Andrew Maynard shrugs and smiles at his unfolding success. The Melbourne architect prefers not to be burdened with great expectations such as ‘Architect Most Likely’ or ‘Next Big Thing’.
“I’m still the pup and learning from my clients and the industry so if there is one thing I’ve learnt is that I’ll continue to learn.” He agrees with Buckminster-Fuller that it isn’t that mistakes are made but that we learn from those mistakes.
Cynics have long held that the term ‘architecture practice’ is quite apt– that practitioners are on a client sponsored career learning curve. “Yes that’s right. That’s exactly what it is. We should be learning and building on every job, getting better and treating each one as a step that takes you to an even better place.”
Maynard is already traveling quite nicely with a healthy list of commissions in the wings. Along with Amelia McPhee, he was also recently short-listed as one of five practices in the running for creative director of the 2012 Venice Biennale.
His major early influence was Hollywood. “Growing up with George Lucas and Star Wars was incredible. Industrial Light Magic created a huge impression.”
Maynard may only be small fry – his practice totals just eight staff, yet he is already expanding his presence and borders via the internet in a way that promises a far greater influence. He obviously ‘gets’ technology. “I’ve decided I have more control and voice if I keep my practice deliberately small. That keeps me agile.
“It’s not linear for me. I always call it ‘grinding’. If my work is any good it’s because I’ve done maybe 10 concepts that are largely rubbish before I find that golden idea.” He considers self-criticism an important part of quality control. “Like anyone else I go through the stock standard response where I do a lot of very quick drawing and a lot of it’s awful. I’ll have a lot of ideas that seem un-related and when I start to marry those that’s when the design begins to work.”
“I’m still learning. I’m still intimidated when people get ahead of me, but I’m acquiring a vocabulary. Responding to and revealing the brief is crucial. In the minds of some clients they are making different rooms and that can be problematic. Different functions don’t necessarily require their own, separate, space. When you begin to overlay those functions you can create far more dynamic and rich spaces.”
His design for the Lucas inspired Vader House in Melbourne’s inner-suburban Fitzroy is a playful, moody nod to Lucas. Less overtly it speaks to the monochromatic grid of Japanese rationalism. Mysterious outside, light-filled and highly functional within, the house is based around a fine charcoal-colored steel frame. It’s an unobtrusive extension to a two story Victorian villa and typifies an ability to re-imagine challenging sites.
“Japan and Scandinavia are intriguing. Japan because it works in such small spaces that are usually much richer spaces than large ones. There is a necessity to be small due to lack of space and I like the idea of importing that approach to a country where space is not a problem. Most people here talk about wanting a good connection to the outside. Australians are filling their allotments with huge houses – bigger than those of the US on average so Japanese conversion of tight sites is very impressive. Scandinavia because they are so meticulous about detailing and craft.
“You can economize, streamline space and achieve a smaller design. Australian houses are now bigger on average than those of the United States. Ours are the biggest in the world and on top of that, 60 percent of our population is overweight. It’s as if we want to take on the North America in this game of indulgence and. I believe the idea of overlapping and multiple functions creates better space, it combats that idea of excess. Too much space can dislocate really interesting opportunities.
“Fame and success would boost the opportunities, but that’s about it.” Says Maynard who is just happy to spend time around the house with his 8-year old son. He rejects the politically correct work ethic that has seen quite enough architects live and die on the job. “Maybe it’s my age, but I don’t see why I have to work around the clock. Quality time rather than quantity,” he says of his philosophy that rarely has him burning the midnight oil.
He also hopes to encourage curiosity. “I heard a scientist recently say that we need to teach children to love the question rather than the answer, yet we’re always pushing them to love the answer. That’s the problem. Each project is a type of experiment that I like to solve and then get on to the next one.”
“I’m fortunate to attract clients versed in design who understand the potential and benefits of doing more from less. Our climate and culture craves an outdoor connection yet the newer super-sized houses simply penalize occupants. If you have something small and spend a lot of time on the edge conditions it can be tailored to be a wonderful outdoor space. In the Mash house you simply slide walls away and it becomes a pavilion that is deliberately ambiguous as to whether you’re inside and out.
Architects are taught in a very left of centre way. We’re taught about the value of community and being egalitarian and the politics of architecture is left of centre. I find it interesting that graduates walk out of that straight into a system entrenched in real estate speculation and all of their enthusiasm is potentially exploited for financial gain and I suspect that’s where the perception of the conservative industry arises. We’re often seen as simply there to decorate real estate.
He is a huge believer in steel’s potential to provide a far slimmer, more responsive solution than the overweight, overwrought houses that define so much of suburbia.
“Steel has been fundamental to Australian architecture. We have so many wonderful architects that have explored and intimately understand steel - Glenn Murcutt, Philip Cox and Sean Godsell among them. I talk to a lot to my clients about material honesty and urge them not do design gymnastics without good reason or to hide the materiality.
“Steel is really important because even if you apply a coat of paint it has an honesty, integrity, temperature and tactility. I love its strength and capacity for slenderness. The Tattoo House has thin folded steel plate stairs for instance and that is extrapolated into projects where whole window reveals made from steel become very deep and incredibly thin. I’m becoming more confident in using steel,” he reflects. “It’s a material that can provide a valuable reference point for human scale. Alvar Aalto’s use of raw, almost brutal forms demonstrate how design can become poetic with careful thought to details.”
Maynard tempers his design playfulness with the realization that the clock is ticking.
“There’s a forecast that says oil will end in 15,000 days – or 42 years. When you consider how the whole world is based on it from transport, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, plastics and so on there are massive issues there. ‘Sustainability?’ I’d rather call it ‘Survivability’. The earth will keep on turning so why damage our chances of surviving on earth? There’s plenty that scares me and is pretty much out of my control that I’d rather talk loudly about in the public sphere and to do projects that are as ethical as possible knowing at least I’m doing what I can.
“I’ve always enjoyed testing and breaking the rules. All I ever seem to do is spend my time learning ways to twist the options. If you give council exactly what they’ve asked for they probably won’t like it – they’ll end up with barns everywhere because that’s how the Residential code is framed. I try to use that as one of the constraints to use as the inspiration to react against, or work with, rather than the old school cliche that says ‘this is what I want to create but everyone is stopping me from doing it’.
“Many architects arrive at a certain point and they simply hit ‘repeat’ and the same work just keeps coming out. That’s disappointing and something I really want to resist. If I’m ever really happy with a project then I should probably stop. Dissatisfaction pushes you to look for new ways of doing things.”
The slow-motion reality of design and construction is one of architecture’s least appealing aspects. “It’s very difficult because I have such a short attention span,” he concedes. “I play with ideas very quickly and that’s why I deliberately have a team that is so painstaking and methodical. They have what I don’t. I have that short burst of energy.”
“Architecture,” he laments, “is a lot more about losses than wins so it’s sometimes hard to keep your chin up, but recognition does give you a lift. A lot of the time projects just stop whether for financial reasons or other factors. That’s life. You just have to keep on soldiering”.
Einstein observed that anyone who never made a mistake never tried anything new. Experimental in so many ways, Maynard’s ‘practice of architecture’ constantly searches for new and uplifting answers.
National Dreamer – Andrew Maynard
Among architect Andrew Maynard’s proudest work is his CV08, the suburb-eating robot. It’s a conceptual structure designed to consume and recycle the Australian outer suburbs – predicted to be abandoned and decay with the demise of cars as the world runs out of oil – before the robot terra-forms the earth with native flora and fauna. While much of his work packs a socio-political or environmental statement, the Melbourne-based architect eschews the label ‘green’, given its commercialisation in recent times. For Maynard Architects, being green is simply intrinsic to good design.
The media has painted Andrew as something of a wonder-kid of his profession, having started his practice at a youthful 27. Online design blog Inhabitat has perhaps put it best: “Maynard’s work offers a flash of illumination toward the next generation of smart, compact, elegant home design. Each project begs a long, awe-inspired look and makes the future look like a very nice place to live.”
His ecologically aware designs come, perhaps, from somewhere quite innate, given his upbringing in our southernmost state. The Tassie lad grew up with the proposed Franklin Dam and subsequent protests, not to forget politician Bob Brown’s rise to prominence, playing out on television. He recalls asking his kind-of-right-of-centre dad what it was all about. “Just some hippies causing trouble,” Andrew recounts, laughing. While his parents don’t necessarily share his political views, he says his mum remains his biggest fan. She encouraged Andrew’s early aptitude for drawing as he, inspired by the Star Wars visions of George Lucas and cartoons of Frank Miller, sketched his way around Australia as the family travelled with their salesman father.
This proclivity saw Andrew enrol in architecture at the University of Tasmania, a school with a natural emphasis on the environment. It’s no surprise to learn that this livewire was extremely studious in those days, putting in a lot of hours rather than spending time in the pub like everybody else. Importantly for Andrew, most weekends he’d head into the wilderness, a short drive into the secluded Western Tier, to redeem his catharsis – standing atop a mountain and “being able to see only the Indian Ocean on one side and mountains, forests and not a single thing made by man on the other”.
In his final year of university, Andrew and a friend won an architecture competition (the first of many wins and awards) for which the prize included a trip overseas. Travelling to parts of Europe and the US allowed Andrew to see in the flesh some of the work that he’d studied so hard on paper, such as that of Le Corbusier, “to see the scale of thought that went into the work, and feel the beautiful care and detail,” Andrew explains.
Referred to as a “young powerhouse of talent”, among many other exalted descriptors, Andrew explains that starting his own Fitzroy-based practice came down to the fact that he’s always struggled with working for other people and being constrained creatively by the 9-to-5 routine. After dipping his toe in a couple of firms in Melbourne and returning from a stint in London with enough pounds to last him six months, Andrew decided to force himself to become unemployed. “You’ve got seven days a week; what are you going to do with them?”
Since starting Maynard Architects in 2002, his team of six has built up an exciting and diverse portfolio. Andrew’s practice is not inhibited by building type, but rather navigates residential, retail and commercial arenas and is rich in envelope-pushing conceptual designs. Until recently, the firm’s ratio of conceptual versus built design was 80/20, but they have started building a lot more, nowadays designing mainly houses. Whether it’s an inner-city house in Melbourne or a theoretical protest shelter designed to draw attention to logging in Tasmania’s Styx Valley Forest, Andrew’s designs are at once well-conceived, playful and edgy. There seem to be no bounds to his creative energy.
Andrew’s rationale for shunning the idea of green being a trend is pragmatic and falls back on the first premise of good architecture – to get your orientations right. “You try to maximise your passive solar gains by facing north … this is a pretty simple tactic to make some really wonderful places for living that is also by its very nature environmentally friendly,” says Andrew.
He explains his frustration at the commercialisation of the environmental movement, or businesses rebranding as green. “We see so much ‘green washing’ out there. When people start knocking up the same old buildings they used to put up and instead of putting air-conditioners on the outside they chuck on solar panels or a wind turbine. And of course there’s more consumption and processing of materials in all this technology,” he laments. “If we actually did less – if we just reused materials and used low-embodied energy materials and got the fundamental premise of how we lay out our buildings right, we’d probably do a lot better than all of these high-tech materials and technologies.” Other simple, sustainable aspects of the firm’s design work include water harvesting and sourcing local materials wherever possible.
The biggest practical challenges Andrew faces tend to be council restrictions and the inevitable clash between the natural orientation of an inner-city site – where most of their work is currently located – given the Melbourne grid, and trying to orientate the house facing north. But Andrew relishes these challenges, and says the constraints lead to some pretty interesting ideas.
For a long time Andrew
was more interested in conceptual design and an “uncompromised concept”. But his practice is now at a point where they’ve put out enough challenging ideas (or “silly ideas”as Andrew puts it, not one to take his work too seriously) that the clients they attract do not want the standard response and are looking for something grounded in rationalism. He is his own harshest critic (trained as architects are to be very critical). “I’ll design and then we’ll get a builder on board and by that stage I learn to hate the design, but then once the frame starts going up again, I start to see it in the flesh and start to fall in love with it again. It’s a long, cerebral process.”
In Andrew’s sketchpad, success is one of those dangerous words. “I’m doing OK,” he contemplates. “There’s an expectation being built up by the media that I’m quite nervous we can’t live up to. We’re just earnestly plodding along trying to build a practice that we find interesting, and other people find interesting.”
