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AR_EA Australia: Archier

‘We designed and built almost every element, from the kitchen joinery through to the toilet roll holder’

Who are you?
Archier was established as a small, flexible design studio to engage in the making of objects and space. The studio is centred around the workshop where ideas can be drawn, discussed and prototyped in the same space on the same day.

Where are you based, what city?
We currently have a workshop / studio in Melbourne, Victoria and a studio in Hobart, Tasmania.

Where do you come from?
Josh FitzGerald and Chris Haddad from the island state of Tasmania while Chris Gilbert is from regional Victoria.

Why did you become architects?
As our mindset has evolved so much over our educational and working careers, to be honest our responses are no where near as grandiose as if we decided to become architects today. Fundamentally, however, we each had a desire to work within a creative field that had a tangible outcome.

What kind of work do you do?
We believe in taking risks, embracing state of the art manufacturing techniques and traditional craft. Our design is minimal yet approachable.

What’s it like being an architect where you are?
Being flexible and eager to adapt is critical. We feel the quality and appreciation of design has dramatically increased in Melbourne since leaving university. This has allowed us to explore materials and techniques that wouldn’t have been feasible just a few years ago. At the same time we have clients pushing our design skill and knowledge.

sawmill

The Sawmill House, Archier’s first project in which every element was designed and built from scratch

What is the context (social, political, architectural) in which you are working?
We’re working in an era of the “makers” of etsy.com, where it is possible to move from concept to product in a very short time frame. The architect can once again be the master builder, designing at all scales. Conveniently there is a cultural shift towards local ‘authentic design’ which can be leveraged to the architect’s advantage. 

What inspires you these days?
The process to completion. Being involved in the construction of a project or product provides a satisfaction and responsibility you don’t experience from purely designing it. 

What project are you most proud of and why?
Our first architectural project was the Sawmill House in the rural Victorian town of Yackandandah. It’s a good example of Archier’s hands on, engaging approach to architecture, blending the roles of architect and builder. Every part of the house was designed and made from scratch - from the steelwork to the lighting, including the self-engineered moving walls and roof. It has been well received having aired on Grand Designs Australia this year, and becoming a finalist in six architectural awards through the Australian Institute of Architecture (VIC) and Houses Awards (AUS) which will be announced mid 2015. 

In regards to our favourite product it would be the Highline pendant light. It has gone through such a rigorous design and development process that the final outcome feels very distilled and considered.  Every aspect, from material selection to composition, has been driven by the desire to make it as simple and elegant as possible.

What is unique about your work?
We have a strong belief in maintaining a flexible, open studio that is not constrained to one style, dogma or industry. A practice that is willing to take risks and is comfortable in failing, that learns through doing and investigates empirically. Long term, our goal is to pivot from a service to an investment based model of practice. 

We like to be as physically involved in the construction of each project as possible. This allows direct, unfiltered feedback from the builder and contractors. We are as interested in the refinement and experimentation of systems and networks behind the building as we are the aesthetic outcomes.

Archier_2

Currently we are investigating leveraging latent assets and skill sets, examples of this can be most clearly seen in the Sawmill House’s use of reclaimed concrete and custom hardware. This approach was also taken in the Five Yards house currently under construction in Hobart. Here we took advantage of the client’s passion for gardening and laced the plan with courtyards, giving each room its own curated frame of the garden. The Ashfield Street apartment is another example of leveraging and empirical investigation. Here we invested our own money and time into a project that with our combined skill set provided a net return while learning valuable lessons and developing unique solutions and products. Like the Sawmill House we designed and built almost every element, from the kitchen joinery through to the toilet roll holder. The result was a successful sale and a chance to showcase our range of products in a curated space. 

What is your favourite building material or building technique?
We are just about to complete the Five Yards house in Hobart which has used SIPs (Structurally Insulated Panels) for the structural and finished surfaces. This is a new construction methodology for Australia so has been a learning curve for everyone involved. However, the ease of construction and quality of space it provides justifies the time invested. Regarding materials, the Sawmill House was constructed from 270 one ton concrete blocks which were formed from up-cycling waste concrete.

How do you get ideas?
Our clients and their spaces have always been the initial drivers for both our products and architecture. The Highline pendant, for example, was originally designed and prototyped specifically for our Sawmill House and Ashfield St projects. We find designing within context, rather than a void, results in a more rigorous and refined outcome.

What are your favourite design tools (models, hand drawing, digital 3D modeling, SketchUp, etc.)?
We work extensively in 3D with programs such as SketchUp, Grasshopper and Solidworks in conjunction with 3D printing. Hand tools are also a great respite from a keyboard and mouse.

What would be your ideal project?
As we are interested in the idea of leveraging latent assets, our current ideal project would be a range of micro hotels located in heavy industry or infrastructural zones. Think container ports, steel mills or abandoned coal power plants.

Where do you hope to go from here? 
We’re interested in evolving from a service provider to an investment based studio. Again, the satisfaction and responsibility obtained from undertaking our own work is a key driver for change.

What do you want to be remembered for?
‘Remembered’ implies you are no longer relevant which, let’s face it, no one is comfortable with. Our work is driven by a rigorous yet playful quest to increase the quality of space around us, which we hope will in turn become defining characteristics of Archier.

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