouse renovation. After speaking with a few joiners I’ve realised that plywood unfortunately isn’t the most stable material when used for large panels such as cupboard doors…it tends to twist and bow. And using it in thicknesses sufficient to stay straight and plumb ends up being prohibitively expensive. This prototype is a composite construction, using a plywood veneer laminated to a cheaper and more stable MDF substrate, and edged with a thin strip of plywood to achieve the visible grain aesthetic that I’m looking for.

white house

extension and renovation
White House – Carlton North, Victoria
Nixon Tulloch Fortey

A former colleague of mine (from a previous life when I was living in Melbourne) recently designed and project managed the extension and renovation of his family home. The clever use of voids and placement of clerestory windows has created a wonderful sense of light and space in what is a modest sized dwelling. I don’t think it would be a bad thing if Canberra had more strategically located areas where small blocks and high plot ratios were allowed. This house squeezes 220sqm onto a 206sqm block.

passive design

Architects accrue a wide variety of knowledge over years of training and professional practice, and I think we sometimes take for granted our understanding of passive design principles. I came across this Australian Government website recently which includes lots of useful information and explains the principles of passive design in some detail for those who are unfamiliar with them.

Thermal mass is something I’ve discussed with a clients recently, as it seems where to use it doesn’t seem to be well understood. I’ll use the house I currently live in to illustrate a point. It has a concrete slab on ground with a floating timber floor. One of the living spaces receives fantastic morning sunlight through until about midday. During the cool autumn mornings the space is nice and warm and heating isn’t required. But once the direct sunlight is lost in the early afternoon, the space quickly loses warmth, and the timber floor feels cold. If the concrete slab was exposed or even had a tiled finish, this would provide thermal mass would store the heat and re-radiate it during the afternoon and evening. It would significantly smooth out the dramatic temperature fluctuations.

In contrast to this, we have a second living space which doesn’t receive much sunlight at all. In this situation having an exposed concrete slab (or tiles) would actually work against maintaining a comfortable temperature, as the concrete would absorb the cold and stay cold all day. For the sake of my passive design argument, artificial heating hasn’t been taken into consideration.

Passive design principles need to be considered and applied holistically, so that they can work together and not against each other.

compact living

extension and renovation
Parure House – Kensington, Victoria
Architects EAT

Loving the use of materials in this extension & renovation project, and the way a such variety of interesting spaces has been sculpted out of such a small inner city block. The use of weathered steel reinforcing mesh to create a vertical garden is very similar to something I had in mind for my Red Hill townhouse renovation project.

when is sustainable design un-sustainable?

sustainable designBrockwell Park House, South London
Zac Monro Architects

I watched an episode of Grand Designs UK the other day, and it got me thinking about the notion of sustainability. The owners of this under construction house were talking about how their desire to be sustainable lead them to renovate and extend a 1950s house rather than knock it down and re-build.

Recycling and re-purposing of existing structures and materials is without doubt a key principle of sustainable design and construction.

However in this instance, the existing structure has been substantially extended outwards and upwards, at considerable financial and embodied energy expense. The existing fabric has been covered with multiple layers of new materials both inside and out, to the point where it is essentially unrecognisable. While the owners of this project may have had their hearts in the right place, their desire to build a large modernist statement has arguably undone all the good work of recycling the existing building in the first place.

The materials and architectural composition are lovely though.

FASHFEST at 3 Molonglo Drive


FASHFEST was held last weekend in the atrium of 3 Molonglo Drive, of my projects while at Daryl Jackson Alastair Swayn. The building’s internal fitout has been delayed until a tenant is secured, leaving a raw industrial space with fantastic volume. It’s great to see the space being used in such an innovative way.