While the 30-something reflects that he’s still young for the profession and constantly evolving as a designer, he offers these words of wisdom: “Live like a student for as long as possible.” He continues, “A student’s lifestyle is typically fun, carefree, adaptable, inexpensive, debt-free and importantly sustainable. After our student years we typically earn lots of money, we become entrenched by the things we own, we become sedentary, riddled with debt, less adaptable and our environmental footprint grows incredibly large. You’ll never be as low impact, nor as sustainable as when you were a student.”
With aspirations of “complete, tyrannical world domination”, Andrew Maynard and his busy crew have been working diligently towards this ambitious end for the past four years.
A long way from his childhood dreams of becoming a Jedi, Maynard’s career began with rebellious, conservation architects who, he claims, paved the way for his abundant success. “Allom Lovell Architects in Brisbane... helped me to develop a sense of experimentation beyond the confines of sentimentality.”
Now Maynard creates work that has been labelled “activist architecture”, an approach that “explores big issues and ignores the shallow concepts of beauty.” Environmental issues and responsible, intelligent solutions are trademarks of his work, untilising clever concepts for a dynamic output. Clients come to Maynard when they’re seeking a unique and challenging solution, be it in the residential, retail, hospitality or commercial arena. “We are incredibly lucky” explained Maynard, “It is rare that we feel restrained by a client. Many of them say, ‘you are the professional and we trust you’. This is both fantastic and terrifying. It allows us to be adventurous and also drives us to work extremely hard for such generous trust.” Which, guaging by the amount of work published on their website (and others’) it’s a trust well earned.
Conceptual works are another passion, such as collaborative project BOB the mobile hybrid home and a variety of prefabricated housing projects, but particularly pertinent is the ‘Styx Valley’ protest structures. Designed to protect both inhabitant protestors and the trees that they are attached to, these structures are based on the original Global Rescue Station that was suspended from one tree’s canopy. These revised versions attach to the trunks of surrounding trees, and provide stable and more roomy accommodation for protesters defending the native bushlands in Tasmania. These amazing hypothetical creations are, however, only one of the melodious strings on Andrew Maynard’s bow.
In 2006, the Essex St House in Brunswick was shortlisted for the RAIA Awards, an unrecognisable extension and renovation completed on a double fronted weatherboard house. Internally the space plays with concepts of malleability and mobility, which continues to the external, featuring removable walls. The media response to this project has been phenomenal with published articles in Trends, IW Magazine, Hinge, Financial Review, Houses and The Age.
It is exciting to say that despite the acclaim and attention that Maynard regularly receives, nothing has altered his level-headed perspective or tongue-in-cheek drive towards world domination. “We are still finding our feet. Hopefully that will never change as it leads to experimentation. I fear the day that we get into a routine. Routines usually lead to complacency and apathy.” Two words which I can safely say will never be attributed to Andrew Maynard.
SDQ magazines's list of TOP TEN Forces and Faces in Design - interview
Q. How far and how quickly has Andrew Maynard Architects come along since you started the business?
We are still finding our feet. Hopefully that will never change as it leads to experimentation. I fear the day that we get into a routine. Routines usually leads to complacency and apathy. We started 4 years ago and it has been a patient, steady rise in commissions and profile. We'll keep up the steady pace until we achieve complete, tyrannical world domination.
Q. Where do you see AMA going in the future?
Growing, slowly and steadily. We are increasing the diversity of our work, which is very important to me. We love working on houses, however I am glad that we are increasingly getting other types of work. I love the work of Thomas Heatherwick and I would be stoked if we could increasingly produce work that isn't quite architecture and isn't quite sculpture, much in the same way Thomas does.
Q. Where did you begin your career as a designer?
My life as a designer really started on the floor in my parents home with comic books and transformers. My career started At Allom Lovell Architects in Brisbane. Allom Lovell were conservation architects who felt that conservatism had no place in heritage. They helped me to develop a sense of experimentation beyond the confines of sentimentality. I later worked for six degrees architects. They essentially taught me the tricks of the trade that allowed me to start my practice at such a young age.
Q. What has been the most challenging project you have worked on and why?
Our most difficult project, by far, has been the Kaur house and it hasn't even started being built yet. The Kaur house started with a war with council and neighbours that ended up in court. We won. Furthermore it has become an incredibly complex project to produce construction drawings for. It will be difficult to drag through the building process, however it will be worth it in the end. It is going to be a significant contribution to Melbourne's built environment once it is finished.
Q. Who has played a large role in your life as a designer?
George Lucas. I grew up in the burbs and I didn't really have a great opportunity to explore much outside of televisions, lawnmowers and ford falcons. My mother was incredibly encouraging of my creative pursuits, however George Lucas showed me the importance that design can have on your life, even if that design is only virtual. His landscapes, spaces, machinery, characters .... In fact the entire virtual universe that he created was incredibly detailed, in fact incredibly loved that it created an authenticity that I felt that my suburban childhood had avoided. In short, George Lucas' virtual reality was more significant to me than my own reality.
Q. You used to work in a collaborative space on Rae St, how did you find that experience?
It was good. We now have an office in the CBD that we share with other creative professionals. Collaboration is fun and healthy, however I typically prefer to design on my own. I hear a lot of designers talking about the importance of collaboration. I can appreciate its importance, but I very much thrive when I hide away from everyone and delve into my own headspace. The new office allows me to have both options.
Q. I often come across your work on inhabitat.com - why do you think that they are giving you so much attention?
Well INHABITAT are very interesting and they share similar values to me. They really get turned on by the overlap between ethics [typically environment responsibility] and design. We pride ourselves as being ethically responsible for everything we do and we invite criticism of our practice at every point to ensure that we are as ethical as possible. If you were to ask me which non-designer has had the biggest influence on me I would say Peter Singer the ethicist.
In the US at the moment design media is very interested in "activist architecture" [They love their labels] and works such as the Styx Valley Protest shelter challenge us to avoid simplistic debates of aesthetics, beauty, fashion and style. Instead projects like this ask us to question what we can really achieve [change] through design. I'm rambling, ... In short, I assume that Inhabitat like the fact that we explore big issues and ignore shallow concepts of beauty.
Q. Do environmental constraints limit your work, or do you see them as an integrated part of the design process like any other guidelines?
We don't see them as constraints we see them as responsibilities. 'Green' design aspects are generally common sense and something we see as intrinsic to any design process. All of our work is as sustainable as we can make it within realistic constraints, however we rarely use sustainability as a tool to market our work. I hate the idea of selling ones services as specialising in sustainability . Creating environmentally sustainable, passively heated and cooled spaces simply makes sense and if designers and architects aren't producing efficient structures then they aren't doing their jobs properly. Really, what we now call sustainable architecture is nothing new. "Sustainable architecture" simply employs age old techniques of buildings that have been used for many generations. Well designed structures [sustainable concepts] were simply lost during the modern period as we became reliant on expensive air-conditioning and became seduced by decorations that simply celebrated our own vanity.
Q. What are most of your clients looking for when they come to you?
A $5 million project on a $100,000 budget. Well that's an exaggeration, but only slightly. We are incredibly lucky. We seem to attract clients that are looking for something unique and challenging. It is rare that we feel restrained by a client. Many of them say, "you are the professional and we trust you". This is both fantastic and terrifying. It allows us to be adventurous and also drives us to work extremely hard for such generous trust.
Q. When you were growing up, did you have any other aspirations?
I wanted to become a Jedi. My family tried to dissuade me from this pursuit for many years but I persisted. At the end of high school I found only one university offering a course in the Jedi arts and they never responded to my application. I eventually accepted that architecture may be a good second choice. Its ok though, I really sucked at being a Jedi, yet this architecture gig seems to be turning out pretty well so far.
Q. Do you look to overseas markets for upcoming trends or do you think Australia needs unique resolutions because of its culture and climate etc?
I reference overseas work a lot. I get incredibly excited by Scandinavian and especially Japanese architecture. I am not much of a regionalist. I work strongly with site and climatic constraints, however the language of our work is not strongly linked to local architecture.
Q. Do you have any rituals that you go through when you are first given a new brief? Music, doodles, research etc?
Not that I can think of, although Matt, Brad and Cara [staff] may disagree. When I do begin the design process I am extremely urgent. I go through numerous, diverse concepts very quickly and produce a resolved design in a short energetic period. I often need a nanna nap afterwards. This energy and enthusiasm tends to come out in the work and our clients get extremely excited when they read the passion that has gone into their project.
Andrew Maynard is the founder and frontman of Andrew Maynard Architects based in Melbourne, Australia. This small practice has brought a breath of fresh air to the architecture community in recent years with their quirky designs and big personality.
Today, the studio boasts an impressive portfolio of projects, each individual in their own right and very different in nature, but all equally fun. These architectural gems have not gone unseen by the architecture world, as the studio continues to win prestigious awards around the world. Most recently, the firm has been recognised by leading architecture magazine Architecture Review as one of Australia’s most talented young studios in the business. Just a few days ago, their project Tower House has received a high commendation at WAF 2015 in Singapore.
Andrew has collaborated with Eleven as one of the judges in our Cambodia 2015 architecture competition.
In this interview, we meets up with Andrew to ask him some questions in order to gain some insight into his architecture world…
Eleven: What does architecture mean to you and how would you define it?
Andrew: Building is the what and the how. Architecture is the why and the what if.
Eleven: What made you want to be an Architect? Does that motivation still ring true for you today? And if you couldn’t have been an architect, then what would you have wanted to be and why?
Andrew: I’ve always wanted to make and build. I assume that we all wanted to make and build when we were young. I simply didn’t grow out of it. The motivation still rings true. I’ve always done my best to keep things simple and to make sure that architecture wasn’t a burden. Hence, I still enjoy doing what I do.
Eleven: Some architects are known for having a very particular visual identity (take Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry per example). You, on the other hand, have a whole range of very different aesthetics. Nevertheless, there is a unique and distinctive Andrew Maynard feel which unites all of them. What would you define this as?
Andrew: I’m told the same by many people. They tell me that they recognise my language/aesthetics. I try to make my work as much about the client as it is about me, therefore I don’t get the same sense of unity (to use your word). I’m not resistant to having a ‘particular visual identity’. However I’d get very bored very quickly if I was knocking out the same buildings all the time.
Eleven: What inspires you? What drives you? What turns you off? And what is the starting point for your designs?
Andrew: The starting point of each project is rather dull. I think about orientation and the sun. I’m old-school. I want to make sure that I make the best use of the site and maximise the use of sunlight. All the fun stuff comes later. I’m inspired by a wide range of popular culture. Comics, music, film, anime, video games all play a part in informing my aesthetic. Within architecture, I am most influenced by Japanese architecture, both new and old. I find the density of Tokyo particularly interesting. Australia is vast and empty. We naturally spread our buildings wide. Thinking, designing and building tall spaces on small footprints is counterintuitive to most Australians, however I find that we can do more with our sites and our space if we borrow clever ideas from constrained contexts like Tokyo.
Eleven: You stated once at a lecture that you are a fan of Archigram’s legendary founding member Sir Peter Cook. He was recently quoted saying that for every step forwards architecture takes today, it takes three backwards. Do you agree with his viewpoint? And if so, then what do think the right direction for architecture should be today?
Andrew: I’m a huge fan of Archigram and Cook. I’m really not sure what he’s referring to when he speaks of steps forward or back. Last week I saw Cook at the World Architecture Festival. He spoke a lot, yet made very little sense. I don’t think it was senility. I suspect that it was intellectual complacency. He’s playing the part of Peter Cook without the rigour of his former self. I’m going to stick with the optimistic 1960’s version of Cook.
Eleven: Do you have a secret bucket-list of buildings you would like to design during your career?
Andrew: I’ll be a bit disappointed if I don’t get to build a library, museum and/or gallery. I assume that every architect feels the same. I’d also like to design a skate park.
Eleven: A few years ago, in an interview with Archi-ninja, when asked about who you thought was the most overrated architect you mentioned it was you, and that there seems to be an unrealistic expectation on your small firm. A few years down the line now, do you still believe that is true? If so, how do you deal with the balance of positive attention and overwhelming expectation which seem to go hand in hand?
Andrew: My firm has not changed since that interview. We continue to design small things, and thoroughly enjoy doing so. I am no longer being called ‘the next big thing’ which is ok by me. The label ‘next big thing’ doesn’t really work when you are happy doing what you are doing. I’ve never been interested in trying to fulfil the expectations of others.
