Entries open for the 2020 Institute’s Dulux Study Tour

Celebrating its 13th anniversary, the 2020 Institute’s Dulux Study Tour is your opportunity to be part of an exciting and coveted program that inspires and fosters Australia’s next generation of emerging architectural talent. Winners will embark on an exciting architectural international tour where they can experience firsthand some of the best architectural sites and practices.

Entry into the 2020 Dulux Study Tour is a two stage process:

Stage 1
To enter, entrants are required to submit their answers to four nominated questions, their contact details and details of their employer via the online entry system.

Stage 1 submissions close at AEDT 5:00pm Monday 14 October 2019.

Late submissions will not be accepted. Entrants’ answers to the nominated questions will be judged, and shortlisted entrants will be notified to enter into Stage 2.

Stage 2
Shortlisted entrants must upload via the online entry system an A4 document that includes: an employer reference, resume (maximum two pages), portfolio of works (maximum of four pages). Submissions for stage 2 will be open from Thursday 17 October 2019 when shortlisted entries will be notified of the outcome. The closing date for Stage 2 is 5:00pm AEDT Monday 18 November 2019.

2020 Dulux Study Tour Terms and Conditions

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2019 Dulux Study Tour: Thanks for the laughs, tears, and tarts

The 2019 Dulux Study Tour group. L–R: Linda Cheng, Carrie Field, Alix Smith, Carly McMahon, Ben Peake, Jennifer McMaster, Phillip Nielsen, Anurita Kupar and Mai Huynh

The 2019 Dulux Study Tour has been a jam-packed whirlwind tour of fun, reflection, inspiration, and a bit of emotion thrown in for good measure. An experience, I believe, will take us time to understand the full value to our careers.

From the moment we stepped off the plane and onto the timber parquetry floors of Copenhagen airport, we were surrounded by architectural and design inspiration, including a sighting of Bjarke Ingels at the airport.

The 2019 Dulux Study Tour winners at the Neighbourhood Centre, Jemtelandsgade by Dorte Mandrup.

The tour structure of visiting three cities, fifteen practices, and countless buildings and spaces over ten days meant that our conversations compared the differences and similarities. Comparisons were made to our own practices in Australia and between the individual cities of the tour. This is something we all do when travelling, but having the focus of five architects put the discussions into overdrive. From Copenhagen’s sense of publicness, to London’s palatable energy, and historic Lisbon – we discussed our initial impressions of the essence of each city. What opportunities are there for us to learn from the positive and negative aspects of these places? What can we learn from the experience of the various architecture studios we are visiting?

Our analysis and reflection of cities also filtered into our own relationships as we quickly began to form friendships. Conversations about our Zodiac star signs, Myers–Briggs type indicator, and love languages were intertwined with questions of how we create, protect, and improve culture. Over dinners, drinking, and dancing we were able to enjoy the cities, and each other’s company, as regular tourists.

The 2019 Dulux Study Tour winners on the running track on top of White Collar Factory by AHMM.

Past Dulux Alumni have told us how awesome the study tour is. However, we all felt humbled by the generosity of Dulux and the Australian Institute of Architects. Generosity is a theme of the tour as the design studios opened their doors and minds to our questions.

The experience has been made unforgettable by everyone on the tour. My fellow winners: Alex Smith, Carly McMahon, Jennifer McMaster, and Phillip Nielsen.

We were joined on the tour by our Dulux hosts, Anurita Kapur and Caroline Field. They have a real passion for supporting and encouraging emerging architects. They wanted us to get the most from the cities and practices we visited. This extended to embracing the 2019 Eurovision Grand Final in London, and fuelling our obsession with Pastel de nata in Lisbon. Linda Cheng, of Architecture Media, inspired our Dulux Study Tour band photos, something we have become accustomed to, and by the end of the tour we were actively looking for our own awkward family photo opportunities. In the hours following the formal end of the tour, and without the steady guide and perfectly timed WhatsApp messages from Mai Huynh of the Australian Institute of Architects, the Dulux Study Tour winners had missed trains, taken a taxi to the wrong hotel, and struggled to open doors of an Airbnb. A sign of Mai’s commitment to getting us where we needed to be when we needed to be there.     

The 2019 Dulux Study Tour winners on top of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology by AL_A.

The professional and life experiences of everyone on the tour made the ten days more than a study of architecture and practices. It was a much broader conversation of the role and value of design in our society, and how each of us can contribute to culture. A conversation that we will continue to have with each other as we return to reality.

– Ben Peake

Lisbon day 3: A Bit Like Chef’s Table

Today was marked by a series of practice visits where, towards the end of the day, a key theme emerged, courtesy of ARX Arquitectos’ director, José Mateus.

