London Day 2: Behind the facade

The second day of the study tour commenced at Carmody Groarke, recently named the 2018 BD Architect of the Year. The practice was founded in 2006 by Andy Groarke and Kevin Carmody. Kevin, who is originally from Canberra and studied in Melbourne, welcomed us into his central London studio and shared the tale of practice’s inception and its ambitious expansion. The founding partners met while undertaking “apprenticeships” at David Chipperfield’s office. The duo’s plan to set up their own office was fast tracked by winning six of the seven competitions they entered within their first 18 months. Now, eleven years on from its foundation, the studio has grown substantially to 45 staff and the practice works across a wide range of building typologies and scales.

Kevin gave us a tour of the office, which was brimming with building models ranging from urban scale conceptual massing models to 1:20 detailed models. He explained how physical models played a critical role in their workflow, not only to present to clients but also to test and explore design ideas, “every project is a prototype in the studio, we never repeat details.” Carmody Groarke’s value in exploring big architectural and spatial ideas, along with their design rigour has resulted in some beautifully crafted built works.

Our next stop was 20 Farringdon Street, a 12-storey commercial office development designed by Denton Corker Marshall (DCM). London office director Angela Dapper guided the group around the new building, which will be launched in June this year. The offices had full-height glazing and exposed services throughout. Angela explained that exposed services in the workplace are on the uptake in the United Kingdom. Designing an office space with no tenancy in mind is challenging given the preference for each tenant may differ. The speculative office design by DCM allowed for complete flexibility so a tenant could occupy and adapt to the space. It was interesting to hear from Angela and understand that there are similar issues with contractors in London and Australia. However, on this project she assured us that everything ran smoothly. The biggest success of this building was the stair, which linked each floor and also acted as the fire escape. The detailing of the Class 2 concrete in this stair was exceptional.

After a quick bite to eat, we made our way to the WoodBlock House designed by dRMM, a London based practice of 50. The brief was to create a studio, home and office for artist Richard Woods and his family. A large workshop occupies the ground floor with the family house above. This joyful house revealed a genuine collaboration between architect and client with parts of the façade and staircase incorporating Richard Wood’s trademark cartoon-style print pattern.

The WoodBlock House clearly responded to the family’s needs and reflects dRMM’s commitment to sustainability through the use of a Cross-laminated timber (CLT) structure. The use of CLT resulted in a remarkably fast fourteen day installation with just four people on site. While the project had a relatively low budget with humble finishes and detailing, the house is successful as it perfectly aligns with the client’s unique requirements, their values and their philosophy of living.

A practice visit to Zaha Hadid Architect’s was our next stop. Millie Anderson, an Australian working in London, chaperoned the group to a meeting room for a presentation on current projects. The sculptural forms presented reinforced a clear approach and way of thinking throughout the organisation, along with their digital workflow which is largely parametric. Big data was discussed as a tool to improve decision making and management and new technologies in 3D printing and CNC machining have allowed new fluid forms of expression and model making. This is clearly illustrated in the Zaha Hadid Design Gallery on the ground floor, which along with models, showcases furniture, products and jewellery design. The group was shown around the gallery and admired the remarkable forms.

Our last visit of the day was to Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners in the recently completed Leadenhall Building or “cheesegrater” as it’s commonly referred to. Coming from Zaha Hadid Architects office, it was refreshing to experience an open-plan workplace with a democracy of practice. A variety of shared spaces are spread throughout space, which encourage interaction and collaboration. An internal plaza is utilized for weekly design reviews, lectures and staff presentations and a large kitchen area had staff events posted on it’s walls. The community culture at Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners was immediately evident.

The day concluded at the Anthologist restaurant for dinner. The food was fantastic and the conversation was robust. The main theme discussed related to the value of designing spaces and architectural workplaces that serve people. After all, it’s people who occupy a space, who innovate and deliver a place.

– Joseph O’Meara

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London Day 1: Big, small and engagingly silly

Day one started with us meeting our London tour guide, David Garrard, an academic and architectural conservation specialist. David has a great ability (or possibly it’s just that he’s English) to provide a polite critique of London and the mixture of buildings it houses.