Eleven: What’s the most important skill you need to have as an architect in today’s world?
Andrew: Perspective. We are taught that what we are doing is very important (its not) and that we must suffer for our art. If architects took there foot off the accelerator then they’ll probably enjoy the ride more, and be exploited less.
Eleven: What do you think is the most pressing problem which architects and designers need to focus on in today’s context?
Andrew: We need to address housing affordability. We need to explore ways of (beautifully) housing a growing population that has an ever decreasing access to affordable homes.
Eleven: What’s next for Andrew Maynard Architects?
Andrew: Dunno. We are having fun at the moment and are in no rush to change. We don’t enter competitions, nor tender for projects. We simply wait for the phone to ring. Therefore the nature of the work will change as project enquiries differ. I’ll let things change organically.
Eleven: Ok, now for the final question. If you were interviewing yourself, what question would like to ask yourself and how would you reply to it?
Andrew: Lol. Interesting question. I don’t know. What’s for dinner Andrew? Lets have pizza and beer, again.
Melbourne-based architect Andrew Maynard has worked on plenty of houses but he considers his finest creation to be CV08, a robot who consumes the outer suburbs through his two front legs. Vaguely resembling man’s best friend, the robot is Maynard’s answer to suburban sprawl, springing into action when we run out of oil and abandon the outer suburbs because we can no longer afford to drive there. Vast stocks of native flora and fauna are stored within CV08 in carbonite sleep until they are required to colonise what was previously suburban wasteland.
For Maynard, 36, the outspoken founder of Andrew Maynard Architects, the suburb-eating robot is one of the many polemics he has designed to make a controversial statement about the way the world functions. He’d also like to reverse Australia’s penchant for big houses that eat up the once-desired backyard.
“I’ve got some fundamental concerns that I try to address in my projects and I try to be a deliberately provocative and challenging in the work that I do,” says Maynard. “One of the things that seems to fly in the face of Australian design, especially in housing, is the fact that I am always encouraging people to go smaller, to do less because there are a lot of sustainable, economic, but also cultural reasons. It’s much better for families and individuals to have small spaces that are connected to the outside. It is a bit alarming that Australian houses are officially bigger on average than American houses. We are heading down a dangerous path.”
A passion for drawing and wanting to have an impact on the built environment made architecture the natural choice. He studied environmental design and architecture at the University of Tasmania and in 1998, during his final year, he and a friend won the Graphisoft competition. This awarded them a scholarship to travel throughout the US and Europe looking at the buildings they’d studied from afar.
On his return in 1999 he moved to Melbourne and got his first job at a corporate architectural firm. After picking up the grand prize in the Asia-Pacific Design Awards in 2000, Maynard left for Europe for another tour.
He started his firm in 2003 when he was just 27, first working out of his house and eventually moving into offices in Fitzroy.
“I’d worked for a few people and would get quite frustrated drawing other people’s, often terrible, ideas. Also, when you do get the freedom to design something that you’re proud of, somebody else’s name is put on it. I really just thought, you are a long time dead, how many mistakes can I make? Quite a few, as it turned out, but they’ll be washed away in time.”
Luckily, he landed on his feet, something he attributes to timing – not only is it a good time to be an architect in Australia right now but he feels privileged to have graduated in 1998, emerging into a flourishing economy and a culture that was thriving in Melbourne.
“I feel like I arrived in Melbourne from Tasmania at exactly the right time, so economically and culturally Melbourne has been incredibly supportive and I don’t think I could have done it at any other time.”
Also among his favourite polemics is the Styx Valley protest shelter, designed as a protest against logging in the Styx Valley Forest, a pristine wilderness in southwestern Tasmania, which is home to the tallest hardwood trees in the world. Headquarters for the activists is Global Rescue Station, perched within the canopy of a Styx gum dubbed ‘Gandalf’. Maynard’s shelter would replace the existing shelter taking in a greater area and providing shelter for the activists in winter.
Among his built projects, highlights include the Vadar House, an extension to a Victorian terrace in the inner city of Melbourne, which was redesigned around a central courtyard accessed by a series of glass doors. Then there’s a commission by the Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne to build a portable pod-shelter to be used by the Volunteer Garden Ambassadors. The ‘Bot Pod’ is a simple recycled timber crate with a roof garden that can be towed throughout the gardens and quickly unfolded.
Meanwhile the firm is growing and getting bigger budget work and is in discussions with a number of developers. He’s also been getting more involved around the parameter of architecture and was recently one of five teams shortlisted to curate the exhibition for the Australian Pavilion at the 2012 Venice International Architecture Biennale.
“The projects are getting bigger and better, but looking at things beyond architecture is something I am definitely keen on. I do like my politics so getting more involved in being vocal on certain issues is on the agenda,” he says.
In 2010, Maynard was awarded ‘Best Young Architect’ by Treehugger, a media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream.
Judges said: “As his body of built work grows, it shows every sign of the humour, talent and environmental concern of his conceptual work. He understands that saving what we have is greener than starting from scratch, and that sustainable design cannot be bolted on.”
Maynard says ‘sustainability’ is something that comes naturally to him after growing up in Tasmania during the debate around the Franklin Dam.
“The School of Architecture and Design at the University of Tasmania is one of the leading schools in terms of sustainability,” he says. “They definitely push that as a big issue. As a small kid the protest on the damming of the Gordon River was happening nightly on TV and this is where Bob Brown and the Greens emerged. It was an issue that was hotly being debated in Australia at that time so it was definitely part of my formative years that I saw a strong agenda for a sustainable future and that has stuck with me for the rest of my life.”
This sensibility is among the qualities that Maynard thinks makes Australian architects in demand internationally.
“Most of the universities are internationally well respected so you come out with a very good skill base but you push beyond that skill base and are thinking about broader issues,” he says. “The fact that we live in a culture that’s egalitarian and a little laid back means we are very accessible to other cultures. I think you’d find most Australian architects are very easy to work with which goes against the grain of a stereotypical architect.”
Maynard has designed libraries in Tokyo, temples and museums, and more recently he’s been working in Malaysia on three 40-storey mixed use towers at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre on a site facing the Petronas towers and a luxurious gated community in Hyderabad, India. Consisting of 32 luxury houses, Maynard spent a year working on the project, which not only included the houses but the development of the surrounding community with a clubhouse, golf range and other sporting facilities.
“The client was really open to being challenged in certain ideas and it was great to have those frank and open conversations,” he says. “All the houses needed to accommodate the staff and they were really open to discussions about the staff, where they live and how they fit into the community. Unfortunately both projects were buried by last year’s GFC, but we learnt a lot and we realised that international work is something we want to do. It’s been fantastic working in Australia but it’s also great to dive into other cultures.”
As he does so, it may be wise to leave that suburb-eating robot at home.
LB - Which of your projects has been the most rewarding and why?
AM - The stand outs for me have to be CV08 and the Styx Valley protest shelter. Both unbuilt concepts, but both have a broad social and ethical agenda that simply does not translate to my built work with the same intensity.
LB - Your recent project, Vader House, recently won the 2009 Vision Award. What aspects of project do you think contributed to winning the award?
AM - I lose all objectivity about a project by the time it is complete. I can’t place it or measure it when its finished. I have received a lot of great feedback about Vader house, which is always very important for your self confidence as a designer. Vader was one of the first projects I designed over 6 years ago [when I was 28], however it was shelved for a long time while the client got their finances in order. I am a very different designer now and I am quite sure that I would tackle the project differently if I were to do it again. To me Vaderoften feels like it has a different author.
LB - How do you think architecture will change in the next 50 years?
AM - Augmented realities are going to change architecture radically. I believe that we will soon describe architecture as pre augmented realities and post augmented realities. A few of videos worth checking out are : http://bit.ly/4s2kxH and http://bit.ly/aToJf and http://bit.ly/HGbDs . I think that the implications for architecture are very exciting. The idea of user driven content in architecture is also a wonderful way of democratising our profession. The blurring of boundaries between the real and the virtual is already happening and it may prove to be another missed opportunity for architects to lead in the creative implementation of this technology and ideas. There is a real threat that our constructed environment will start to be designed by companies like Apple rather than our profession.
LB - What changes would you like to see in the Architectural profession?
AM - A new basis for fees would be fantastic. Linking fees to budgets creates distrust in clients and also discourages architects from arguing for a reduced scope of works. One of the most powerful ESD weapons an architect has is to convince a client not to change parts of their buildings, to simply accept what they have. Knocking down and starting again can give an architect great freedom and increases their fees however there is a broader ethical, environmental and professional obligation that is missed by assuming that this is always the best course of action for a client and a site.
LB - Do you think that Architecture tends to be trendy today?
AM - Architecture is definitely very present in the popular media at the moment. However I do not think that this is a trend. This attention will concrete architecture into the public consciousness and I hope will create broader links between popular culture and architecture. This is something that we are very interested in at AMA. Resisting, or denying a link with high culture and instead making architecture not only accessible by the mainstream but furthermore making it culturally entrenched with the mainstream is part of our goal.
LB - What would students learn from reviewing the body of architectural projects you have completed? Do you have any advice for upcoming students?
AM - AMA is still in its infancy and as such I am not convinced that there is anything to learn from our built work. However I think that AMA as a practice is a very interesting vehicle for students to learn from and research. Peter Eisenman once said that you must be very deliberate and strategic when you start an architectural practice. He says that if you do not start your firm with a deliberate direction and agenda then your clients and other external factors will set the course for you and this is a very difficult position to steer away from or reorient.
I was very strategic in the way that AMA was set up; 1.Concepts were more important than built projects 2.Engage with the broader architectural discourse 3.Engage with new media 4.Survival is a priority, profit is not. This simple set of rules has created a practice that has some plasticity to it and importantly, because there are few financial pressures I am free of the stresses of the month to month billing grind. I think that this is important for students to see. You don’t need to fit into standard practice models. There are choices and you can invent your future without becoming a slave to the ubiquitous corporate model of architectural practice.
LB - What are you most proud of in your career or any aspect of life?
AM - I am most proud of the Styx Valley Protest Shelter. The Wilderness Society is doing an amazing job to defend Tasmania’s old growth forests from logging. Styx was my small effort to help draw attention to the work of the Wilderness Society. The project received [and still receives] a amazing amount of press which drew international attention to the Styx Valley. I have always been amazed by how effective Styx was and furthermore it is evidence that “paper architecture” can be effective, not simply on an academic level, but also on a broader social stage. It is also evidence that architectural practice does not need to be based on a purely capitalist model of operation. It can be a hybrid of your choosing.
LB - Who do you think is the most overrated architect, and who do you think deserves more credit/recognition?
AM - After the last interview I did, for a UK mag, I honestly believe that I am the most over rated. The journalist attempted to describe people like Shigeru Ban and even Renzo Piano as my contemporaries which of course is completely ridiculous. I seem to attract hype. At the moment I mainly design small houses and when you compare my work to the amount of media attention I have received it is verging on the offensive. I’m not complaining of course and I am not resistant to the attention as it does lead to more work, however I increasingly feel that there is an unrealistic expectation on my small firm. I believe that AMA has the potential to contribute some important ideas to architecture and the broader community at some stage in the future, however building up an expectation is not helpful.
The most underrated architect would have to be Jo Noero. Not only does he selflessly contribute to academia and social programs, his architecture is a stunning example of how architects can positively effect the lives of those in need. Students need to spend less time studying Star-chitects and more time studying the work of architects like Noero.
LB - What aspect of Architecture do you find most important? What is fundamental to your practice and your design process?
AM - To answer this I offer a quote:
Thom Mayne of Morphosis on teaching architecture, and a bit more: “The key thing is that architecture is a discipline where it’s impossible to escape values. It’s radically value-laden. I think it’s possible that you can become a designer – an architect – and see it as somewhat autonomous and not as a political act, which is just totally incredibly naive. I try to make [students] aware of the radical, political, cultural, social nature of our work and how it’s impossible to escape those responsibilities.”
LB - What inspired you to become involved in Architecture? What inspires you now?
AM - I don’t remember why I wanted to be an architect, however I made the choice at a very early age and never even considered anything else.
LB - What other interests do you have?
