As a designer and leading a practice of designers from a variety of backgrounds and different design spheres, be it interiors, architecture, industrial design, installation art or graphics the primary issue i face is how to get our interpretations of our clients ideas built. Not just built for the sake of it but rather built in the way in which the idea dictates it to be built. This is a key point that drives our practice - the notion of the idea being absolute, without compromise. The title of this morning’s session “The Importance of Being Obvious: Making the Unusual Predictable” directly relates to the way we use design method and process to achieve appropriate design outcomes rather than merely providing a solution. We do this to enable us as a practice to convince and drive our interpretive ideas from the beginning to the end.
For us the notion of the idea generates everything and ultimately determines how things are done and built. The importance of being obvious is fundamentally about the establishment of series of standards that create the most logical path for us, our clients and broader project teams to follow. In this way every decision that is then made on the project is about the continuation of the interpretive design idea and subject to the boundaries that it itself has created.
In The Beginning
Lets start at the beginning. Fundamentally the establishment of a practice is a large endeavour involving personal time and emotion. It is something that should never be taken lightly. Merely calling yourself a designer or running a design practice immediately puts you out there into a wider context and opens you up to criticism from the building industry, the public and other designers.
When Byron George and I merged our 2 practices early last year having both run our sole practices for many years we knew we had to be very clear in what we were and what we had to offer. We believed this would be a key aspect that our combined practice needed to make - forcefully. Essentially, we needed to clarify What are we? and What do we stand for? The following points that were derived from our discussion may not be clear from the outside but for us they make perfect sense.
We knew that we are 2 individuals/architects and a collective
We knew we would sometimes work together and sometimes apart
We knew we wouldn’t distinguish in our practice between architect, interior designer, industrial, graphics or artist - we are all designers just with different skills and backgrounds
We believed that in the idea being absolute, but the idea itself needed to be proven to robust enough to survive the unique processes set up against it that would make it fail
We knew we had to refuse to allow people to shut the process of interpreting an idea down, be it client, builder, consultant or other
This first step to clarify exactly what our way of operating was/is or was going to be was the first point in establishing a process to achieve robust and desired design outcomes. We also made a conscious decision never to talk about style, taste or type within this initial framework as it was something we never wanted to be governed by nor design to.
The way we try to practise design is about keeping the process open whilst remaining fairly fluid and nimble as a studio. As we cross many spheres of endeavour and one of our aims is to blur the boundary between these spheres, as a result we are interested in designing and being involved in all aspects of a job including off site fabrication methods, material cutting and installation strategies. We know that by influencing and making ourselves available to the whole process and all people involved in the process the idea can be assessed uniformly and concisely increasing the intensity of the overall vision.
For example for Crumpler, we built prototypes in house to test tensioning strengths and ways of weaving, co-ordinated steelwork with steel fabricators for the shopfront and tested it, with our client worked with overseas fabric suppliers and manufacturers, created cutting schedules for CNC routers to minimize material waste and worked closely with Westfield to satisfy their concerns regarding durability and security.
By being spread across these many spheres of practice and also allowing ourselves to remain curious throughout the fabrication process arms us with many different ways of engaging at tackling a problem from a variety of different angles. Having the ability to speak fluently with many different members of the project using jargon from the relevant skill sets possessed or at the very least remaining humble enough to ask a seemingly simple question about the fabrication process is an important aspect of our design practice. We don’t believe we have all the answers but we do believe in getting all the right people around the table who can answer all the questions or provide an alternative solution.
Making it obvious that you don’t know the answer generally in our experience gets the questions we need answered faster and a solution co-ordinated more effectively.
The Abstract Everyday
The creation of ideas within our practice are generally created from abstractions of elements from the everyday. Be it text, image, a social construct, an artwork or other. For Aesop Doncaster we used local suburban landscapes of gum trees to determine the color palette, shown in a tile to reference bathing and laid on the angle to create movement and oscillation like a refreshing breeze. The lighting was created to be and abstraction of the sharp shafts of light seen through an Australian bush landscape.
For this reason we tend not to focus on the industry for inspiration and revolt against the use of other designer’s work or images to communicate our ideas. We prefer to allow imagination to fill in the gaps.
For us the creation of the idea is unique in its own right due to the fact the client, site and final objective is different every time. We find that approaching design from this perspective we can generate a bespoke idea tailored specifically for the outcome and also ensure it is judged on its own merit and not an imposed one.
On the whole as a practice we prefer to design rather than source, don’t believe in trends and treat every opportunity as a way of revealing hidden personalities of our clients. This is a fairly eclectic and difficult approach but is one that constantly reinvents and reinvigorates our design view and process. This process produces the notion of “the idea” being an interpretation of our clients’ vision not solely about a singular designer's viewpoint.
This understanding of the design process itself being unique and the fact it will create a unique outcome allows us to shed industry references and free ourselves up to concentrate on the final designed objective.