Second Home by Selgas Cano.

During our visit, José compared a career in architecture to a narrative arc on the popular TV show, Chef’s Table. These chefs are passionate about what they do, but also experience considerable challenges in their careers. As José stated: “There is a common aspect to all of these chefs, which is a capacity to resist all sorts of troubles, and I think this same thing is crucial to young architects.”

To pursue a career in architecture, José believes, you need vision, strong convictions, and plenty of resilience. These are qualities we witnessed across all three practices today, beginning at Embaixada.

Embaixada studio.

Embaixada is a small practice with what, for me, is a very familiar story: three architects started their studio “from scratch” shortly after finishing university. Fast forward to today, and Embaixada have completed elegant projects across Europe and Asia.

Embaixada’s vision is deeply embedded within their studio’s brand. Embaixada, which translates to mean “embassy,” is best defined by the practice’s logo, a creature with three heads of a tiger, a snake and a flamingo.

Each animal represents a different personality: the tiger is strong and imposing, the snake sneaky and strategic, and the flamingo sensitive and delicate. It’s a great metaphor for the many roles we need to adopt as architects. For Embaixada, it has helped define its design process and collaborative model for eighteen.

After a quick round of Portuguese tarts – facilitated by our formidable guide, Embaixada’s Cristina Mendonca – we knocked on the door of Bak Gordon.

Ricardo Bak Gordon of Bak Gordon.
The Bak Gordon studio.

The studio’s director, Ricardo Bak Gordon, showcased the practice’s calm and consistent work, which exhibits the best qualities we’ve witnessed here in Lisbon: a sensitivity to context, respect for history, and an unassuming use of materials. Sitting through their project slideshow was a veritable feast of excellent work, and I left with no doubt of this studio’s success.  

Our last stop was at ARX Arquitectos, where we sat down with José Mateus. Over the next hour or so, he shared his story with humility, honesty, humour and grace.

Models at the ARX studio

ARX Arquitectos started in 1991, when José was twenty-eight and his brother and co-director, Nuno, was thirty. At the time, they cracked opened a bottle of Moët, and began working out of a modest, 50-square-metre apartment. Their story screamed of optimism and, as the practice began doing more projects, they thought: “Wow ­– we are going forward so fast.”

But, of course, every hero – or heroine’s – journey comes with its setbacks. Here, José speaks of the 2010-2011 economic crisis as period when business got tough. During this time, the studio had no work and 50% of Portuguese offices closed. To survive this downturn, the studio diversified its portfolio and began working in new sectors and locations.

The model shop at ARX studio

Today, 90% of the practice’s work is in Lisbon, and ARX supports a stable team of twenty people. Recently, the studio has shifted to a four-day working week, allowing people to adopt more balanced lives. José also spoke with pride about the fact that he pays all of his staff proper wages, in resistance to the unpaid internship culture that proliferates our industry.

I’ve always found an enormous amount of comfort in hearing other people’s stories. A bit like Chef’s Table, they remind us that we all make mistakes and experience difficulties as we strive for excellence. They also remind us to act with courage, confidence and conviction, knowing that these qualities are ultimately rewarded.

An ARX building site

As we went on, José continued to dispense the wisdom he’s learned across twenty-five years of practice. Speaking about the studio’s work, he described how “we have very clear ethics and values, and we don’t accept things that can damage the city.” He also described his involvement in politics and public life, which he noted as “a privilege and a pleasure.”

As we wound up our final day, I reflected on the fact that myself, Ben, Phillip, Alix and Carly are only at the beginning of our own narrative arcs. As I’ve learned on this tour, we are all passionate and purposeful, with goals and dreams and projects to lead. Yet, we’ve also experienced setbacks, and missteps, and moments we regret. Hearing the stories of these three practices offered me – and all of us – a lot of hope and solace. We all left with more lessons under our belt, knowing there’s so much more to strive for.  

– Jennifer McMaster

Lisbon day 2: Castles and concrete canopies

I would be remiss to start this post without acknowledging the group’s overwhelming obsession and hunger for Portuguese egg tarts. As such we sent Ben out on his morning run with a mission to bring back a box of tarts for all. Feeding time at the zoo occurred in the hotel lobby before we boarded a bus for the walking tour of Lisbon.

Exterior of the Thalia Theatre restoration by by Gonçalo Byrne Architects and Barbras Lopes Architects.