Boy band shot at Tin House by Henning Stummel

We started our tour west of the city centre in Shepherd’s Bush to visit the Tin House by Henning Stummel Architects. This building was a delightful start to the tour. Hidden from the street, we were presented with an impressive double-height brick arch. Entry was via a miniature red barn door – a playful way to enter a formal space.

This idea of compression and expansion is an idea that continues as you move through the house, where doorways are compressed and the ceilings of most rooms reach up to skylights. This design strategy gives the impression of space and volume to a small footprint home. The rooms are arranged as a series of individual pavilions that all connect to a small private courtyard and pool. Henning designed every detail of his home, right down to some of the furniture that he intends to take to market. 

Tin House by Henning Stummel

Next up we visited London’s Design Museum, which was an interior fitout by John Pawson of a building designed by RMJM and Partners in 1962. The existing building has hyperbolic paraboloid roof structure, which twists to the light to create a dramatic central space. The general consensus of the group was that the interior renovation resulted in the ceiling and void feeling crowded at moments – we just wanted to see more of the ceiling structure! The master plan by OMA includes three residential towers that form the entry to the Design Museum. Unfortunately, the geometry of the master plan broke from the context to create large spaces that felt empty next to an active slither of Holland Park, which was filled with dogs, people and fun.

Design Museum interior renovation by John Pawson

We then made our way to the Battersea Power Station redevelopment site and jumped on a ferry to enjoy David’s commentary on the mixture of buildings along the Thames River. Key phases included: ‘engagingly silly,’ ‘dimly referencing’ and ‘Egyptomania.’ Fellow Brisbanite, Dirk Yates and I discussed how you could squint and see views similar to Brisbane – South Bank, Waterloo Bridge, London Eye and power stations. We think we know who is referencing who.  

On tour with David Garrard

We then had lunch at the Tate Modern extension by Herzog & de Meuron, which gave us time to ask David about his own work and interest in conservation. We all had local examples of controversial heritage projects and discussed the future of conservation. What buildings are worthy of being preserved in modern city and will politics change in the future to favour more commercial outcomes?

Tate Modern Extension by Herzog & de Meuron

After lunch, we strolled across the Millennium Bridge and layered views of London uncovered the richness of London – 17th Century Wren Churches against modern machines like Lloyd’s of London by Sir Richard Rogers. We enjoyed the discovery of some curious pockets within the city fabric – in particular was a 1990s postmodern building by Sir James Stirling, an odd delight, teetering of the edge of wild. We experienced a theatrical show centred on relocated ruins in the bowels of Foster’s Bloomberg Place building. I still don’t quite understand what happened at the Temple of Mithras but it provided for some interesting discussion.

David’s PoMo example by Sir James Stirling

The final part of the day was about the icons of the London skyline – the Gherkin, Cheesegrater and Scalpel. What’s the next up-scaled form to be added to the London skyline? Kim Bridgland’s suggestion was Boaty McBoatface – I like it! We finished at the Walkie Talkie building (due to cloud cover no cars were melted today!) David was a great tour guide – he enjoys controversial buildings and presented the city fabric to us in an unbiased and upbeat light. I think we are all still adsorbing what we learnt today – I was challenged on my opinions of style and city making, so I think Day 1 closes with study tour success!  

Approaching the Gherkin by Norman Foster

– Leah Gallagher

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2018 Dulux Study Tour winners announced!

Photo credit: Tatjana Plitt

“The Institute is pleased to announce that Kim Bridgland, Leah Gallagher, Jason Licht, Joseph O’Meara and Dirk Yates have being selected to join the Australian Institute of Architects Dulux Study Tour 2018. We congratulate all for their success from such a competitive field of applicants.  The jury was impressed by the depth of skill, and dedication to their profession by all who submitted and strongly encourages those eligible members not successful this year to apply in the future. The award acknowledges the activities and achievements across the criteria of individual contribution to architectural practice, education, design excellence and community involvement. The Institute’s Dulux Study Tour is one of our most coveted awards that celebrates the importance of experiencing architecture first hand by our most promising practioners. Thanks are due to Dulux for their generous support, and my fellow Jurors Jennifer Cunich, Richard Hansen, Adam Pustola, Natalie Ruuska and Ksenia Totoeva  for their guidance and insightful contribution to the selection process”

– Richard Kirk, Jury Chair

Kim Bridgland | Edition Office  (VIC)