AM - Computer games [esp first person shooters], comics, books. I love the fact that vast numbers of japanese architecture students end up in the computer games industry. My favourite movie is Brazil, by Terry Gilliam. My favourite TV show is Good Game. Best album ever is Going Blank Again by Ride. Favourite authors are Arthur C Clarke, Azimov, Douglas Adams and Philip K Dick [to name a few]. At the moment I am reading Mother Tongue By Bill Bryson [I loved his book A Short History of Nearly Everything]. I love reading anything from Black Inc Publishing and there website Slow TV is amazing. My favourite place in the world is on top of Mount Oakleigh [facing west].
LB - What is your favourite time of the day, and why?
AM - 6pm ….. because the Simpsons is on. And yes, I am home before 6pm each day. Working late is for suckers.
LB - What would be your ultimate design project?
AM - As I have said in the past to Gina Morris of THE AGE, all architects want to build museums and libraries and I am no different. However, I’m pretty keen to build the Millennium Falcon. And I don’t mean a replica, I mean the real thing with warp speed and a wookie.
LB - What are you doing at the moment?
AM - After spending the last 2 years concentrating on getting some structures built, I am currently refocusing back on comps, concepts and products.
LB - Who would you most like to work with on a project?
AM - I have always fantasised about doing a house for Matthew Barney and Bjork.
IAOC: Why did you choose “Architect” as your career?
AM - I don’t remember deciding to become an architect. It is simply something that I always wanted to do since I was a small boy.
IAOC: What is the “ideal” house?
AM - I don’t have a vision for the perfect house. Each site is different and I spend a great deal of time trying to find the best design for the client and the site. I don’t think that there is an ideal house. However there are many issues that are important to me when designing a home, such as site orientation, sustainability and I like overlapping functional and spatial types. Furthermore I always try to have something fun or playful in each project. The ideal house definitely needs to have playful aspects.
IAOC: House are relatively small compared to other building types, does this limit your design ideas?
AM - I often find that small areas lead to highly creative ideas. The limitations of small sites and small briefs can be frustrating, however once you find a creative solution to overcome these constraints the result can be extremely rewarding.
IAOC: What do you pay attention to when designing an innovative housing project? And what is the most important point?
AM - The first thing I do is get to know the site intimately. I like to know all of the opportunities and constraints of a site before I begin to consider design. I also like to get to know the client and their requirements. The attitude that a client approaches a project with often has the greatest influence on what direction a design will take. I think that most clients underestimate the importance of their input. I don’t aim to produce an “innovative” response, however I avoid conservative approaches and this leaves me open to finding a design that may be unusual.
IAOC: All your designs are beloved by your clients, how do you know the exact requirement of each client? Do you apply special skills when communicating with them?
AM - The building process is long and arduous. I never let the client think that I will be designing the perfect house. It is an impossible task. I like to keep things realistic. From the start I tell most of my clients that the process won’t be fun and that they are likely to get very frustrated at times, however all of this will be worth it when you move into your wonderful new home. It is also essential to be completely open with your clients. We communicate everything that is happening and about to happen in the project. We hold nothing back. If we are having problems with one part of the process we let the client know. If we make a mistake we let the client know. You are dealing with a lot of the clients money and assets, therefore it is essential that they feel at ease with your approach.
IAOC: Will you always be a mainly a residential architect?
AM - I will always design houses. However, as Andrew Maynard Architects grows I will undertake less houses and concentrate on larger scale projects and more diverse building types. At the moment we are about to begin a variety of larger scale projects and are hoping to take on more large projects.
IAOC: As an architect based in Australia, how much do you know about the house architecture in China? Have you ever thought of doing projects in China?
AM - I am constantly amazed by China’s increased commitment to great architecture. When I was an undergraduate I was taught by Dr Jianfei Zhu, a Chinese academic now based in Australia. Jianfei was a huge influence on me. When he first taught me we studied the amazing gardens of Suzhou. He then asked all of his students to design a contemporary building to sit within this significant heritage landscape. An impossibly daunting task, but an ultimately rewarding one. I wouldn’t be where I am if it was not for Jianfei’s tutorage.
Along with Suzhou, one of the places in China that I am very keen to see is The Commune by the Great Wall. So many incredible houses. The Suitcase house by EdgeHK is very inspiring.
One day soon I hope to undertake a few projects in China.
IAOC: How do you spend your leisure time? Do you like reading? Would you like to recommend one or two of your favorite books to our readers?
AM - In my leisure time I play Computer games [esp first person shooters] and I read comics and books. I love the fact that vast numbers of japanese architecture students end up in the computer games industry. Computer games provide a huge source of architectural inspiration for me. My favourite movie is Brazil, by Terry Gilliam. My favourite TV show is Good Game. Best album ever is Going Blank Again by Ride. Favourite authors are Arthur C Clarke, Azimov, Douglas Adams and Philip K Dick [to name a few]. At the moment I am reading the Mars Trilogies by Kim Stanley Robinson. I love reading anything from Black Inc Publishing and there website Slow TV is amazing. My favourite place in the world is on top of Mount Oakleigh [facing west]. Leisure time is very important to me. Limiting my office hours and spending time exploring popular culture has a direct effect on the work that I design. If I spent longer in the office working and less time exploring then my designs would no good at all.
IAOC: You have visited many countries. Which countries architecture impressed you most?
AM - Its hard to choose. Scandinavia is such a wonderful playground of early modernism. Japanese architecture has always been a great influence on me. However it seems like the most avante garde work is happening in China. I still have not had a chance to visit China, however I hope to soon.
IAOC: What makes you most happy?
AM - My son.
It is time for architectural work practices to grow up. We must stop deluding ourselves that architectural employees are anything other than a contemporary exploited labour force.
Epicurus argued that humans needed only three things in life to be happy – friends, freedom and an analysed life. All evidence indicates that Epicurus had a rather good time while he was around. Now he is dead. I wonder if Epicurus became a senior associate at Philosopher & Associates Pty Ltd before he died? Surely this was a priority. Does contemporary architectural employment deny us our happiness; our friends, freedom and the opportunity for an analysed life? Many would argue that being employed in architecture and the pursuit of happiness are irreconcilable. It can reasonably be argued that most architects, and almost all recent graduates, are working in conditions that are unhealthy, unsustainable and exploitative.
At 27, like a surprising number of architecture graduates, I cut and ran from commercial architecture. A number of my peers disappeared into graphic design, 3D rendering, fashion and retail. I did my time and mused that, “Life’s too short. I’ll start my own practice. I won’t work for another architect again.” What I didn’t know at 27 years old was how unlikely it would be that my practice would survive. (It was more luck than anything else, by far, that it did).
We all imagine working for ourselves. We become the authors of our own work, we get the credit for our work and, most importantly, we gain full control of our working conditions. After ten years I now have what could be described as a good work/life balance. My office is an old shop front on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. I live upstairs with my eight-year-old son and my partner. At 5.30pm all staff leave the office, including myself. On some nights I will return to the office after my son has gone to sleep to play video games (mostly COD, SWTOR and BF3). On very rare occasions (perhaps six times a year) I work at night, however, this is done under very specific conditions: Firstly, I am inspired and, secondly, I want to work.
Most importantly, through planning, management and the ability to turn away bad projects, I never allow myself to be in a position where I need to work after hours. I have manufactured this situation with great difficulty over the years and outside of the norms of architectural practice. To generate this work/life balance I have opted out of the overly competitive and patriarchal environment that contemporary architectural working culture demands. My practice fills a tiny niche and I recognise that it is not financially viable for the profession as a whole to do as I do.
After all, the entire profession cannot relegate itself to working almost exclusively on renos and extensions as I do. Commercial architectural firms are the biggest employers of architects and their slice of the pie continues to increase as we see mid-size practices morph and compress. The vast majority of architects will continue to be employees rather than employers.
There is a strange unspoken, yet ubiquitous, competitiveness within architecture offices. Who will leave first? Who has put in the most hours? Who looks busiest? Who gets along best with the boss? Whose timesheet is full of ‘office’ and ‘admin’ hours?
When I worked for one of Australia’s largest commercial architectural firms I deliberately ignored this internal scrutiny. I did not want to compete with my fellow employees and I did not want to be exploited by my employer. I dedicated myself to producing the best work I could within the constraints of my employment agreement.
I would arrive no earlier than 8.30am. I would have a morning tea break daily. I would never work through lunch. I would try to leave at 5.30pm, ensuring that I was gone before 6pm. I would never work on weekends or public holidays.
This attitude, as expected, put me on a crash course with management. When it was clear that I was going to be uncompromising my employer became passive aggressive and easily rallied a handful of fellow employees against me. I was accused of not being a team player. I was accused of not being committed to my projects. The quiet hostility got to the point where I found it necessary to have my employment agreement front-and-centre on my desk, conveniently flipped to the page stating that my work day ceased at 5.30pm and my right to paid overtime should I work beyond this.
Eventually I surrendered to the realisation that I was very much alone in exercising my rights. At no point during informal reviews of my work and attitude was the quality or quantity of the work I produced in question. I performed my contracted task well and received compliments from fellow employees about the care and rigour of my work. There was no evidence that I did any less work than other employees. However, it became obvious that one idealistic graduate commie upstart like myself was not going to change the exploitative office culture of one of Australia’s biggest firms. So I left.
But why was my insistence to work within the time limits, protected by my employment agreement, so confronting and provocative to my employer and so threatening to a handful of fellow employees?
“Working overtime for extended periods indicates a fundamental failure in planning or communication.” 1
A number of unique conditions, and abundant false logic, leaves young architects exposed to exploitation. Perhaps it’s our left-of-centre university indoctrination to be egalitarian, generous and servants of society and the city? Could it be that ‘all-nighters’ are considered the norm and time management is seen as the enemy of creativity at university? It could be the illusion that one must suffer for their art. Is it simply the need to conform to an office culture?
Regardless, there is the belief that architecture is a profession that demands all or nothing. We are even led to believe that we are working in an industry whose margins are so tight that its very survival is reliant on donated time of architectural employees.
These factors contribute to the ongoing exclusion of many parts of our diverse community; there are many individuals within our community who cannot donate their time due to family or other external commitments. Inclusion of these individuals outside of the architectural norm would no doubt enrich the architectural profession.
Arguably the most pervasive element enabling exploitative office culture is the postmodern trickery of the contemporary working environment. Slavoj Žižek argues that modern employment tactics create the illusion that our employer is our friend. This fabrication empowers the employer while denying the employed the right to vocalise and protest dissatisfaction of their working conditions. “You’re not going to stick around and help out? I thought we were a team? I thought we were friends?”
Žižek suggests that the environment of the workplace has been twisted, using architectural devices, to manipulate employees. Kitchens, ‘break-out spaces’, lounges, free food, free coffee – he postulates that this is a postmodern sleight of hand designed to manipulate and disarm staff. By fabricating the illusion of employer as friend, the employed is denied the opportunity to protest, argue, fight, be adversarial and demand more of their working conditions. These informal spaces are political spaces of control, surveillance and manipulation.
Architectural employees operate within a specific set of broken logic principles that leave them open to exploitation. We tell ourselves ;
If I work longer hours I will get promoted and paid better.
Architects are often the lowest paid person on the building site and the only ones willing to donate their leisure time for free.
I will one day start my own practice.
The proliferation of small practices and their significant cull rate illustrates a pathology unsupported by economic logic.
I’ll rise through the ranks of management.
Architects are a labour force, not a set of managers. The most insidious trick in the corporate world was to begin calling everyone a manager, executive or senior something or other. This created the illusion that everyone was on a relatively even plane with their employer.
We must suffer for our art.
We are suffering for our employers’ profit. After all, how much of your time is spent being the ‘artist’? I spend around 7% of my time being the ‘artist’. I refuse to suffer and sacrifice for all the other stuff.
Long hours make the project better.
Long hours may produce a greater quantity of information, but corporate research suggests that working long hours drastically reduces quality and soon becomes a liability.
My employer is suffering equally for the good of the project.
Each unpaid hour of overtime you work is profit to your employer. Though an employer may articulate otherwise, profit plays a fundamental role in encouraging an environment of extended working hours. If one of my team did an extra hour I could only think “thanks for that extra $210 you just gave me”.
Architectural practices cannot afford to pay overtime.
Like so many other professions, the architectural profession would adapt. It would remodel its spreadsheets. So is the nature of capitalism.