Driving north we stopped outside a monolithic form surrounded by a Miesian pavilion at the lower levels. This project by Gonçalo Byrne Architects and Barbras Lopes Architects is a restoration of the Thalia Theatre ruins. The concrete exterior of the building is an austere shadow of the original 1825 theatre that provides structural support to the ruins within. Entering from the back of the building through the contemporary addition a small door way opens into the theatre revealing the crumbled stone walls of the original 1825 building. I couldn’t help but contemplate the contradiction of the exterior and interior and how this type of architectural response would be received in Australia’s pursuit of replicating heritage to complement heritage. While this renovation is a contemporary work there are moments when the marriage of old and new is so well executed that it is hard to tell which is which. 

Interior of the Thalia Theatre restoration by by Gonçalo Byrne Architects and Barbras Lopes Architects.

The next stop on our “walking” tour by bus was the site of the Lisbon Expo where we became quickly distracted by a pond of water and the reflections of light cast on to the soffit of a small canopy. Architects… what more can I say?

Oceanario by Peter Chermayeff.

The group paused for a moment and enjoyed a coffee in the new extension to the Oceanario de Lisboa. Our amazing tour guide Rodrigo Lima elaborated that the theme for the Lisbon Expo was the ocean and the original Oceanario building designed by Peter Chermayeff was the centrepiece located in the middle of the marina. The building reads like typical expo/conference structures on the 1990’s. It has no connection to the waterfront around it. In the distance we get a glimpse of the Portugal Pavilion by Alvaro Siza, which looks like the antithesis of the Oceanario de Lisboa.

Portuguese Pavilion by Alvaro Siza.

We eagerly walk to the pavilion slowly, wander beneath the sweeping concrete canopy and taking in the monumental scale of the space and materiality. After seeing the clumsiness of a ‘centrepiece’ with rubbish piled up beneath, it was a surprise to see a series of walled courtyards at the back of the Portugal Pavilion where the realities of a building viewed in the round could conceal and delight with shade trees, stacked furniture and bins. The visit to the expo site was concluded with a brief visit to Santiago Calatrava’s railway station before jumping back on the bus to lunch. As we departed we discussed the prevalence of nautical references in the architecture of the area and its similarities to architecture from the same era in Australia which we coined as ‘Noughties Nautical’.

Santa Justa lift by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, an admirer of Gustave Eiffel.

Following lunch the walking tour by foot began with a journey through the city and up to the Castelo de São Jorge via a series of elevator links. Within the walled castle complex the tour takes us to an excavation that was discovered while preparing foundations for a new car park. Once uncovered the archaeologist discovered that the foundations revealed centuries of history from the Iron Age, mediaeval Muslim occupation and a fifteenth century palace. The excavation is surrounded by a Corten retaining wall that folds into the landscape and creates small covered areas to protect various elements. A white form floats over another part of the dig, which when entered recreates a series of rooms of former 11th Century Muslim domestic structures. This approach of dealing with history without the use of literal replication insinuate a sensitivity and subtlety towards place and materiality within Portuguese architecture.

The ruins at Castelo de São Jorge.

During the remainder of the afternoon we meander through the extremely busy streets of the old city from the castle towards the waterfront. It is during this time that Rodrigo elaborates on the history of the city and the impact of an earthquake and subsequent tidal surge in the 1600’s that brought much of the city to the ground. In response to evacuation issues with the previous plan the city was rebuilt with wider streets improving access but also resulting in the uniform style of colourful and glazed tile buildings across the entirety of the old city.  

Today the tour showed us a range of projects designed by local and international studios, which implied that Portuguese architecture is rational, confident and quiet. I’m now looking forward to a day of practice visits to hear if they describe their work in a similar way. 

– Phillip Nielsen

Lisbon day 1: Perfect Imperfect

We arrived in Lisbon today, city three of three. A relatively light on itinerary we had only had three things to do. Make it to the airport on time, tour the Museum Art Architecture and Technology (MAAT), and eat a Portuguese tart.  

We managed number one, relatively unscathed, although with Carrie’s birthday celebrations and the Eurovision final there were a few sleep deprived tour members on the bus. The flight over the Channel and beyond allowed time for reflection on what the tour so far and anticipation for what was to come, between naps that is.

Contrasts and similarities between Copenhagen and London were exacerbated by our arrival to Lisbon. Copenhagen was an amazing city and is regularly ranked amongst the top liveable cities on the world. On our studio visits and building tours we learned that people are always at the centre of the decisions made for the city, public places are of high priority to government and architects alike. London on the other hand had a more privatised approach to public space. Squares that seemed public were in fact private spaces that had commercial not community reason for being there. While London is seemingly all about monumental architecture, Copenhagen seems more humble. Still they both seem to be a bit contrived, maybe a little too perfect. But only in comparison to Lisbon.

The streets of Lisbon.