Photo credit: Peter Tarasiuk

Kim is a director and co-founder of Melbourne based-practice Edition Office. He is a registered architect and graduated from the RMIT Master of Architecture program in 2013. He also has a background, and on-going practice, in the visual arts which continues to inform his architectural approach. While Edition Office has a short history, it has with Kim’s leadership developed an outstanding body of award-winning residential projects and small public projects. Kim has contributed to projects in different Australian states and the challenges of working across the country has informed his engagement with questions of the Australian landscape and engagement with site. The clients of key projects, such as the Fish Creek House and Gertrude Contemporary attested to Kim’s ability as a highly engaged and collaborative design leader who was able to exceed the client’s expectations of the project. The practice has held initiated an exhibition and publication of its work. Kim has been active in university teaching and with emerging architects’ forums. This level of critical reflection will contribute to the group’s experience. The jury is confident that Kim, as an emerging designer, will benefit greatly from the Study Tour and will channel these experiences into the practice’s wider design discourse.

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Edition Office website

Leah Gallagher | Kin Architects (QLD)

Photo credit: Christopher Frederick Jones

Leah Gallagher graduated from the University of Queensland in 2012 with a Master of Architecture. Her genuine and infectious enthusiasm for the built environment and the people who inhabit our cities has led to her involvement with advocacy and social justice issues. As co-chair of QLD EmAGN (2015-17) and a council member of the Australian Institute of Architects’ Queensland Chapter, Leah was a critical part of the public campaign to achieve better heritage and public domain outcomes for the controversial Queen’s Warf Redevelopment in Brisbane as well as working to develop a register of significant QLD buildings that do not have heritage protection. The knowledge and experience Leah has gained from these achievements is shared with students through her significant contribution to teaching at both Bond University and the University of Queensland, where she recently taught a social outreach studio in Far North Queensland Indigenous communities. Leah is a registered architect and recently established Kin Architects, a small Brisbane based practice. Having spent seven years working alongside Keiron Gait on several award winning boutique residential projects, Leah is now defining her own direction. She brings with her a keen interest in the creation of new domestic narratives within existing dwellings and in the process of intensive collaboration with clients. The jury believes that Leah will greatly benefit from the experiences and insights of the Dulux Study Tour and don’t doubt that these will inform and strengthen her practice position and continue to inspire her volunteer work in the profession.  

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Kin Architects website

Jason Licht | Cumulus Studio (TAS)

Photo credit: Rosie Hastie

Jason completed a Master of Architecture in 2008 and is an Associate at Cumulus Studio in Tasmania where he has worked for the past four years. In 2013 Jason was awarded a Rotary Vocational Scholarship to Italy and this opened his eyes to the power of the architecture of tourism. Jason’s work at Cumulus has consolidated his passion for tourism related architecture, working on projects such as the Cradle Mountain Master Plan and as a member of the Devil’s Corner project team that won several awards. This passion has been recognised by Tasmania’s professional and tourism industries, identifying Jason for leadership programs within their organisations. His exceptional contributions both as Vice President of the Australian Institute of Architects Tasmania Chapter and Chair of Emerging Architects of Tasmania programs are notable and many and he continually strives to give back to the broader community. Undoubtedly, Jason’s participation in the Dulux Study Tour will further his passion, desire for learning and continue his ongoing contribution to the profession.

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Cumulus website

Joseph O’Meara | BVN (NSW)

Photo credit: Valentine Steisel

Joseph O’Meara is an Associate at BVN Architecture. He is deeply committed to the profession and our built environment and this is evidenced through his many diverse pursuits. Joseph’s interest in the fields of sustainable design, innovation and new materials and technologies led to him gaining Green Star accreditation and being appointed site project lead on a significant new research facility for the CSIRO. A graduate of University of Sydney in 2009, Joseph has continued his involvement with education through various tutoring and lecturing positions, including at his alma mater, University of Sydney and Billy Blue College of Design, and for the Australian Institute of Architects’ Practice of Architecture Learning Series. His gift for teaching and broad practice knowledge has led Joseph to take an active role in BVN’s in-house architectural education program where he established a highly successful mentoring program and a preparatory architectural registration workshop series. As co-chair of EmAGN NSW (2016-17) Joseph both led and assisted with a range of events across education and advocacy, with a focus on building and construction tours. Joseph is a registered architect who alongside BVN maintains a private practice. He pursues architectural photography semi-professionally and has had his photography exhibited. The jury believes that Joseph’s developing leadership role in one of Australia’s largest practices and his long-term interest in innovation will be greatly advanced by his participation in this year’s Dulux Study Tour; it will allow him the opportunity to consider the future challenges confronting the profession in Australia through a global lens.