Other professions, such as law, demand extended hours – why not architecture?
Law is one of a handful of professions that has a cultural predilection for extended hours. The fundamental difference between law and architecture is that lawyers are typically paid very well.
Creativity doesn’t necessarily happen between 9am to 5pm.
How creative are you between 5.30pm and 8.30pm? Let me answer that for you; you are not creative at all, you are in fact tired, hungry and keen for a beer. You may get a burst of creative energy at 2am, but those moments are rare and fleeting and they don’t need you to be sitting in your employer’s office for them to emerge.
Once you allow yourself and the staff around you to work past your contracted period of employment you are enabling a culture of exploitation. A commercial office is an instrument to make money not art. There is a hint that gives this fact away – it’s the word ‘commercial’. Yet it is within the practice of commercial architecture that we see the greatest amount of unpaid work and we see the greatest donation of leisure time to an employer.
Deferred Happiness Syndrome and a shift to an Epicurian mode of thinking.
During my time at a commercial architecture office I anecdotally noticed specific behavioural shifts among new young employees.
As employees worked longer hours their friends became those that they were working with. Is this because they saw their other friends less? This overlay between colleague and friend helps reinforce an office culture of extended working hours.
Most employees trade their freedom either through a competitive desire to rise through the ranks or a conformity to office culture and the fear of being seen as an uncommitted team member.
An analysed life. Clive Hamilton writes of the endemic nature of deferred happiness now ingrained within Australian culture: “(a) widespread propensity of Australians to persist with life situations that are difficult, stressful and exhausting in the belief that the sacrifice will pay off in the longer term”. If one worked fewer hours then perhaps one could spend more time exploring an Epicurian ‘analysed life’.
Hamilton argues that the motivations for deferring happiness are various.
Growing aspirations for more expensive lifestyles, reflected in rapidly increasing house prices, are dominating some people’s lives. The desire to stay in this race leads many to work longer and harder, often at the cost of other aspects of their wellbeing.
Some workers feel a powerful need to accumulate as much as they can in preparation for their retirement. This is especially prevalent among men in their forties and fifties.
Some workers are stuck in demanding jobs because they are fearful of the consequences should they change. They become habituated to the stresses and pressures, perhaps until a health problem or some crisis at work or home forces them to consider alternatives.
Within architecture, we should be attempting to erode the competitive aspirational illusion of grinding our way through the ranks or aspiring to all working for ourselves.
Instead we collectively need to start concentrating on securing fair and reasonable working conditions that support a healthy, rewarding and creative lifestyle. One can and should argue that selling one’s daylight hours to an employer must be fully rewarded and no part should be offered for free.
Currently architectural employees appear to have two options of attaining a good work/life balance:
(1) work for oneself and take the very real risk that one may go broke at anytime
(2) leave the profession.
These issues obviously threaten the long-term relevance of the profession. Unsustainable work practices and poor working conditions are a significant part of the overall viability of the profession into the future.
Quite simply, if you are paid to work until 5.30pm then stop work at 5.30pm. You may be able to work for much longer, you may be keen to work longer, you may dream of becoming an associate or one day a director, but along the way you are contributing to an exploitative and exclusive work environment.
1 - Valve Software employee manual.
Written by Andrew Maynard
Flux 2011 attracted a diverse range of talented speakers from a variety of different fields to our very own back yard. One of those speakers, also responsible for kicking off the program, was Andrew Maynard.
As a student (and a practising Architect) you can often get caught up in various discussions around Architecture. On one side you might be focused on viewing architecture from an original position, designs that responds to the basic human condition and ‘touch the earth lightly’ in the mould of Glen Murcutt. On the other side, you may find yourself being seduced by the necessary, but sometimes fearful, investigation into architectural theory. I’m sure it was a great relief when Andrew Maynard began his discussion by admitting that “he was just going to talk about the things he likes, which is Star Wars and Lego”. This proved a great reminder that the process of thinking about Architecture doesn’t have to be so cut and dry. In the context of a student conference I’m sure this was well received.
‘Andrew Maynard is an Australian (Tasmanian) Architect living and working in Fitzroy’ as stated on his twitter account. Andrew is one of few Architects who have taken to social media as a way of networking and promoting their ideas in the public realm with great success. Traditionally, Architects are fairly cagey when it comes to putting their ideas out in the Public Realm. Often with good reason, due to confidentiality and protecting ones intellectual property, but do we often take this too seriously at the risk of missing out? Andrew Maynard Architects (AMA) recently posted a series of preliminary sketches and drawings on their website, for one of their housing projects titled ‘Tower’. This was then promoted through twitter which immediately got the project noticed.
AMA’s graphic style supports this method of communication which keeps it simple, engaging and clear. The images aren’t overly refined and they literally look like they are the same drawings sitting on their computer screens. This gives the public a great insight into their practice and demonstrates the wide search that many Architects take, but don’t communicate, to resolve a piece of Architecture. It also allows them to chuck in a concept for an intercom based on a sniper rifle as a fun, lo–fi way of communicating in true AMA fashion. I’m sure from a Client’s perspective it would be exciting to see concepts and ideas that were informing the design of their home, given this much attention.
Andrew Maynard started his practice in highly competitive Melbourne some 8 years ago. Not being from Melbourne, you might assume that he may have had a hostile reception. However, Andrew said that he received a lot of help and good advice as he was finding his way through his early years. However, Andrew did admit that there was a definite RMIT University V University of Melbourne clique but was happy to be outside of that.
His practice is small and quite purposefully capped at 5 people. This enables the practice to stay agile and most importantly, keep Andrew on the tools as he prefers. AMA, as stated on their website, try to strike a ‘balance between built projects and broad polemical design studies’. Before you go and Google polemical I’ve done it for you, in this context it means design studies which are capable of arousing controversy. This approach can best be described in AMA’s much acclaimed CV08- the suburb eating robot dog which consumes suburbs abandoned by its residence in a post urban sprawl future.
After Flux 2011, the Australian Institute of Architects released the much anticipated shortlist of proposals for the role of Creative Director for the Australian Exhibit 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale. Deservedly on that list are Andrew Maynard and his colleague Amelia McPhee for their concept around the Voyage/ Voyeur which I’m sure will be engaging.
In this issue, which explores and celebrates the small house, we wanted to challenge a few notions about what constitutes sustainable architecture.
One little talked about approach to sustainable design is “kinetic architecture”, a school of multifunction design. To illustrate how it works, we chose to profile one of its leading practitioners – an architect whose design ethic is challenging some of the received notions of sustainable architecture in Australia.
Andrew Maynard’s Melbourne-based practice has built its reputation on a suite of buildings informed by social, political and environmental concerns. His conceptual work is paradigm-busting, and ranges from a suburb-eating robot; a novel take on the mobile home that challenges our notion of the “fixed address”; and a Styx Valley protest shelter, informed by Andrew’s upbringing in “the forests of Tasmania”.
Maynard’s built works are invariably meditations on these same concerns, while at the same time deeply grounded in site-specific solutions. His designs are compact, well-crafted and unpretentiously progressive. At their core is his rejection of stolid, unchanging spaces in favour of nimble, multi-purpose ones.
While Andrew’s designs may follow climate-responsive design principles, such as good orientation and the inclusion of concrete floors for thermal mass, Andrew sees these principles as a given of good design, rather than the exclusive preserve of sustainable architecture. Nor is the inclusion of, quote, “green gadgets”, such as solar panels or solar hot water, a necessary corollary of virtuous design. Sometimes, he says, they can obscure bad design and act as a type of green washing.
“I don’t subscribe to the idea that you can demolish a perfectly good house to put up a four-bedroom six-star house, add a solar array and a few other ‘green gadgets’ and call it sustainable. Or that you can add a ‘green’ extension to an existing dwelling that is perfectly big enough, and call it sustainable.”
For Andrew, one of the main battles is “trying to talk clients out of adding extra rooms.
“Most clients say that their current spaces aren’t working for them. The status quo solution in Australia is to add more rooms or to knock it down and start again. Australians are addicted to renovations and extensions.”
What Andrew would like to see is architects producing architecture that responds to the changing needs of clients by creating adaptable spaces. He wants extensions and rebuilding considered only as a last resort, instead of the first.
A recent example of Andrew’s work is a home in beachside Anglesea, Victoria. During the briefing process everything was on the table, from rebuilding from the ground up to adding a large extension with extra bedrooms. Eventually these were rejected as neither sustainable nor cost-effective solutions.
Subsequently, plans for an additional bedroom for grandchildren were scaled back to a slimline single-bed bunk room. Another dual-function space – a new living room by the back yard – was designed to convert to a guest room, vastly improving the liveability of the home with a simple, modestly sized gesture.
Kids being kids, the bunk room has had the additional benefit of being a very popular cubby-hole.
Thinking small when you have a roomy rural block runs against the grain for many people, but on most inner-suburban blocks it’s a simple necessity. In the inner-suburbs, therefore, the pursuit of maximal house size is leading people to build on every square metre, which means that gardens are becoming a thing of the past, while courtyards and balconies are the new norm. Andrew’s recent work on an inner-Melbourne terrace allowed him to challenge this trend.
Victorian terraces are notoriously light-starved and cramped, with a series of rooms running off a dark hallway and the toilet and laundry facilities at the back of the house, fronting the yard. The common solution is to add a living-kitchen-dining extension that opens onto the yard, but eats into it. Andrew’s approach was different and novel.
Firstly, he resolved to work within the existing size and fabric of the house – no extension – and realign the living space to foster family life. Then he set about designing creative furnishing and space solutions to maximise the existing space.
If there was one design feature that sums up Andrew’s work best it would probably be the kitchen island he designed for this home. It beautifully illustrates what Andrew sets out to achieve in each project: a unique solution that is both functional and elegant, engendering sustainability through compact design, and fostering social cohesion by bringing the family together.
When clients lay out plans for a kitchen-living area, many decide they need a separate work bench, space for dining table and chairs, storage cupboards and so on, then go about designing a huge kitchen and living area to fit in all these elements. In this design solution, Andrew combines all these elements into a custom-designed kitchen island bench. Combining prep area and cupboard, it also has a lower-level workspace where the children can draw or do their homework in the company of their parents. And at meal times it becomes the dining table, where the family can catch up on the day’s activities.
This home also beautifully illustrates Andrew’s work with kinetic architecture. The garden-facing laundry and bathroom were converted into a multifunctional space that is easily adapted to suit the needs of the clients. Primarily a living space and play room, when guests stay it can be turned into a bedroom with an inexpensive, built-in fold-out bed.
Andrew’s views about the future of building are characteristically honest. “At the moment we tend to rely on increased consumption to solve our problems, which is illogical. We really need to ask ourselves whether we need to change ourselves and our habits before blaming the spaces we currently occupy.
“If a renovation, extension or new build is necessary, then think small and think strategic. Never confuse small with cheap. It’s better to get a budget and spend it on something small that is designed extremely well than use the same budget spread thinly over a large area that performs badly.”
Absurdly young to start his own practice, Andrew Maynard is the precocious Australian architect who has caught the imagination of design experts for almost a decade. It is time, so the critics say, for this high-profile talent to produce on a grand scale.
He has got enough awards and competition wins to cover a lifetime. His designs and architectural insights have been lauded in his native Australia and caused a stir as far away as Europe and the US. Moreover, still just a precocious 34 years old – a mere sapling as far as architecture is concerned – he started up his own practice at 27. Acclaim by the barrel load, yet he has realised just a handful of projects. He is a paradox: a man in a hurry, but a man taking his time so as not to lose control. Just why is Andrew Maynard’s star burning so brightly? And why hasn’t he yet taken on the grand projects experts have been expecting?
“I would say it’s tactical,” he reveals. “Regarding my inexperience: it is one of the reasons I started my practice very early. I’m very impatient, on a certain level, but it was also because I liked the freedom of being somewhat ignorant of certain parts of my profession. The freedom of not being told that this is the way you do something. Not being taught all of the rules.”
Outspoken, particularly on the responsibilities architects have and the egregious effect the modern built world has had on the environment, he is engaging with the media and, as his detailed website shows, he knows the value of modern technology. And it is this skill of combining his talent as an architect along with his application of computer-generated designs that has caught the attention of so many people.