Lisbon feels vibrant. The topography, hilly streets that wind around the city are filled with brightly painted buildings or beautifully glazed tiled facades. The pavements are made of patterned mosaic stones that have become polished (and a little slippery) by the constant footsteps of the cities inhabitants. The narrow streets will unexpectedly open up into beautiful public squares. There is an imperfection to the city, that in contrast is starting to make Copenhagen feel a little Truman-esque.

Walking towards MAAT by AL_A.

This imperfection of the city is somehow manifested in AL_A’s MAAT.  Located in the historic Belem’s district the project, commissioned by the EDP Foundation a private non-profit institution, it seeks to revitalise the riverfront and provide a space for “debate, critical thinking, and international dialogue”.  The building is pulled back from the rivers edge, giving way to a large promenade the is filled with people walking, cycling, and scooting by.  The sculptural form of the building also provides a large open space on the roof top with 360-degree views of the river and the city. It’s making some fantastic civic moves. The form, when seen from particular angles, has beautiful lines that are reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House by Utzon. The execution is far from perfect though, and spatially the interior poses some problems in the operation of a museum gallery space.


Our museum guide Renato Santos introduces us to the concept of “real” and “fake” space. When clarifying if he means the “real” space is the architecture as it was originally designed and the “fake” space is the temporary insertions to make the current exhibitions workable in the building, he answers, “even fake things are real.  Fake news is real to the people who believe it is real”.  A highly philosophical answered, to what I thought was a pretty straight forward question.  I’ll be thinking about that one for a while.  

It is what he means though, and this need for “fake” space in a building designed as an exhibition space, shows how this building is not perfect. Servitudes – Circuits (Interpassivities) by Jasper Just in the Oval Gallery plays to this need for “fake” space by inserting new pathways and spaces into the building.  The feeling is that without an imperfect exhibition space to do that in, the art work wouldn’t be as successful as it is.  

Servitudes – Circuits (Interpassivities) by Jasper Just.

The neighbouring exhibition Fiction and Fabrication: Photography of Architecture after the Digital Turn also speaks to the themes of perfection, imperfection, real, and fake.  With the anniversary of 30 years of photoshop, it is hard to decipher which photos are real, what has been fabricated, and if being perfect makes them good images or not. Just as if being a perfect city, makes for a good city.  I’m excited to find out more about Lisbon on our walking tour tomorrow and just how perfectly imperfect this city is. Since we never managed to get that Portuguese tart, we’ll have to work on that too.