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BVN website

Dirk Yates | Speculative Architecture (QLD)     

Photo credit: Charlie Hillhouse

Dirk Yates is a graduate from multiple disciplines and has combined careers in architecture and creative arts. He graduated from the University of Queensland’s Master of Architecture program in 2009 and from Queensland University of Technology’s Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts) in 2001. Dirk is a registered architect and has practised and collaborated with local firm m3architecture for over ten years. His involvement with the practice commenced as an artist, and then evolved into an architectural role over the course of his studies and beyond. His referee highlighted Dirk’s contribution to several award-winning projects. Most recently, he was a project architect on the significant Nudgee College Learning Centre. Throughout, his capacity and resolve to translate ideas between disciplines is evident. He has contributed to journals as an editor and writer, has been a board member for arts organisations and an Australian Institute of Architects awards juror and tutored at universities. His volunteer contribution, again in a dual capacity, to the Media Arts Asia Pacific organisation was also highly valued. The jury believes that Dirk will be an intriguing member of the Study Tour and will bring a unique perspective to the experience. His ability to act as a mentor and engage a broad audience will ensure that the lessons learnt will be shared with his creative communities.

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Richard Kirk (Chair) | National President, Australian Institute of Architects
Jennifer Cunich | Chief Executive Officer, Australian Institute of Architects
Richard Hansen| Dulux
Natalie Ruuska | Dulux
Ksenia Totoeva | President, EmAGN
Adam Pustola | Dulux Study Tour Alumni

The Dulux Study Tour is a collaborative initiative between Dulux Australia, the Australian Institute of Architects and EmAGN (The Emerging Architects and Graduate Network). It is proudly supported by ArchitectureAU.


2018 Dulux Study Tour Shortlist

And the 2018 Dulux Study Tour shortlist is…

  • Evie Blackman (Bild Architecture + Hinge Architects)
  • Kim Bridgland (Edition Office)
  • Ryan Brown (Kerry Hill Architects)
  • Phil Burn (Matt Gibson Architecture + Design)
  • Jessica Edwards (NT Government – Design Office)
  • Leah Gallagher (Kin Architects)
  • Steve Hunt (Owen Architecture)
  • Nancy Ji (Bates Smart Architects)
  • Phuong Le (MPA Construction Group)
  • Amy Learmonth (O’Neill Architecture)
  • Yuri Leong-Maish (YL Architecture)
  • Jason Licht (Cumulus Studio)
  • Adam Markowitz (Self employed)
  • Carly McMahon (Liminal Studio)
  • Jennifer McMaster (TRIAS)
  • Yvonne Meng (Circle Studio Architects)
  • Natalie Miles (Austin Maynard Architects)
  • Phillip Nielsen (Regional Design Service)
  • Joseph O’Meara (BVN)
  • Viet Pham (Pham Tuan Viet Architects)
  • Christopher Schofield (Studio Schofield)
  • Tamarind Taylor (Conrad Gargett)
  • Rebekah Verrier (Bence Mulcahy)
  • Elizabeth Walsh (Cumulus Studio)
  • Rebecca Whan (Jackson Teece)
  • Alexandra Wilson (Andrew Burges Architects)
  • Emily Wombwell (SJB)
  • Dirk Yates (m3architecture)

Congratulations to all those who entered – the entries were all of a particularly high standard, making the 2018 jury’s job very difficult!

Now on to Stage Two…

Day 11: Time. Travel.

Time behaves differently when you travel. A day can simultaneously pass in a flash, but seem like an age. Your physical displacement from the routines of home both heighten your senses and insulate you from life’s complexities. Our final days of the #2017DuluxStudyTour brought these shifts in time and perception into sharp relief as we spent our last days in Prague. On this day we visited a private architectural college, two local practices and a private home, all of which were formed in the spaces created by cultural, physical or national displacement.