One of Maynard’s principle architectural preoccupations relates to playing with space, exemplified by two projects, one built, the other a concept. The Melbourne Essex Street House project, completed in 2006, evolved out of the owner’s insistence that Maynard should build bigger and bigger. “I kept saying: ‘You can’t afford it! But what you should do is use garage doors and glaze them so they become walls that open up to free the living room to the space outside.’” In fact, what Maynard was actually doing was deliberately confusing the spacial concepts of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. “What is a wall?” he asks. “What is a door? What is an awning? The garage doors do all of those things.”
Holl House is a concept based on the principle that just as the size of families ebbs and flows as children leave the nest, a house should be flexible to adapt to changing circumstances. “Whenever I give a lecture about my work I talk about the Holl House as my visual manifesto. And if I ever built it I’d retire! ... It is a simple structure that folds down onto itself. It’s a three-level tower, or with a click of a switch, it’s a two-level tower.”
Similar hyper-modern designs have helped propel Maynard into the spotlight and he is increasingly portrayed as a ‘Next Big Thing’ in architecture. With a small practice of just five people, does he not feel pressured by expectations to be the next Sir Norman Foster or the next Zaha Hadid before the notoriously impatient media loses interest? “Of course, it puts pressure on,” he states bluntly. “There were a lot of people within the local media who started saying: ‘When are you going to build significant things?’ Because a lot of things I got press for were broad concepts. Challenging concepts of un-built work rather than built work. There was a real push in the media here to say: ‘Yes, but can he build buildings?’ And what was important to me was to ignore that to a certain degree and to make sure I went at my own pace.”
Maynard’s rise to prominence can be traced back to an architecture competition he and a friend entered in their final year at university. The competition’s constraints revolved around a theme of a place from popular culture and involved using specified architectural software. “We chose a book called The Master and Margarita, which had this amazing space, the Devil’s ballroom ... We did a pretty insane design and we won! Part of the prize was a trip overseas, so as soon as I’d finished my studies we took off and got to see parts of the US and parts of Europe.”
On returning, Maynard got vital experience working first in a corporate practice in Melbourne, which he “didn’t enjoy”, before entering another competition, again winning, ensuring another European tour.
With a reputation as an innovator secured, at 27 he set up Andrew Maynard Architects (AMA) and set about changing the world. Reality soon poked its haggard face into his life and he found himself at the wrong end of a work-life imbalance. “I was a lot more single minded in what I was doing. For three or four years I was defining my life by the work that I did. I was a bloody minded artist as far as I was concerned. I was going to change the world using my art form.”
Though experience has lowered some of his most exuberant aims, this is still an architect with cutting-edge ideas and concepts, and determined to construct buildings his way. Which is what exactly?
While Shigeru Ban eschews the term ‘green architect’ that many writers have tried to bestow on him, Maynard is less ambiguous. In fact, he’s refreshingly direct: “I definitely like highlighting it. What I try to avoid is using it as a sales pitch ... A lot of architects are coming out now as ‘green architects’. I find that amusing because creating environmentally sound buildings is simply part of good design.”
But in these tougher economic times, isn’t there a danger of architects foregoing the environmental aspect? Not so, says Maynard. “The problem people have with budgeting and trying to create green buildings,” he explains, “is that when they just design a building they want, they then go and apply green surfaces to it. They put on solar panels, they put on water tanks and put on greywater systems, wind turbines or whatever they may be. All great technologies, but ... they are tacked on as an after-thought and they’re the first thing to come off if the budget goes over. What we do is start with the principles of what are the passive green techniques, because then you can’t pull them out if you’ve started with them. If you can then afford to put solar panels on it, that’s just a bonus.”
‘Green’, therefore, is inherent to his designs at the earliest stages. “It’s just an ethical and professional responsibility,” he muses.
The burning desire is very much still in evidence and there is still time for the much demanded grand projects to one day head his way; in the meantime, as contradictory as ever, he cherishes his small, intimate five- person practice. And he still wants to be in control of his own destiny. “Somebody once told me,” he explains, “that within each house there are 25,000 unique decisions that an architect needs to address. And if you get five of these wrong, the client tells you you’re a failure.”
Perhaps, then, the key to finally realising similar projects to those that have so impressed commentators is related to releasing control and embracing expansion. Only time will tell whether it is a price worth paying.
JJ - In what sort of situations is living in a home where there is more space than your needs require a bad idea?
AM - The ecological argument is compelling. Before considering orientation, before solar panels and water tanks, one needs to consider size if Australian houses are to become truly sustainable. A huge house with solar panels and all the green gadgets is never going to be sustainable as a small home without these green toys.
There is also a social argument. Large homes can essentially dislocate families from the community and from each other. When we all end up with separate bathrooms, separate lounge spaces and a PS3 in each bedroom we avoid those beautiful impromptu moments that happen in shared spaces.
If there is an intercom in your home then I'd take this as an indicator that perhaps your house could be a tad more modest.
JJ - At what point does a small home become too small? What are the indicators?
AM - I'm not a great person to ask, as I don't think that there is a house that is too small. I love japanese architecture, mainly due to the creative solutions that their tiny sites encourage. If designed well, even the tiniest space can be wonderful, and often small spaces can be far more rewarding than monstrous open plans.
JJ - Do you think it's difficult for home owners to evaluate how space versus, say, location, will affect the extent to which they enjoy living in their home?
AM - I don't think it is difficult. When I chose my home my main goal was to ensure that I could get to all of the places I wanted and needed to go without driving and preferably to walk there. I have a lovely home in Carlton that most Australians may consider a "shoe box". However I can stroll to the pool, the library, to work, to the supermarket and to a number of parks, furthermore my sons school is 2 blocks away. This has eradicated the need for a car in my life. Though the house that I own has a very small foot print, my home extends far out into the community.
The amount that I paid for my beautiful "shoe box", I could have spent the same money on a huge house in the burbs, however my life would not be as rich or as healthy and my carbon footprint would be huge.
JJ - Do you think people are susceptible to underestimating the importance of doing this and the challenge of getting it right?
AM - Very much so. It is a cultural issue. Australia is a consumer society and we tend to want one of everything in our homes. I prefer to borrow ideas from Europe. For example, in the Neatherlands, in Spain, in many countries, one has a modest home and spends the majority of their time engaged in the community. In Australia it is different. Culturally we seem to becoming more and more like the US, "come over to my place and I'll show you all my stuff". I'd rather have a barbie in the park followed by a quick dip in Carlton Baths. The other great benefit of this is that I didn't have to pay for the BBQ or the pool. Nor do I have to maintain them. Its a pretty plush existence.
TFD - What’s currently on your mind? Though this is broad I’m curious about what you might be studying and reading alongside what you’re practicing, at this moment …
AM - Global protests are on my mind, pepper spray, skimming Peter Singer’s PUSHING TIME AWAY and COLLAPSE by Jared M. Diamond. Thinking about a changing world. One see a gentle revolution happening. Apart from the use of pepper spray, one feels optimistic. After exploring Jon Ronson’s THE PSYCHOPATH TEST I am slowly reading Bret Easton Ellis’ AMERICAN PSYCHO. In the end the rich white guy gets away with it. Even if he is trying not to.
TFD - I’ve been speaking a lot with architects about the way that buildings are judged. We’ve been talking about form and purpose, in relation to beauty. This arose from a discussion on Kant’s Third Critique where he explores the distinction between free (direct emotional appeal) and adherent (form imposed on by function) beauty. In what ways does your work investigate the term or phrase beauty?
AM - Beauty is not a concept that I find interesting. If anything its a red herring that distracts us from really understanding what design is. I am interested in the exploration and production of ideas.
I often refer to a nursing home in Germany when I wish to illustrate this idea. An article in a local newspaper describes it as follows:
The nursing home built an exact replica of a bus stop in front of the facility. The only difference is that buses never stop there “It sounds funny,” said Old Lions Chairman Franz-Josef Goebel, “but it helps. Our members are 84 years-old on average. Their short-term memory hardly works at all, but the long-term memory is still active. They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home.” The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place. “We will approach them and say that the bus is coming later today and invite them in to the home for a coffee,” said Mr Neureither. “Five minutes later they have completely forgotten they wanted to leave.”
This is such a wonderful example of solid, humanist centric, strategic design thinking. Defined and created without the input of a designer or architect, and furthermore without a debate about beauty. I must admit though that it is beautiful idea, but then perhaps it becomes a semantic exercise rather than addressing the question you raise.
TFD - In what ways do you draw from the familiar vs. the unfamiliar in your work, whether this is in ideas, theories or objects …
AM - I do try to remain intrenched in the familiar. I actively choose to “stay true to the dreams of thy youth” (Schiller). I try to stay grounded and tangible in the production of ideas, their execution and their communication. Though appropriately versed in architectural theory and broader design culture, I daily refer to the cultures that I embraced and loved as a youth, that being skateboarding, music, comics, video games, drawing, Star Wars etc. I am a firm believer that the things that made you happy as a youth will make you happy as an adult. Too often people choose to leave too much of their past behind and manufacture an adult future, at the expense of the dreams of thy youth. I find this very sad. For example, though I respect greatly Charles and Ray Eames I refuse to fill my house with their furniture at the expense of my lego, star wars and comic collection.
TFD - A lot of the work you do is conceptual, rather than having a material springboard. How has this changed the way a project progresses and in what ways has it allowed you to utilize or become aware of constraints?
AM - Concepts/polemics/paper architecture is design without compromise. For me they are political statements. They illustrate a call to arms for the practice and remind me of why I started doing what I am doing. They inform the built work, however the volume is turned down on this commentary. The built work is restrained by necessary project based and delivery constraints. The task of designing a specific project starts in a completely nebulous fashion. I am lost at the start of a design and am always nervous and confused. I grind, I labour, I excavate to find the ideas, the concepts, the commentary. The process is completely non-linear. The discipline is forcing oneself to make it linear, to make it communicable and legible. To make it look obvious. To make it look easy. Sadly this illusion of ease and obviousness is to our detriment as it denies the client the opportunity to fully grasp the complexity and labour involved.
TFD - What is your relationship with a project once you’ve finished it or it’s been deemed complete?
AM - Your past projects are always with you. They feel a lot like a child that has left home. They are not around much, but you hear from them from time to time, usually when there is a problem. Its just like parenthood.
I rarely have the opportunity to experience a completed project functioning which can be tough. One of the highlights of my project based career was when I was invited to stay the night at the Anglesea house. I slept on the daybed and got to experience its connection to the landscape and how it shifted in nature and personality as the spaces functions shifted throughout the day.
TFD - When you’re in a new or different place, what are some aspects that make space either welcoming or unwelcoming for you? Or more specifically, are there things you immediately want to alter in a space or do these reactions transfer more into your theories about place and how to make better use of it …
AM - Interesting question. I am a rather slow person. It takes me awhile to come to terms with whats going on. I need to soak things in to understand them. Those close to me describe this as being dim.
The longer I spend in a space the more I want to tinker. I find this problematic, the desire to endlessly tweak is a flaw. However when I first enter a space/place I am all embracing. Often, when meeting new clients, they will ask me what I think I will design in their space/place. I always say “I have no idea”. I spend a great deal of time getting to know people, the space, the constraints and the opportunities. My first design reactions are always terrible, hence the need to dwell on a project. I often tell clients that if my work is any good it is because I have done 10 terrible versions of the design until I found something special that I could work with.
TFD - How have words and concepts such as “affordability” and “efficiency” and “ecologically-aware” found a balance in the stride of your own aesthetic?
AM - These are all important words to me and the work that I produce, however I never find a balance. I have a great number of concepts/idea/word/themes/concerns that are present in all of my work. On each project I turn up the volume on each to the level I think is appropriate. If we were in a recording studio perhaps I would be the mixer rather than the artist. For example I have a small number of projects that will finish construction in a few months. Each project is quite different (in my opinion) . While they all share common DNA, they all celebrate different parts of their AMA genetics.
TFD - To riff on Marcel Duchamp a bit, how do you see art or your art in terms of it being dependent on physical and intellectual concepts?
AM - I don’t think that what I do is dependent on the physical. Whether built or not I see all of my work as moments of intellectual exploration regardless of whether they are successful or not. Though I am very interested in “making” as an exploration of ideas I do not feel compelled to construct. Unlike many architects I would be happy to only produce concepts and polemics. For me the “will to construct” comes from a financial position. I get paid to design buildings that will be built. I do not get paid to undertake architectural thought experiments (unfortunately). That is not to diminish the built work. I am thankful for it. I enjoy it. I find it an interesting pursuit.