– Carly McMahon

London day 3: Preservation in the age of capitalism

Today is a hard one to summarise – we were taken on a guided walking tour by architectural conservationist and educator David Garrard around a multitude of buildings, from a remnant of the fortified wall that enclosed medieval London, to the Herzog and de Meuron’s Tate Modern Switch House that was completed in 2017.
My overall impression is that London is a city in tension and profoundly more chaotic than what I saw in Copenhagen. There’s a palpable tension between economic growth and preservation, the working class and the bourgeois. It has a rebellious, punk attitude in contrast to deep rooted tradition that makes the city such a captivating place.
For me, the tour today raised many questions about heritage and conservation. London is a city that seems to be constantly shifting the goalposts of what should be preserved. Amid rapid development you can see in the urban fabric make desperate grasps to protect the vestiges of their built history.  “View cones” to St Paul’s carve out dense pockets of high rise towers, even though the view of the cathedral’s river facing façade has long been compromised by new developments. Many of the contemporary buildings we saw today only exist because heritage listed buildings were allowed to be cleared for “exemplary” architecture. Ordinarily, buildings less than 30 years old are not considered for heritage listing. However James Stirling’s No 1 Poultry was granted listing status at barely 20 years old and uniquely evaded the fate of many other post-modernist buildings.
No 1 Poultry by James Stirling.
The mid-point of the tour today saw us encounter two impressive brutalist buildings, the Hayward Gallery and National Theatre that seem lucky to have survived an era of public distaste for the style, to live until a time when there is growing interest in the brutalism and its severe, raw structures. This newfound trend or fashion for brutalism is an example of how quickly the thresholds of taste can change.  
Of course, some brutalist buildings are deemed more worthy than others – the unloved, exuberant and “craggy brutalism” of the Hayward Gallery building sits next to the more universally renowned National Theatre. The Hayward Gallery is a clear example of the opposing forces of this city, a building that at once “outraged bourgeois tastes” whilst also catering for them with galleries for fine art, whilst the National Theatre is “a breathtaking and serene” play of volume and space. 
National Theatre by Denys Lasdun and Partners.
Seeking a non architect’s opinion on brutalism – I asked Anurita from Dulux what she thought of the two buildings. To her, both were inaccessible, heavy and somewhat depressing. Yet the architecturally trained members on the tour all entered a dream state and a frenzy of photography when we came upon the National Gallery. It’s clear brutalism is really still an architect’s architecture, and it can be pretty difficult to argue for it’s public value. 
Hayward Gallery by GLC Architects Department.
Across the river we saw another brutal, yet not brutalist icon at the Tate Modern. Within Herzog and De Meuron’s revitalisation of this industrial structure we can see changing approaches to preservation within one site, and even within the work of one architect in two projects developed 10 years apart. 
The refurbishment of the spaces around the Cathedral-like Turbine hall exhibit one approach in which new interventions starkly contrast in material and form with the existing. 
Turbine Hall of Tate Modern by Herzog and de Meuron.
In the Switch House, completed in 2017, Herzog and de Meuron’s approach seems to have shifted from toward a more analogous use of material and structures. The base of the Switch House is particularly joyful, where the junctions between the rough existing concrete structures of the tanks and columns and an exquisite forest-like collection of new concrete columns and a grand stair are almost imperceivable. 
Tate Modern by Herzog and de Meuron.
What differentiates the brutality of the Tate from the National Theatre and Hayward Gallery building, however, is the generous and open spirit of the gallery that invites the public into their spaces. The Turbine Hall can be used in its most basic state as a thoroughfare, and the Switch House invites visitors up to its free viewing floor for a unique perspective of London. 
Tate Modern by Herzog and de Meuron
In defending certain architectural styles that were once out of favour today, I had to challenge my own opinions of other styles, one being the locally grown, yet globally ambitious “high-tech” movement born from London practices such as Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners and Foster and Partners. Having always disliked this style from an aesthetic point of view, understanding the style today from the broader cultural context of representing at once London’s industrial identity, as well as its innovative aspirations of the late 20th century, I have a newfound appreciation for the climate in which it rose to popularity. 
Just as I imagine brutalism might have ruffled a few feathers decades before, I imagine the experience of the Lloyds building by Richard Rogers Partnership – what our guide described as “emerging through Dickensian lanes upon an explosion of kit” –  would have done the same in it’s time and probably still does. The building has a certain kind of shocking, ugly beauty that is not for everyone, but I believe is a building of great worth I would hate to see gone.
The Lloyds Building by Richard Rogers Partnership adjacent to “a Dickensian lane.”
In keeping with the ugly/beautiful theme, one of our last stops was the divisive and epic post-modernist 1 Poultry by James Stirling. Having studied architecture in Melbourne, I’ve always had a soft-spot for the pos- modern movement and the era it was born from, most probably due to how much coverage the movement had in the history and theory subjects that were part of the curriculum there. I have realised on this trip, however, this is not a common situation for all that have studied architecture, and the post-modern movement can be inaccessible and derided by architects and non-architects alike. But I’m so glad the building has been listed and hopefully protected for many years to come. Because the central atrium space is breathtaking, and without post-modernism, we wouldn’t have practices like Herzog and de Meuron who manage to interpret context in new and perhaps more palatable ways.
Lloyds Building by Richard Rogers Partnership.
While this city can seem anarchic and capitalist-driven in its development compared to more fiercely preserved European cities, it seems it is precisely this combination of tradition, establishment, enterprise and innovation that has allowed London the remain one of the true powerhouse cities of the world.
I feel no closer to answers of any of the questions raised today about appropriate conservation and preservation, only armed with more questions.  What role will sustainability objectives have in our future choices of what to preserve and what is allowed to be removed? How do we create situations which give us the time to let buildings become sacrosanct? What is the correct amount of time to wait before deciding if a building is important? And who gets to decide?
– Alix Smith

London day 2: Life on Mars

Day Five of the tour was, as usual, a rapid-fire affair. Our morning began at the Foster and Partners ‘campus’ in Battersea, which includes several model making areas, a to-die-for materials library and a thrumming café. The visit revealed the practice’s parallel interests in innovation, materials research and commercial viability. We all left suitably impressed.

By 10:30, we were in a taxi, racing across town to the sleek AL_A studio. Here, we were shown several of the practice’s projects, which employ everything from carbon fibre to crafted ceramics. Then lunch, then a swift tour of the accomplished White Collar Factory by AHMM, then a pit-stop at the London outpost of the Australian studio Hassell. We rounded out the day with a tour of Mars, But more on that later.

Learning about Foster and Partners Mars project.

The pace of this tour has been quick, quick, quick – yet I couldn’t have hoped for a speedier education. Over these last five days, we’ve visited two cities and eleven practices who have generously opened their doors to our group of young, curious architects. We’ve been thirsty for knowledge – and quite often parched – as we’ve raced around these cities, keen and eager to learn.

While we’ve moved at lightning speed, our observations have accumulated – and solidified – more slowly. We’ve started to see trends in what is said – or not said – by each practice that we visit. By now, we’ve also experienced two cities, with two distinctive architectural cultures, and patterns are emerging.