Telling the story chronologically, we start in 1929 in the Villa Rothmayer by Czech architect Otto Rothmayer, who worked with Josef Plečnik for two decades on the Prague Castle. The villa presents an austere facade composed of a cyclindrical tower and a blank block to a garden that vibrates with translucent foliage and purple petals. This house is a replica of a house designed by Rothmayer’s much-adored mentor, Plečnik, who originally designed it as a prototypical modest freestanding family home in Slovenia. Displaced not only from it’s intended culture and climate, this house also has displaced authorship. While the planning and form is unmistakably Plečnik, the interiors are crafted by Rothmayer, a carpenter-cum-architect, with a preference for functionality and warmth over Plečnik’s beautiful but austere historicism.

Skipping through the decades of the 20th Century to arrive at the beginning of the 21st Century with the establishment of ARCHIP (Architectural Institute, Prague), a school conceived in 2005 by Regina Loukotová and Martin Roubík and opened in 2011. This private, English-language architectural school was born out of a much earlier displacement, when Roubík fled the communist regime of Czechoslovakia in the 1970s to complete his architectural studies and eventually become a founding member of Norwegian architectural practice Snohetta. The idea to return home to start a new school for architecture is a direct result of an architect’s experience of living, working and travelling overseas and wanting to contribute to the new Czech Republic. The student base and academic staff are diverse coming from 41 countries, and counting. The school adopts a single brief over the under graduate and masters courses, facilitating a rich but focused discussion that spans cultures, ages and backgrounds. This richness and hyper global connectedness is in direct contrast to the insular days of the Communist rule.

The two final practice visits of the trip were to Schindler Seko Architects and FAM Architekti, both local firms, working predominantly in the Czech Republic. The directors of both firms teach at ARCHIP, contributing to that ambitious international project. Our visit to Schindler Seko Architects demonstrated how the common ground of our profession can be revealed in moments of travel and displacement. Sitting in an their beautiful offices in a repurposed religious school  that overlooks a city square, the discussion started with wonder at Jan Schindler’s reflections on the difficulties of working with a building founded in the 10th Century and quickly returned to the familiar ground of comparing notes about planning approval processes and client frustrations.

So in a trip that has spanned three countries and 11 days has passed in a flash, but felt like an age. Our group of travellers find themselves with a more subtle displacement. As we individually make our way back home to our regular life and regular routines we carry with us the collective experience that will bind the five of us together more tightly than the differences of our geography and practices. We have connected with a global network of architects that builds on our shared passions. The space that has been created by our displacement is now the space where we can sow the seeds from hours spent in discussion, inspiration and exchange wandering the streets of Barcelona, London and Prague.

– Imogene Tudor

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Day 10: Josef and Jaro

We started our day by revisiting the Prague Castle with a second guided tour focusing specifically on the interventions of Josef Plecnik in 1920 to 1930. We had already been the day prior, but this second visit allowed us to discuss his work in greater detail and to absorb the subtlety of the way in which he had worked with the old fabric of the building. On the first day I had been blown away by the tectonic elegance of what he had done and the beauty of the way he had assembled these “mini projects.” On the second visit, I started to realise the sensitivity of his overall site plan and the way that he had used these small interventions to rationalise an incredibly intricate existing fabric, dense with historical, political and functional complexity.

Today the focus for me was less on the actual doors, stairs or openings, but more on what they contributed to how the palace might work and the rationalisation of existing geometries into a cohesive whole which could act at both a civic and human scale. These interventions for the most part occur in corners of the buildings to absorb (and celebrate) this geometry, or to create or strengthen axes within the castle walls and to link these site lines into the city beyond. He created a sense of permeability in the castle walls that I had not noticed the day before, and there is a constant ambiguity between the new work and the old.

Plecnik was the son of a carpenter and had started his career as a furniture designer, which gave us a deeper understanding of the detailing and the materiality of the renovations. I noticed that the same approach of intricate assembly was being used on the civic scale. There is a humility and an absolute mastery of architectural choreography here – quiet moments stripped of all decoration, intimately scaled moments where a stone tile meets a concrete stair tread perfectly, urban scale moments where Plecnik has cut through internal spaces to link multiple courtyards, and civic moments where he has visually linked these axes to key elements of the city beyond. The Prague Castle has definitely been one of the highlights of the trip so far for me.

