“I pushed the curtains back and they fell to shreds and then I fell through the floor. We did everything an architect shouldn’t do.”
Tell us about your home.
My house is in Eaglemont on the Glenard Estate, which Walter Burley Griffin masterplanned in the early 1920s. He lived three doors up. The Glenard has these intriguing shared parks that the houses back onto—it’s a shared greenie, commie kind of idea. One of them is a carpark, one’s a bit rambly and the third one people really look after. They’re all good in different ways. Our house was designed by R B Hocking and R G Warren in 1939, and built during the war, so reasonably cheaply. The first owners had it designed like the early Californian case study houses, which were of pavilions in a garden setting. We’ve exaggerated that pavilion attitude so we’ve got big doors down an entire wall that open out to the garden, so it’s a real glasshouse in the garden.
We bought the house on impulse and it was just worn out in every respect. When we first went there after settlement I pushed the curtains back and they fell to shreds and then I fell through the floor. We did everything an architect shouldn’t do. There was no thorough inspection or anything. And we had a newborn baby.
What does it mean to think like an architect?
In my mind, it’s never being satisfied with an answer—always wondering whether there’s a better way to do something. It’s problem solving, but never resting on the idea that you’ve found the solution. Innovation is not some magical flash-in-the-pan moment, it’s a kind of constant questioning and curiosity. And that happens all the way through a process of designing something as you wonder whether there’s a better way to build it, to communicate it, whatever that might be. That’s what architects do.
Has architecture changed since you started out?
The way we work has changed a lot. The architect’s attitude used to be, “I’m the expert and this is how it’s done”. And that doesn’t wash very well these days. It’s all about collaboration with other fields, other experts, other architects, and it leads to really interesting outcomes. The proudest moments are when everyone’s on the same wavelength to meet a common goal.
What’s the best bit?
In the life of a project, its when I first visit after it’s in use. Not when it’s completed, and everyone’s happy and patting themselves on the back. It’s when you go back three or six months after and people are enjoying it. They’re not thinking about its architecture or about constructing it, it’s got a real mind of its own. You can never predict exactly how they’ll use it so it’s kind of wonderful when other things are going on or other ways of using it that you didn’t intend. The measure of its success is whether they’re climbing all over it and having a nice time doing whatever they’re doing. That’s immensely gratifying.
You hope buildings grow their own lives and behaviours.