Spending an hour at each practice to talk about their projects – and priorities – the patterns are illuminating, Overwhelmingly, the studios in Copenhagen spent their time discussing people and place. Their focus was undoubtedly drawn towards the greater project their own city, and how they’d use their tools and talents to improve it.

By contrast, London’s architecture scene has been underscored by intellectual, technical and professional ambition. In this fast-paced, global city, the outlook is international, multi-disciplinary and driven by an insatiable desire for excellence.

Foster and Partners Materials Research Centre.

So far, this has manifested itself in all kinds of ways. It’s evident in the structural prowess of Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, and in the impassioned investigations of Peter Barber Architects. It’s also clear in the archive-diving work of 6a Architects, whose work originates in painstaking analysis.

For me, today felt like another stratosphere: moving through three (very) large practices was dazzling, and puzzling, and very foreign. Peering down on hundreds of monitors at Foster and Partners, I felt a long way from home and the realities of our small practice of three. At the same time, it was exciting, and exhilarating, to be amidst such an unfamiliar place. There was loads to learn.

Yet, across these practices, it felt like we spoke more about life on Mars than we spoke about life in London. In fact, two of the three practices we visited have experimental projects they are developing on the red planet, far away from earth. The best of these was Hassell’s enthralling Mars Habitat project, which mobilises inflatables and Martian dust to form a community for astronauts. Again, this was a world away from my daily work in Sydney.

Today, we heard more about architectural prowess than people or place, or this city we’re in. This is not to say that these practices don’t care about these other ideals – I’m sure they do. But, within our designated hour, we heard more about experimentation and technical excellence, and forging new frontiers.  

White Collar Factory by AHMM.

Life on Mars? As the day drew to a close, I couldn’t help but wonder about life on Earth, and in this place. Across the universe, these are undoubtedly the places that concern me and our studio’s work.

Ultimately, hearing these things helped me – and everyone on the tour – start talking about what drives each of us: where we work, what we value, and what we think matters most. In many ways, this is what the Study Tour is all about: getting outside your comfort zone, challenging your assumptions, and figuring what you stand for.

– Jennifer McMaster

Hassell studio in London

London day 1: Little low-tech and large high-tech

It’s day 4, or 5 if you count the arrival day.  But I don’t as it was a blur of sleep depravation and delicious pizza served by an Australian waiter (have we left home yet?).  Only half of the tour is left, somehow it’s simultaneously moving fast and slow.  So much has happened already that yesterday felt like a week ago.  The studio visits, site tours, and building stops are all rolling into one and a forming a wonderful bubbling pot of ideas, inspiration, and questions.  These need to be dissected, debated, and analysed with a microscope.  But it is our only night off and London calls, so first impressions it is.

The pace of the day is a little slower than some, mainly owing to the extended travel between studios caused by London traffic.  But spending 50 minutes in the Uber with my head whipping around to see the sites is exciting even without the studio visits: three in total plus a stop at the Design Museum. Not only are the sites abundant, the conversation between our destinations is engaging; touching on diversity in practice, architecture in remote and rural communities, architectural education, and everything in between. 

Peter Barber Architects studio is behind a shopfront.

Behind a shopfront packed to the brim with models, we meet Alice Brownfield, associate director at Peter Barber Architects. This small studio of eight, is what Alice described as “low-tech”.  It shows, in the most positive sense.  The presentation is given through the use of printed out photographs in manilla folders and talking to the hand-cut intricately detailed models.  It is refreshing to see and makes it easy for Alice to draw together ideas that the studio has been interrogating across multiple high-density, medium-rise residential projects since the inception of the studio in 1989.  They are focused on creating a sense of community, through the development of vernacular housing typologies and the interaction with the streetscape.  We leave with a strong sense of a practice that has a clear direction on what they are aiming to achieve: improving people’s quality of life through thoughtful housing design. 

The stairwell leading up to 6a Architects studio is full of models.

At 6a Architects, we are also greeted with a stairwell full of models. These ones have clearly been relegated to the available space outside the studio though.  Meeting Karolina Sznajder and Alex Butterworth, they talked us through three of the studio’s projects, each unravelling 6a’s obsession with delving into the archives of site and contextual history to inform the project outcome.  With a medium-size studio of 32 people, they have both a low-tech and high-tech vibe.  The Paul Smith Flagship Store, completed in 2013, explores London’s materiality of cast iron, the manufacturing of this traditional material is combined with the creating of moulds using CNC technology.  The studio discussed their use of Rhino to develop complex models, while still maintaining a relationship to traditional manufacturing methods and designing through making.  It shows in their work of finely detailed spaces and a focus on materiality and craftsmanship. 