The afternoon was spent visiting a number of multi-residential and commercial projects with Jaroslav Safer, a Czech architect who had spent 13 years in Australia working for Daryl Jackson in Melbourne and Perth. Jaro had emigrated to the UK as a political asylum seeker in the 1970s and met Karl Fender while working as an architect there. This friendship then took him to Australia where he worked until 1992. His insights into the days of Communism and the difficulties of architectural practice during that time were particularly interesting to give us more context around the city we walked through. It was particularly moving for us when he was talking to Katelin about the importance of print media and he told us an anecdote of how he and his friends used to smuggle copies of Architectural Digest back from Britain and pore over them as though they were semi-religious artefacts.

Jaro showed us a large selection of projects by a range of international and Czech architects, but the two that we all connected with most were designed by his own practice, Safer Hajek Architekti. The first of these was an experimental infill typology that re-oriented a ten-unit development towards a public park in the centre of a previously industrial block, with units addressing the park and allowing site lines from this space towards the spire of a nearby church.

The second project was a massive multi-residential development in a largely commercial zone which had been designed around a massive central garden used to give all units access to light and air. The central garden space meant that internal circulation was minimised and occupants moved through the space to their lift cores, in turn activating the public realm below. The material detailing and massing in this project elevated it beyond anything of this typology that we had previously seen in the city.

In the other cities we have visited on the tour, it has been the contact with locals that has given us the true richness of experience. In particular, I have been blown away by the generosity of the architects and guides that we have had.

– Morgan Jenkins


Day 9: The alternative path

From my previous experience of Prague, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the tourists and found it near impossible to understand how someone might live here.

Royal Way is a well-trodden path set up as a direct link from the city gate, over the famous Charles Bridge to Prague castle. It is congested with groups of tourists and being there the previous night it was rowdy. A hot spot for bucks nights (perhaps due to the very affordable beer), we spotted multiple packs of men in matching t-shirts with glib slogans. Some even rode the streets sitting on a pedal-powered beer bar. Is this what Prague is?

As we met for the morning we headed towards the city. With a little anxiety about the potential of crowds, we were all relieved to take a sharp detour. Martin, local architect and our guide for the day diverted us into a “passageway.” These links were developed in the 1920s as a way to increase the commercial shop frontage, but also creates a secondary circulation through thedeep block of the medieval city. Often lit from above with glazed bricks, these curious in-between spaces, neither building nor street, allow you to navigate the city in a completely different way, free from the tourists.

Unlike the street network, it forms an interrupted and disjointed pattern. As we wandered through the blocks of Prague, we learnt about the defining points in history for this city, and how they resonated in its contemporary architecture. The fabric of this city is made up of the bohemian heights of the Art Nouveau (1900s), a time of great intellectual prosperity, lush detailing and collaboration with artists); National Style (1918–1920), where the newly founded Czechoslovakia produced stoic, yet highly decorative buildings in the national colours; Cubism (early 1920s), a movement that only existed in Prague and only includes a handful of buildings; Functionalism (1920s), a movement where Prague was at the forefront (Le Corbusier travelled here at the time and thought the Czechs had already designed what was in his dreams); and post-Soviet occupation contemporary. It felt as though architecture spoke directly of what was happening socially and the shifts were clear. Having not been bombed during the war ensured this fabric, and that of its pre-modern past, has remained intact.

We hopped on a tram to the Prague Castle, high on the hill, looming over the town. Its presence in the city is strongly felt, and been described by Kafka in the Castle as an omnipotent presence for all those of the city. Until recently it was a fortress used only for the King, but with the forming of the nation in 1918, the new president looked to Jože Plečnik (controversially a Slovenian architect) to reconsider the complex and open it up to the people. What he did was a series of highly considered and crafted insertions that gave an alternative circulation through the castle. Paths, openings and connections break through the mass of buildings to give unexpected views back to the city, and make something of small gaps. Again we manage to detour through and around the hundreds of people who have come here. We navigate the grounds not through its axial lines and dehumanising and monumental gates, but instead through a woven yet broken network of negative spaces.