TFD - What currently excites you the most, either in terms of what you’re working on yourself or what you see being done in the field of architecture?
AM - I am excited about the by the OCCUPY movement. I am keen for us in the privileged west to talk more about our responsibilities rather than our rights. I hope that the movement keeps its steam. I hope that it achieves change.
In architecture I am relieved that there seems to be a rebellion against form making. I very much connect with Thomas Fisher’s recent comments in MARK magazine :
"If architects just manipulate form, they will become completely irrelevant"
"I find formalism too conservative politically. It’s not radical"
TFD - Three books you’ll always return to, whether in your field or literature, etc:
AM - Great question
1) Lessons for students in architecture - Herman Hertzberger
2) The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart
3) The life you can save - Peter Singer
4) Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov
5) Mars trilogy - kim stanley robinson (though the second book is hard work)
Andrew Maynard is anything but your typical architect; he makes furniture, designs an array of merchandise for his shop including t-shirts and skate-decks and creates polemical fictions. What are polemical fictions, I hear you ask? Well, most simply they’re fictional designs which could never be possible in the real world, that make a political comment.
“These fictions are important to the way that I work,” explains Andrew. “They are fun and enable me to stretch my design thinking, to deal with different constraints, and most importantly, to make public comments about issues and politics that are extremely important. Polemical fictions I’ve designed include a building constructed out of human remains, giant suburb-eating robots and parliamentary buildings on wheels amongst many, many other ideas!”
But for Andrew it’s not all robots and human remains; he is also the founding director of the very successful firm, Andrew Maynard Architects (AMA). Started in 2002, Andrew sees AMA’s purpose as: “Taking things that people are convinced are broken and, with some creative thinking, making them work in ways that are better and unexpected.”
Andrew brought on a second director, Mark Austin, in 2007. “I’d gone very hard, very quickly in the first five years of AMA,” says Andrew. “So I simply had to find someone clever to share the load. It’s great to have someone take charge of some of the decision-making, to collaborate with, to strategise with and importantly to have someone who is able to tell me when I’m being a dickhead, without fear of being fired!”
With a team of six, they work across residential, commercial and hospitality, though lately they have been focusing primarily on residential design. They do everything from the architecture to the final interior decoration and have a style that is often described as playful (their Hill House is a prime example!) “We are very serious and rigourous when designing and completing a building,” says Andrew. “However I am very pleased that the joy of our design intent shines through once people inhabit our architecture.”
Not afraid to break the boundaries of traditional architecture and interior design, this approach is a result of Andrew’s creativity, which is found in quite unlikely places. “I’ve always said that the things that made you happy as a child are most likely the things that will make you happy as an adult. So I often refer back to comics, illustration, skateboarding, Tasmania and Star Wars for inspiration and creativity. All of these things conspired to turn me into the designer that I am today.”
Having created a sustainable and balanced business after a great deal of effort and risk in the early days, Andrew is now enjoying the fruits of his labour. “Having my own firm means I get to do what I want, which is awesome. Life’s short and I wanted to make sure that my daylight hours were being spent the way that I wanted, rather than the way an employer wanted. You’re a long time dead!”
LJ - When looking at your work, it comes across as highly expressive. As a student I am interested to know about your design process and how you are able to introduce such strong initial concepts into your projects and have them remain in your final built form?
AM - Design is difficult. It is difficult to find a strong central concept and it’s even more difficult to protect your initial concept through the rigours of the architectural process. Finding one strong central idea is essential. I’m a hoarder of ideas, many of my ideas are stored. I keep sketches and lists. I simply find the appropriate project to use them on. I am terrible at attempting to generate ideas out of the specifics of a particular brief or site. I am useless at project specific research. This is not to suggest that it is not worthwhile, it is simply not how I function as I just get confused and find myself off on tangents that are dead ends.
The vast majority of students work with too many ideas. Often new ideas are employed to solve problems as they crop up. I always encourage students to find a strong idea and test it against all scales and problems. It may sound bloody minded, but I am far from that. Protecting your idea is about being flexible and accommodating. Bring people onboard with your idea, let them invest in it. Always have numerous justifiable reasons for it to exist. Find out what your audience is looking for and use that to gain their support for your idea. NEVER be adversarial. The image of the precious, bloody minded architect is one that we need to erode.
LJ - In your work, is there a particular process which you go through to help formulate ideas?
AM - Yes, I am all about process and method. I try to cut down the unknowns so that you can concentrate on the core task at hand; finding a strong central idea. I like 9 to 5. Even at uni I did 9 to 5, 5 days a week.
To me there is nothing metaphysical about design. It is hard work. It is like building, you need to roll up your sleeves, get in there, get dirty and just do it. There’s no magic formula. Lenard Cohen’s writing methodology is described as workman like. This reminds me of the architectural process. There are formulaic pop songs, there are songs that simply come to you and then there are, like Cohen, songs that need to be constructed, songs that require labour, constant revision and commitment. For Cohen each song requires its pound of flesh. I feel a connection with Cohen’s method.
LJ - How much involvement do others in your practice and clients have in your design process? And how do you manage their input?
AM - AMA is a tight team. We all have different skill sets and different opinions. The design process is fundamentally under my control. I am not very good at designing within a team. I tend to go and hide as I am designing, however there are many times when I get lost and I need to be refocused. At these times we all get together and discuss the direction I have been taking and discuss its value. These sessions are a bit of a free for all and I pick and choose the comments that I want to take on. Most of the time the team is spot on with their comments and these chats make lucid what is working, what should be pursued and what should be abandoned.
Most clients come to us with full confidence in our ability to interpret their brief into a good design. We don’t tend to attract clients who feel that they need to steer the design or snatch the pencil. We tend to attract wonderful, trusting and adventurous clients.
LJ - Do you find it difficult to pursue and explore concepts and ideas when working with clients who are maybe more interested in the product more than the process? And how do you balance this?
AM - I find it easier to work with clients who understand the process but don’t want to be involved. Most of our clients patiently wait for the “product” and would prefer to not be burdened with the often arduous process. Again, we are lucky with the clients we attract.
LJ - Your work features many propositional and experimental projects. What is it about these types of projects that interests you?
AM - They act as a type of catharsis for me. They allow me some objectivity about AMA and the world. They allow me to explore bigger issues than the standard 5 metre wide Fitzroy block tends to. Furthermore, there is no negotiation. There is no engineer, no council, no building surveyor. Just me. There is a purity in thepropositional work that can’t be matched through the often gruelling building process.
Propositional work reminds me of Fluxus. I am envious of Fluxus artists, whose work is often about quick, fertile application. Architecture is nothing like this. Rather than getting an idea, executing it and moving on to the next, architects are doomed to live with an idea until it has been constructed. Over this lengthy period I think it is natural to begin to loathe your original thought process. For me propositional projects are my attempt at Fluxus. Find a new, exciting idea and before you become bored with it or question its validity, quickly document it in a clear an articulate way. There is nothing Fluxus about being articulate, however the speed, energy and enthusiasm can be intoxicating.
LJ - Many of your residential projects are located in distinct character areas and often involve renovations of existing housing. As a young designer dealing with these elements and trying to integrate them into new work can seems problematic. Do you have a particular view on how new architecture should respond to existing buildings with historical significance?
AM - I like urban eclecticism. I dislike homogeneity. Luckily I am based in Fitzroy, whose context is eclectic, urban, gritty, layered and ever changing. Having studied at the Uni of Tas I have had regionalist dogma spoon fed to me. I am thankful for this knowledge, however I am anything but sentimental about context. I am glad to have studied Frampton, but I can’t follow his dogma. I try to engage with context in a energetic way. I avoid nostalgia or using kid gloves. This tends to put me on a crash course with council on every project, however I have developed numerous tactics for navigating that minefield.
For a short time, between semesters, I worked for Richard Allom in Brisbane. Richard is one of Australia’s leading architectural historians and he taught me a great deal about dealing with historically sensitive context. Richard felt that conservatism had no place in architectural conservation. He felt that dealing with historically significant structures nostalgically or sentimentally simply made them redundant. He felt that engaging with these structures in a energetic manner was the only way to make them relevant to the modern world rather than dusty, redundant museum pieces. Richard’s tutorage has given me great freedom in dealing with context.
LJ - And further, in one of your latest houses, Vader House, how did you approach this problem?
AM - I have always liked how aggressive Herzog and de Meuron were in their application of constrictive legislation with their Rudin House. In this project they supplied the the statutory body with simple drawings of a nostalgic vernacular form, however in their execution they made the house as brutalist as possible, just to stick it to the statutory body. Vader had a similar agenda. Build the planning legislation setback lines. Give council exactly what they ask for and it becomes exactly what they don’t want.
On a contextual level I tried to create a Tardis. Externally small and muted in appearance. No architectural gymnastics or attention seeking. While internally it has a different personality and the illusion that it has more space than the external skin would allow.
LJ - Renovations can be difficult however do you find working with existing structure and materials more enjoyable?
AM - It’s fun. We are doing a number of free standing buildings at the moment. They give you such freedomand I find them to be a tad easier than inner city extensions. However the parasitic nature of renos and the numerous tactics of bridging, connecting and interaction between the old and new generates a lot of the architectural expression for you. The design tends to grow rather than being forced.
LJ - In working with existing buildings, do you find it hard to incorporate ESD principles and not have them obstruct your design intent?
AM - It can be difficult, however I am not a purist when it comes to ESD. It is not binary. It is not a case of NOT ESD vs ESD. It is a scale and you need to make the most of what you have and take the victories where you can. The ESD strategies in all of our work are compromised in some way. We end up with a surprising amount of western glazing, however you have to connect with outdoor space and if west is the only option on a tight block then that’s what you have to work with.
My primary strategy for ESD is size. In the end I really don’t care if a client chooses not to put solar panels or water tanks on their homes. However if we build only what is needed, maximise outdoor space, reduce demolition and reuse existing structure and space then I think this is a much greener strategy than knocking down and starting again with the aim of creating a huge monument to sustainability. I think that this approach is more about the architect and clients ego rather than making a sincere attempt at reducing ones environmental foot print.
LJ - As a student, the balance between creating a sustainable product while still maintaining that initial design intent seems tricky. Do you think that sustainable design in some ways impedes theoretical ideas being fully explored in architecture?
AM - No. Finding a solid theoretical position, creating a sustainable structure, getting the detail between floor and wall right, writing a clear and correct specification; the architectural process is long and gruelling. It is a complex jigsaw that never quite fits together properly. I don’t see any of these issues as separate, contradictory or in conflict. They are all part of the process. The weighting of agendas or the compromising of one position over another is inevitable, and it is up to the author to justify. As Thom Mayne of Morphosis says, architecture is value ladened, and students have the impossible task of navigating through endless personalities who throw difficult questions and push agendas. In the end one must find a position that they honestly believe is best and work with it. Even if it is in conflict with a tutor or peer. The worst thing a student can do is work towards good marks. This makes them a slave to their tutors theoretical/sustainable agenda. Instead a student should work towards good projects that they are sincerely happy with, regardless of their marks.
LJ - And how do you handle this problem?
AM - Grind. Its not easy. There is no path of least resistance. One must jump in, get dirty, do your best and accept that you are going to make mistakes and you with be criticised. I think that many architects try to make it sound easy, so that they create a kind of mysticism, however design is simply hard work. Designing a house is incredibly complex. You can’t know until you try and it doesn’t get easier.
LJ - When looking at your projects, they seem to be very distinct in their use of a particular material. In your design process, do you make a decision in the beginning to explore a certain material, or does its selection result as the building program emerges?
AM - Both. In most projects there is a material intent that emerges as the design evolves. There are also a number of areas where I will not yet be able to see the best material intent. Like many design ideas it is about knowing which ideas are the most important to make now and which should wait to be solved or found down the track. This is something that comes with experience knowing where the gaps are and leaving them room to evolve into the design.
LJ - Some of your projects are highly experimental and explorative in there use of material. How difficult is it to experiment with materials with the added realities of budget and time?