The Design Museum

Breaking the day up with a visit to the Design Museum, we meet director Alice Black.  Founded by Sir Terence Conran, the museum aims to educate the public on how design shapes the world.  The permanent exhibition “Designer, Maker, User” explores the role of the of the three stages of design.  While the exhibition successfully presents design in the everyday, the interior refurbishment by John Pawson to the 1960’s heritage building proved to be too much of a distraction for a group of architects and we spent our time exploring the space and admiring the unique brutalist ceiling form. 

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners studio.

Dylan Davis, Matt Jackson, and Paul Thompson, of Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners meet us in the lobby of The Leadenhall Building AKA “the Cheesegrater”.  We head up to their studio, and once again we are surrounded by an abundance of models.  These models though are a stark contrast to the hand-cut card models of the Peter Barber Architects.  They are slick and shiny, and so is the studio space.  With a team of 178, it is a significant jump to large practice. The RSHP’s office in Leadenhall building, which is a RSHP project, feels as high-tech as it can get with its exposed structure, dedicated model shop, and very large plotting room.  The conversation is completely different too, less about the projects more about the practice and issues they are facing including competitions, procurement, and to seek out collaboration wherever we are to secure jobs.  As we delve deeper though it becomes clearer the importance the studio places on working with the engineers and manufactures from the outset to achieve the sharpness of the large-scale projects the studio produces.   

As the day comes to a close, I feel that whether it is a little low-tech practice or a large high-tech practice, we are all facing the same issue of convincing the public of the value of design.  And if that’s not enough to find the common ground, we always have a room filled with models to show off. 

– Carly McMahon

Copenhagen day 3: Tears and switching gears

On our final day in Copenhagen we visited the Bagsværd Church by Jørn Utzon (1976) and Studio David Thulstrup.

From the moment we entered the Church with Jan Utzon, who worked on the project with his father, we sensed we were about to experience something special. Our minds forgot the photos and drawings we had studied over the years and we felt the warm embrace of the interior.

As we walked through the church, Jan described the opportunity he was given by his father to run the project. Jan shared the stories we all know of the project: the thinness of the concrete shells ceiling, the 10 percent cost-saving by reducing all the drawings by 10 percent in a photocopier, and the project’s commission for Utzon senior after returning from Australia. However, Jan also shared his personal experience of working on the project.

Bagsværd Church by Jørn Utzon.

In describing how the various concrete treatments come together in unison, Jan reflected on an analogy from his father – “If we look at the hand, we see the skin is different to the nails but they are all part of the same family”.  

As we continued to tour the smaller rooms, I touched every surface – taken by the clarity, rawness, details, and moments of compression and expansion. Every space is supported by an ever-present play of light and shadow.

Details in the Bagsværd by Jørn Utzon.

As the tour with Jan began to come to a natural close, Jørgen Ellegård Frederiksen, the Church organist arrived and Jan asked him to play for us. Jørgen first filled the church with the loose sounds of the organ, before revealing a piano which had sat covered in the corner during our tour.  

Jørgen told the group the piano was Jørn Utzon’s final work for the church, and his final work in life. A project, like the Sydney Opera House, that he would never see completed. With a maple structure and whitewash pine veneer, the piano was constructed by Steingraeber and Söhne after Jan and Jørgen delivered a physical model to their German studio.

Bagsværd Church organist showing the group the piano Utzon designed for the church.

The crisp and deep sound of the piano filled the hall – we were experiencing a sense of how a ceremony might feel at the church. The immersive architectural experience became too much, and we all began to cry.

Hearing Jan’s personal connection to the project, the timing of the piano, and the inspiring work of a talented architect made this morning an experience I will never forget.

Jan Utzon

After a quick pitstop for a Danish hotdog, where I was informed by the store holder that the tastes of  a Danish hotdog includes umami – the fifth taste alongside sweet, sour, bitter, and salt, we headed to Studio David Thulstrup… but first another hotdog.

David’s tour was another highlight from a city with so many highlights. He was open, honest, engaging, and informative.

As a group, we felt honoured as David described recent changes to his practice that have helped him and the team introduce structure that provides more time and energy for design thinking. As David discussed changes, which were a result of the practice’s growth and evolution, it was clear he was reflecting and resolving them in his own mind as we spoke.

Discussing the day at our Copenhagen airport debrief, I was thinking how we would go on to  use the experience of the day, and the Dulux Study Tour in our own practice.

– Ben Peake

Copenhagen Day 2: Rye Bread and Layer Cakes

Its day two of the tour and today was all about meeting practices that have shaped the city in one way or another.