Later that night, we decided on a nightcap and try to seek out a bar in those passageways we explored earlier, but without our guide they had near disappeared. With some perseverance, the keen navigation of Alberto we found one. Entering up the stairs we arrive at a mass of couples, dancing the tango together. It is a Sunday night, and the dancing is beautiful. Footwork interlocking, couples engaging and reading each others every movement without a word. The Fred and Ginger building by Frank Gehry we saw earlier is given a context, and we walk home feeling as if we have experienced a view into something of another world. Emotive, beautiful and full of curiosities, today gave us a glimpse on a life here well beyond the postcard.

– Claire Scorpo

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Day 7: M, L, XL

Our Uber drops us off in front of a nondescript warehouse somewhere in Barnsbury, about 10-minutes drive north of Kings Cross Station. Confused by the light industrial setting, we ask some passing workmen for directions we find ourselves in front of what looks like a small loading dock secured by a metal barred gate. An oversized fluorescent red door opens to welcome us in.

The AL_A office resides in a light-filled converted warehouse in a single uninterrupted floor. We remove our shoes as requested and place them around a cast concrete Drift Bench, Amanda Levete’s most well-known furniture piece. The fluid form of the bench is an expression of the practice’s approach to material experimentation, a process that begins from a very precise understanding of material possibilities and the sober realities of fabrication.

Seated on a leather sofa and served a round of espressos we are greeted by associate Alex Bulygin. The office consists of a young team of 50 professionals, most in their mid thirties. Alex walks us through the models and prototypes that adorn the office and serve as a record of a design process that begins with “analytical response, social purpose, manufacturing technique or material innovation.” Scattered amongst the white card and 3D-printed models are physical experiments in furniture and piles of material samples. A 1:1 prototype of a fluid stair and handrail details stands as a lone folly in the far corner of the office.

“Every project we treat as a brand new piece of research,” explains Alex. He introduces us to their expansion to the V&A museum in London, a project that kickstarted the office’s brand separation from Future Systems. The project was won as an invited two-stage competition. AL_A proposed a subterranean scheme, largely hidden apart from a single angular pavilion that rises from the ground plane to greet the public. A large open courtyard to exhibition road reveals the V&A to the public domain, signalling a more welcoming and accessible entry. The scheme relies on plays of light and structure to create generous clear spanning gallery spaces that are buried up to 15 metres below street level.

Wilkinson Eyre
In stark contrast to AL_A’s egalitarian and experimental warehouse office was Wilkinson Eyre’s well established and well resourced fourth floor office in Clerkenwell. We sign in at reception and are led into a meeting room surrounded by pristine models on glass covered pedestals with a view over rooftops towards London CBD.

First established as Chris Wilkinson Architects in 1983 and later as Wilkinson Eyre in 1999, the practice has grown to a team of 200 people organised into teams specialised around project typologies. The two founding directors have a direct design role in every project, often providing guidance through loose sketches and design workshops. The structure suggests a focus on clear hierarchy and efficiency with a tendency towards individual specialisation and mutual support across different working groups. It is a practice model familiar to many large practices, where projects are formed through the interaction between top-down strategic thinking and bottom-up technical know how.

We are led through the office’s two floors and into the model making room where we are introduced to Ben. Like the practice itself, the workshop is highly organised with each team member playing a clearly defined role. Models are scattered throughout the practice and vary in detail between early massing models to highly detailed client presentation models.

Foster and Partners
Having the opportunity to see inside the internal machinations of one of the largest architectural offices currently practising was an exciting prospect. The sheer scale of the practice as a business model seems unfathomable compared to the scale of practice that I have previously been exposed to in Sydney. It is a practice that has operated successfully for over 45 years and has reached a point where many of their buildings are now heritage listed.

The taxi arrives at the Foster and Partners Campus late in the afternoon. It has been a hot day, particularly for London standards, and we see clusters of architects in the shade of the Fosters-designed Albion Riverside building with icy pops in hand. We are greeted by the security guard who invites us to sign in before ascending the stairs to the main space of the headquarters.

We are greeted by Thouria, a Partner who has been with the practice since 1997. The practice has over 1000 employees spread across the world in 12 permanent offices and many more temporary site offices. It is a surprisingly young workforce with the average age of 34 and a workforce that has 45 percent female employees. Architects are grouped into six general studios, each lead by a studio director and are supported by a variety of boards and working groups that meet regularly to develop internal business practices and share knowledge across design and procurement.