AM - I’m not sure that is true. I feel that we use a pretty standard palette. I could be wrong, but I feel that we could definitely improve in our research and implementation of non-standard materials. Experimenting with materials in residential work is difficult. For most clients their home is their largest financial investment and as such they tend to scrutinise material choice. This is understandable. Furthermore, if a builder has not used a material before or has not used it in the application you desire then they can often create a situation that makes creative application of materials financially unfeasible. It’s a battle and it requires tactical nous to convince both the builder and client that a material is appropriate.
LJ - A lot of your smaller scale work is conceptually strong but at the same time is highly technical. For you, is the combination of these two aspects the most testing part of architecture?
AM - Finding the concept is the difficult part. The tectonic issue is very important to my work however, it is something that I find natural as I have grown up around tools and making. This was further developed when I was at the Uni of Tas, which has an incredible workshop and is highly committed to learning through making. For me the tectonics of a building are another layer of the architectural narrative simply at a smaller scale. I dislike the idea that tectonics and detailing are simply a method of achieving a form. The structure and the making of the building offers a wonderful way of making the large intent accessible at a smaller, human scale.
LJ - For young architects what do you see as the most challenging aspects of the profession?
AM - Well, I’m a young architect and I am still learning my trade so I am not sure how much authority I can speak with, however I find patience, diplomacy and management to be highly challenging and absolutely necessary. These are the things that we are not taught. Things that can’t be taught. Design is a tiny part of getting a building bit, however it is the most important part. It requires thought and experience to protect a design from councils, consultants, builders and the unnecessary masculine, political and financial games that are constantly being played beneath the surface. Navigating through this process with as little damage as possible [both to your ideas and your self confidence] is the only way of carrying your concepts through to completion and this is something that we are still struggling with at AMA.
I think that the biggest challenge, regardless of age and experience is to avoid cynicism and negativity. Architects can be such cynical creatures, simply look at some of the comments on some of the great architectural blogs. Architects tend to eat their own. Life’s too short. I respect those architects that employ enthusiasm and energyas weapons of choice. I love talking with people who ask “What if?” rather than those who choose to see things as implausible or flawed. There is always a reason not to do something and nothing is perfect. I think that this stops a lot of people from doing what they want. Leave the cynics and doubters to comment on blogs and get out there and participate, engage and enjoy.
HE'S ABOUT TO LEAP INTO THE BIG TIME. MELBOURNE ARCHITECT ANDREW MAYNARD'S GOAL IS NOTHING SHORT OF "COMPLETE, TYRANNICAL WORLD DOMINATION". HE MIGHT BE JOKING. BUT THIS YOUNG POWERHOUSE OF TALENT MAY INDEED BE CAPABLE OF SUCH A FEAT.
His thoughtful comments about his young architectural practice are mixed with a dash of humour. "We started five years ago and it has been a patient rise in commissions and profile. We'll keep up the steady pace until we achieve complete, tyrannical world domination."
Maynard first looked at buildings as a child, shoehorned with his siblings into the back seat of the family station wagon as they drove around Australian suburbia in the late 1970s and 80s. He noted the monotony, even banality, of the suburbs. "They were flat, pancaked. Later on, when I knew I wanted to be an architect and when I started to see buildings that paid more attention to volume, this did something to me spiritually." Architecture became an easy career choice, because he believed that through it he would be able to affect people even if they didn't acknowledge that they were engaging with his work.
IN THE BEGINNING
The youngest of three children, Maynard and his siblings travelled around Australia with their sales manager father, who followed job promotions that took them far from his native Tasmania.
Maynard became engrossed in the world of comic books, especially the Star Wars visions of George Lucas and the "incredible" detail of cartoonist Frank Miller. Creating his own sketchbooks - a practice that has stayed with him - he noted the three-stage procedure of the cartoonists ("pencil, inker and colourist") and their play of texture, and absorbed the techniques that, later, he took straight into architecture. This was invaluable tuition in the clarity of vision, economy of expression and sense of fun that characterise his designs today. He found he could move easily between two and three dimensions whether drawing in a sketchbook, developing his ideas on a computer, building objects in his father's well-equipped workshop. He credits the formative effect of Lucas. "He showed me the importance that design can have on your life, even if that design is only virtual. The virtual universe that he created provided an authenticity that I felt my suburban childhood had avoided."
Maynard describes himself as left-wing, a leaning intensified by that early exposure to the suburbs and their "big fat middle class". He has a rebel edge; he remembers his father observing that "one day you will have to conform". Single-minded and independent, uncompromising and level headed, in his own words he cuts to the chase. This attitude seems to have worked. It led him to early success in international competitions (the Graphisoft competition in 1998 in his final year of studies at the University of Tasmania; the grand prize winner of the Asia-Pacific design awards in 2000, Australia/New Zealand region). He got his first job in Melbourne in 1999 - "I decided I would nuke the scene with my folio, which I had always kept neatly collected, and knock on doors". He set up in private practice at the age of 27, having returned from Europe broke. Most recently it has brought him and his four staff members from the front room of his (rented) home into a mainstream warehouse space in Melbourne's CBD.
The aims of the practice are simple. "Not to be a slave to it. To stay small. To do work that is important [to me] and interesting - not the same old same old. Most of all, each building should be an experiment."
He is similarly succinct with his personal priorities, shared with his partner Kylie Boucher, a mathematician, and their son Yosty (whose name is a play on Yossarian, the central character of Joseph Heller's novel, Catch-22). "To have one kid and spoil him rotten. To focus on the things we like doing. Not to get a mortgage. Never to own too much stuff. I try to convince my clients about this, storage is always the biggest part of a brief."
Maynard's environmental awareness is intrinsic to his professional work and personal lifestyle. "We dismiss sustainability as a theme. It is simply the right way to do things." It pervades his designs: a tree-house braced on spring-loaded pistons; a prefabricated house with modules sized exactly to the proportions of road transport; a recycled timber house extension designed to catch the sun in winter and shield it in summer, or a warehouse conversion which reuses as much as possible from what was there before. Maynard cycles everywhere, finding it "awesome" to commute to work with a fleet of cyclists, hiring a car if he should need one. He abhors the incessant nature of road transport but regards cars as "great technology".
When Maynard is designing, there's an excited urgency about him. He sketches initially to clarify problems, but shapes up each design on the computer because it's so much faster and more flexible. "I go through numerous, diverse concepts very quickly and produce a resolved design in a short energetic period. I often need a 'nanna nap' afterwards." He hopes never to lose the freshness with which he approaches each new commission, and fears the day that he gets into a routine.
This enthusiasm, reflected in his dynamic website, endears him to his clients. It draws comments like "we immediately felt he would come up with ideas that were interesting" (Matthew Beachcroft, the Essex Street house), and "obviously, an imagination at work" (Mick Cahill, the Cahill-Mason house). Cahill says his warehouse dwelling, which is in progress, is achieving its aims of a more practical use of space, a much larger kitchen - "I can fillet a shark there if the need arises" - a bit of drama and quirkiness as well. The bifold door that leads into the study is hinged in the centre. This delights him each time he enters the room and has to decide which side to use. The research and implementation also delighted its architect, who has a rare hand with materials and relishes technology.
"I found a mechanism for folding doors, and doctored it so we could put it in the middle. It had to be balanced perfectly." The aim is to make something for his clients that they love, but that also surprises and excites them - and him. "I don't make any money, I reinvest everything in people but as long as there's a certain level of fun in each project, that's OK."
Andrew Maynard's practice is not just emerging, but on the move. Maybe only six projects have been built to date but there are plenty more in progress, including two million-dollar-plus houses in a luxury development at Noosa in Queensland. Here he has decided to provide "non-architecture". "We have grabbed the site (which has no views), tilted it up to form the roof of the building, and wherever an opening is needed we just remove a chunk and lie it on the ground to produce a simple extrusion that adds up to a whole."
This spare, clean solution has a kind of inevitability about it. A more complex but no less inevitable solution, for a two-storey house extension in inner Melbourne, grew out of the local council's interpretation of the building regulations.
"The regs are written as if every Victorian is a potential pervert, and because of constraints on overlooking we end up with these funny-shaped houses. It's crazy. I wasn't going to use louvres or external shading devices on the rear [glass] elevation for this project, nor did I intend to alter its rectilinear shape, because 'the box' is the strongest form an architect can achieve at a bargain basement price. I decided to stick it to them, and went into the local park and took photographs of trees. These will be blown up into a large commercial graphic, applied to the glass."
Despite increasing demands on his time he continues to enter competitions in Australia and abroad, seeing their mind-stretching qualities as fundamental. As he notes in another sketchbook: "Everything is vague to a degree that you do not realise until you have tried to make it precise."
Asked to talk about notable influences (that is, beyond the virtual world of comics) he nominates an eclectic range. Bruce Goodsir, the Tasmanian architect who took a group of third-year students to Melbourne and pointed out that the void in the centre of I M Pei's Collins Place development was almost three times the height of Launceston's tallest building. Philosopher Peter Singer, whose writings inspire him to think rigorously about the effects of everything he does. Scandinavian and Japanese architecture - "I love its rationalism, so simple and pared-down. It simply says, 'This is the way I want to live' whereas here it is all about showing off to people." And last but not least, he names another philosopher - Epicurus, who sought friends, freedom and a well-considered life.
What's the best thing about being an architect, or at least what should be?
Simple, you get to build stuff. As children we want to explore and build. I get to do that everyday. No child dreams of being a lawyer.
What are some of the most important factors behind your workplace's creativity?
I once heard it said that "the best musician is the one with the best record collection”. We are always looking and exploring. Creativity also thrives where there is a good vibe. We try to have a good vibe in the office. We try to remove stress. We leave room to explore and laugh. If you are 'head down bum up' all the time then you are going to run out of ideas. You need to go out and explore. That’s why everyone gets kicked out of the office at 5.30 each day. Our main tactic in avoiding stress, while increasing flexibility and freedom, is to avoid any temptation to maximise profit. Instead we aim for survival. Life’s too short.
How do you come up with these ideas? How do you foster innovation?
We explore, we research, we borrow. There are no new ideas and "everything is a remix". "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
If your work is seen as art, what are some of the messages you want to get across in that art? Can we pick one or two projects that have a message that is important to you?
I wouldn’t call it art. I do want our work to be about more than just what the client asks for. We are interested in broad social and ethical issues. Each project has an impact on the world and we want to make sure that we understand fully why we are do what we do. I often reflect on the words of Thom Mayne “architecture is a discipline where it’s impossible to escape values. It’s radically value-laden. It’s possible that you can become an architect and see it as somewhat autonomous and not as a political act, which is incredibly naive. I try to make students aware of the radical, political, cultural, social nature of our work and how it’s impossible to escape those responsibilities.”
What factors in a workplace can kill innovation?
Lack of time. Good ideas are hard to come by and it takes time to sculpt them. I often find that the pressures of pushing the project through forces some workplaces to compress the time they spend in R&D. They often rush into production with a half baked ideas.
What are some of the craziest ideas you've explored but that haven't actually been built? (poop house for one. The house of skeletons. Other suggestions? What happened with that house made out of packing crates, did that get built?)
We have lots of unconventional ideas. I wouldn’t call them crazy though. They are fictions based on fact. For example Charnel house, a structure made from human remains, is a commentary on overpopulation and dwindling resources. The suburb eating robot explores the onset of peak-oil. Poop house was a challenge to the notion of what makes a sustainable home. The mobile parliament explores what it would be like if constituents could change a politicians work space based on their performance. There’s plenty more where that came from ;)
Do you think planning and regulation gets in the way of creativity at times? How do you get around this? Do you think a bit of fun/humour in project design acts as a kind of soft diplomacy to get edgy developments through?
Not at all. Building is all about dealing with constraints. Good design is about how we use those constraints to our advantage. Planning regulations are simply another constraint/opportunity to creatively explore.
Do you think a bit of fun/humour in project design acts as a kind of soft diplomacy to get edgy developments through?
I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Perhaps. We want our projects to bring pleasure in many ways, not least through play and fun.
You've said architectural employees are a contemporary exploited labour force. What are some things you think need to change in architecture, or more broadly the corporate workforce, to foster a greater zest for life? Is it fair to say you believe it's important to be committed to the outside world, not just your workplace?
You can’t design a better world unless you get out into it. If you are stuck in a stressful office for over 40hrs a week then you are going to get stressed and cynical. You can’t produce good work that way, and you certainly can’t produce good positive design that way.