Producing cohesive design outcomes is completely reliant on all members of the process from client, builder, authorities, suppliers through to the designers to be heading in the same direction, together as a collective.
As a practice we refuse to allow the idea be stifled by a member who says it cannot be done, will be too expensive or just not work. We demand answers and other ways of doing things to produce an outcome.
We require and ensure the process to remain solution focussed not problem based. Life is too short to work with people or organisations who say no all the time or we just don't get along with. A business relationship is like any other relationship, and the good ones are generally based on clear and open lines of communication ensuring there is a professional and non-emotionally driven assessment of a particular process or outcome.
For us our business practice reflects our lifestyles. In ones life you’re not friends with everyone nor should you have to be everything to anyone.
We believe one of the most obvious ways of providing influence on the final design outcome is by simply saying, no, to a commission.
All relationships are fundamentally built and maintained through trust. For a client to give a designer one’s life savings, investment capital or money in general however large or small requires the client to essentially take a leap of faith. We believe the way we design the process of interaction throughout the formation of the design can also shift and tailor the process itself to a specific client creating ultimately a unique set of circumstances for the assessment of the design to be established.
By understanding our client’s needs during the design process and the role they want to play and the role they want us to play allows us to establish project parameters for meetings, liason and also direct the type, quantity and quality of information that leaves the studio. A fundamental understanding of the audience one is addressing at all levels of communication both text, visual and technical is integral to allow unusual ideas to become predictable outcomes as the process of communication has been geared to ultimately achieve it.
The experience of space is not static but rather fluid, with a series of unpredictable stops and starts that can engage the inhabitant. The awareness of ones body whilst moving and engaging through space can be manipulated by they way an interior is shaped and tailored. The same can be said for the design process and the designer.
Through consistent evaluation we allow our studio to study its position and be aware of itself in relation to the broader world but also its position within the design processes of a particular projects. This state of awareness allows us as a studio to become astute in shaping an outcome and devising strategies to achieve a desired result. We ourselves can them make obvious moves that our clients are capable of understanding and implementing into broader strategies that they may have. By allowing our practice to have this so called state of awareness allows it to make predictable forecasts in how a design should be shaped but then also where the design itself sits within the broader design world. It is this awareness that allows a voice for the studio and any particular project we work on to be developed amongst the noise of media and other elements vying for attention.
Ideas are like water to designers and the process of distillation of achieving the most pure idea free from impurities is integral to our process but also in communicating ideas clearly and concisely.
Distillation occurs in a variety of ways. Through drawing and redrawing, through experimentation, through examination and also assessment. The ability to use all the tools available to distill a project to its fundamental core is key to the success of any design or designer.
At Russell & George though small in size at eight people we use both traditional and the most up to date technologies to create our designs and also to test them before and after occupation. We use BIM or Building Information Modeling on even the smallest of our projects. We work with other consultants like engineers who use these toold also to ensure the design can be the most resolved it can be prior to getting on site. By using this tool we can quickly test and explore alternatives, integrate structural, mechanical and electrical components seamlessly, predict site problems, produce schedules of areas and materials and produce 3dimensional rendering of our spaces to communicate clearly the design outcome to the entire project group.
All of our documentation is also kept live remaining built within the computer and we will use this model throughout the build process to tweak a design if a unforeseen site constraint pops up, a component needs to be changed or we have found another solution at the last minute. We do this to ensure that the decisions we make are the most appropriate solution to the problem. This also allows all project members to feel comfortable that the solution, alteration or variation is the most appropriate.
Though we use all this technology we still use hand sketch and other more traditional forms of design tools to communicate intent and how it will be executed. On top of all this we ensure we distill a project after it has been built.
Once built a design project takes on a new life through its occupation. This aspect of the design process allows us to assess the design in a whole new light. We will evaluate the site through observation or via technical reporting at a variety of junctures after it has finished construction. I am still going back into projects completed years ago to see how they have transformed, aged and how they are being used.
The ability to assess the work objectively from outside the initial design and build phase allows us to be voyeurs on our own projects. We get to observe how people behave, use the space and examine what they react to. The future moves we will then make on other project then become more poignant and precise. This analysis aspect of our design process gives us the ability to make interesting and unusual moves but with predictable results.
For us the creation of a space, built form or other is based in the creation of the idea being established and set up within a equally designed and thoughtful framework of communication and assessment in which the designed outcome of the idea is judged on the merits of the project itself and its ability to live up to itself and what it is supposed to stand for.
In this way the unique process of the project has the ability of achieving an outcome that is, when judged under it own developed mircoscope is predictable and apt yet when viewed from the outside unique, interesting and unusual.
The interesting thing is that making the unusual, predictable is quite simple and methodical as it just depends on the point of reference. Shifting the point of reference is the tricky bit.