It is a practice that has fully resourced departments in architecture, engineering, graphic design, visualisation, product design and even music production. Specialist 3D and parametric modelling groups focus on applied research and development as well as rationalising facades and complex junctions on projects. The office includes its own large in-house print shop complete with book binding. A modelmaking team operates both within the headquarters in two extremely well-equipped workshops, as well as a dedicated model making workshop off-site to allow for larger, more complex works. A team of 14 dedicated visualisers work to produce all the rendering outputs for practice ranging from incredibly precise and beautifully rendered hand drawings to highly polished photo real visualisations. Across the campus, a team of material researches maintains an enormous material library. The practice employs two full-time musicians working in a dedicated music room to provide backing tracks to promotional videos and fly-throughs. Past a model making room stocked with rows of foam cutters, 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D scanners is the industrial design department where furniture prototypes and patented products adorn the walls. The investment in such a high level of control and coordination across all of the businesses outputs is staggering.

– Alberto Quizon

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Day 6: Shifting the status quo

After getting our bearings on the London walking tour yesterday, we jumped straight into a site visit on Day 6, meeting Alex de Rijke and Nazli Usta of dRMM at their soon to be complete Faraday House project.  The apartment building is located in the newly developed precinct of the iconic Battersea Power Station. Not without its problems, the site is on to its seventh masterplan, with Stage 1 currently designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects. Faraday House will be the first building finished in the first stage.

Sitting in a tough context, the building appeared like a golden gem amongst the super-sized buildings around it. Facing train tracks on one side, and an inner courtyard on the other, the views of the Thames River are hogged by the larger, glassy apartments next door, its relentless glass façade more akin to a commercial building. Using this as a device to react to, dRMM consciously rejected the steel and glass palette for a beautifully detailed copper alloy sheet, which was cut and fashioned on site by hand.

Disappointingly the interior finishes (who were executed by a separate interiors firm) lack the quality that is reflected in the envelope and common areas. It was confronting to see what a two-bedroom flat costs in London, and realising it is completely outside the price bracket any of us on the tour could afford… not an unusual situation in many cities in Australian.

Interestingly, Faraday House was originally envisaged as affordable housing, not only to meet legislative requirements, but because the developer presumed the location next to the train line would be undesirable. As dRMM’s design developed it was favourably received, market interest grew, and the developer realised the potential for a good return. The council’s demand for ‘affordable’ housing was lowered in exchange for a contribution to the new tube line, and the apartments were sold at market as normal. This bending of the rules is more of a reflection on the developer than the architect, but it still a disappointing and reoccurring situation that is not isolated to London.

Aside from the politics of the development, the success of Faraday House lies in its own identity. The articulated form and variation in the copper facade is a beautiful contrast to the neighbouring buildings, and brings a human quality to one of the largest development sites in Europe.

Leaving Battersea behind, we ventured south to see Studio Octopi, a young and energetic firm that have a name for all the right reasons. Like most small firms a fair portion of their work sits in the one-off, highly detailed, residential world. On the flip side they have some wonderfully ambitious projects that cross over in to the community and contribute greatly to the general public. Most notably, their concept for a series of swimming pools on the Thames, right in the heart of London.

While the Thames baths are inspiring projects, the point of interest for us lay within the procurement.  How do you crack the public work sector when you’re a young studio with a portfolio in housing? Studio Octopi successfully ran a crowd funding campaign in 2015 to raise money themselves, and funds were put towards a feasibility study with a marine engineer to actually getting the pools built. They received great support, including attention from the office of the Mayor of London.

With most large public projects in London going through a design competition process, it is such a provocative approach for how young firms might go after larger scale projects that would be otherwise out of reach.

The Thames baths projects have successfully engaged with the public, raising awareness of the role architects can play in the design of public spaces. With only three people in their office, the scale and range of work Studio Octopi are tackling is really encouraging.

The last visit of the day took us to Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), who are becoming more present in Australia through high-end apartment buildings, two in Melbourne and two in Queensland. ZHA’s folio is increasing in tower typologies, with a gallery space showcasing the iterations of models planned for all over the world.

We finished up the day by each sharing a presentation at the RIBA with our international contemporaries; Australian members of the Institute based in London. It was a wonderful opportunity to see each others work in a candid way and talk with local architects about ideas around affordable housing and crowd-funding conceptual projects.

– Louisa Gee

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