Our final visit of the day at Cobe introduced us to the concept of the “rye bread and layer cakes” of the city. It’s a concept I’d like to interpret as the “staples” that sustain the society – which you practice everyday – and moments of whimsy and joy (the layer cakes). It’s an idea you can see manifest in many periods of the development of Copenhagen, from the excellent housing stock, public spaces and sustainable transport systems, to the whimsical triple-dragon spire of the Copenhagen stock exchange.

The idea is something that has defined my impression of the city and the framework through which to view the work of the practices we met today.

Lundgaard and Tranberg

First up we met Jens Øblom from Lundgaard and Tranberg, a practice with three driving principles; to retain and amplify the spirit of the place, to encourage clients to invest in places for people (often the spaces around the building), and to deliver all this with a mastery of tectonics and detail.

All these principles are evident in their Royal Playhouse and adjacent Kvaesthus pier, a project that feels inextricable from its harbourside context, with generous public space around the buildings that are uncluttered and clear to maximise the opportunities for people to occupy the space in different ways, all of which display an expert execution of materiality and detailing.

There seemed to be a wholesomeness about their practice: they don’t actively promote their practice, but prefer to let the work speak for itself, and engender a truly collaborative spirit where a good idea can come from anyone in their office, whether it be an intern or director.

Lundgaard and Tranberg are chefs of both rye bread and layer cakes, and sometimes blend the two, creating surprise and joyful moments in a typology that could be considered mundane, such as student housing.

Jens Øblom at the Lungaard and Trunberg studio.

Gehl Architects

We didn’t have much time to hear much from the good people at Gehl, who have fundamentally shaped the policy and urban fabric of Copenhagen in such an exemplary way that their influence has been carried out and felt continents away in the development of cities like Melbourne and Shanghai.

Gehl’s work is all about getting the “rye bread” of a city right by observing how people are currently using the spaces in their cities and making sure policy makers, developers and urban designers don’t forget the urban ingredients that make good, healthy cities. These can be as simple as providing a place to sit in the sun, or more complicated shifts in how streets are used; reducing or eliminating provision for cars in favour of more sustainable means of transport and place of public life.

The Dulux Study Tour winners presented at Gehl Architects

Leth and Gori

Every project and practice we’d encountered in Copenhagen before meeting Uffe Leth from Leth and Gori had an aspect of social responsibility at its core, and it was a delight to see this principle could define the work of even the smallest practices.

If a neighbourhood is a loaf of rye bread, Leth and Gori’s projects are predominantly at the scale of the rye kernels.

The first topic Uffe spoke to us about, before even introducing himself, was the history of the neighbourhood, street and shopfront in which they run their practice of seven people. The consciousness of their practice’s place in the city and their responsibility to do everything they can to engage with the cultural and social context, even within a limited built scope, was a common thread through the projects they showed to us.

In the words of Uffe, many of Leth and Gori’s projects by chance or circumstance are about “looking after the ‘weak’ people of Copenhagen”– the sick, the homeless, those who are drug-affected and others seeking refuge. Even within their own working space, they have dedicated half the footprint to a curated exhibition space; a place for artists and designers to exhibit their work, and also an “open door” that any member of the public can enter. The architects’ working space is directly visible and audible from the gallery, and client meetings are regularly held within the exhibition space. This openness allows the shopfront to be active during working hours and simultaneously aims to demystify the practice of architecture; placing the nature of the service we provide as architects alongside bakeries, butchers and coffee shops as a fundamental aspect of sustaining the people of the city.

Leth and Gori have an exhibition space in their shopfront studio.


Our final visit for the day was to what must be one of the world’s fastest growing architecture practices Cobe, which has grown to 120 staff within 10 years. It was the lovely Karoline Richardt Beck who coined “rye bread and layer cakes” analogy of city making when describing Cobe’s 50 year-master planning, architecture and urban design process currently is underway in the district of Nordhavn.

In essence, the masterplan is about making sure the “rye bread” – the essentials of this new district is the best it can be. This approach includes an appropriately designed transport systems that preference the movement of bicycles and pedestrians over cars, a five storey height datum that corresponds to the old city for the majority of the development, and prescribing an approach to materiality that elevates the existing industrial built fabric in the development.

To complement the rye bread, there are a few “layer cakes” dotted around the development; landmarks, beacons and places of great public value that are curated enough not to dominate the proper functioning of a good neighbourhood.

A quick stroll around the very newly developed area proved the “rye bread” was seriously tasty and something I’d be happy to eat every day; the grain, activity and scale felt right. The “layer cakes” were pretty fun too; jumping on the trampolines on a rooftop playground above a carpark overlooking Cobe’s Silo housing project was a real sweet treat to cap off an engaging day.

– Alix Smith

Nordhaven development by Cobe.
Silos by Cobe.