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A FEW OF OUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHIES

How we think about design and where our values come from has a lot to do with the way we approach our work. From the place a building is to be located and the people its made for, to the materials it is made from, everything we do has meaning based on our experiences, looking, learning and listening.

Here are a few of our thoughts and some insight into what we are about....

WHAT IS PROGRESSIVE ARCHITECTURE?

It's in our name so it has to mean something special! 

The evolution of architectural style and form always seems to be a slow-moving process with very few new ideas from one year to the next. In so many cities, towns and their suburbs, housing is often very repetitive, if not in exact form, definately in style. Convenience, lack of interest, lack of design awareness, and pressure to serve up simplified endlessly recycled architectural product to meet mass-market demand produces urban environments that easily become anonomous and characterless. Built form is central to the problem, but it is also the solution...

Even though we are well into the 21st Century, it really is a new age with entirely new ways of looking at how we live, how our communities function and what we can expect (or would like) the places we call home to be. There are just as many new and emerging technologies in building and new directions in design as there are in consumer and lifestyle items, and that is where we consider the idea of Progressive Architecture sits. 

Design isn't a thing that stays the same in any case, it's dynamic, moving, building on what has gone before. The idea of Progressive Architecture is architecture that moves the boundaries and seeks better creative ideas and better ways of doing things into the future based on how we see the way we would like to live.

There have been great times that architecture advanced like the 'Modernist' architecture of the early 20th Century and the currently popular 'Mid Century Modern' revival. These advances were awesome in their speed of influencing change at their time, and the ideas have never really left the arena of possibilities for Architects work. The challenge is to take proven ideas and awareness of those important architectural periods and advance them forward, develop them, progress them to be even better architecture for the future.

We always say that what we design and build now is the built legacy for future generations. So that's why we look at architecture and the way we design with a future perspective, building on the best ideas, using the best technologies and materials and exploring what, at the very least, the near-future can be. That is making progress forward in design, that is the work we do in our Studio for our clients, and Progressive Architecture is what we love to create.

With that, it is up to the client and the public in general to ask for better, ask for unique, demand great design and inspirational places. If people dont care about these things, then we are destined for more mundane, monotonous and soulless suburbs, and that is just opportunties lost...

Lets make the future proud!


EMPATHY & DESIGN

Architecture is a dialogue, a discussion. It speaks to you visually and physically and it invites your response.

While architecture has a conversation with you, it always starts from just a conversation.

Talking conveys wishes and needs. Listening gathers understanding. Architecture is the result of translation.

An experienced Architect has years of technical and artistic knowledge and understanding. So when you work with an Architect that is also a good translator, listening and understanding where you are coming from and interpreting the meaning behind it; you can expect something special and unique, an exciting, positive and satisfying design adventure.

As an Architects firm we definately do like to design spectacular buildings, pushing the boundaries and creating innovative and new approaches, but we also don't forget that what we design is not for us; it is for you, our client. We like to put ourselves in the client's shoes, to look at the project from where they sit. Our job is to listen, understand and add real value, take thoughts and ideas to an original and unique place, and surprise with a really special outcome. Whether a spectacular building or a modest brief, we like to consider our design work is more a response to sharing thoughts, working from a position of emapthy, a deeper understanding to achieve an outcome that fits.

Design doesn't just stop at the idea. From the personalised design process it then goes through hundreds of steps to make it a buildable reality. That is where the specific combination of art, technology and science in what we do as Architects, joins up. Beyond making  great ideas, Architecture is about balancing intentions and practical things, attending to technical matters and resolving the construction and finish well before it is constructed. A builder can only build from what plans, drawings and instructions that are given.

For each project we also gather an energetic team of highly skilled consultants that do the specific technical parts we don't do. The quality of the skills, relationships, communication and trust within the team ensures that when the actual construction starts, the whole project goes together exactly as it is intended.

Good architecture is always at its best when there is a partnership, when everyone gets together to do their best, has a satisfying time doing it and all involved remain focussed on the outcome. A building always feels better when the people who make it love their work, and that immense and unique quality stays forever.


URBAN HOUSE ARCHITECTURE

Size does matter! Small is good!

In these times, a big house is not necessarily the right answer. As Architects, we like designing big houses, especially country houses, however in the city, smaller is often better. A well designed small house can be designed to feel quite large, and honestly, how much space do you really need? We encourage many of our urban clients to seek Quality not quantity. For a given budget, a smaller building size allows for the best quality core materials, beautiful finishes and more durable construction that will give a longer and more satisfying life. 

A space-efficient urban house can be a little more challenging to design than big spread-out houses, but the  result can be really exciting. Smart intense spatial design around more human dimensions can give so much. With three dimensional thinking,  volume can come into play with tall spaces, grand spaces, interlinked spaces and levels, and internal views giving give a sense of adventure. Small size demands clever design.

When we work with concrete, we love to put a roof terrace on top. Roof terraces release the building footprint as outdoor space and will always provide big views, great entertaining space or even a kitchen garden. The outdoors are very important, with intimate courtyards that can expand the internal spaces. We like the idea of courtyard dining (food always finds its way into our work), outdoor fireplaces at night with a good wine and friends at close quarters. Extending the architecture beyond the building is important, with trees, gardens and ponds laid out as part of the building composition. We also like to create spatial identities and character, private, public, subtle or energetic. Special places, fun places.

In the street, architecture defines a place, an identity and a position. Good architecture is good architecture, bad never cuts it. A good architect understands the context, and can read the street. A successful built statement cares for the street; it makes a place for the owners and respects the neighbours. If it is really good, it might even inspire the neighbours to do better. We consider it a proven fact; a good looking street makes people feel a whole lot better about the world.

(Images below illustrate excellent examples of small Urban House Architecture)

WABI SABI

Wabi – Sabi is a Japanese concept for understanding things as they are, ‘finding beauty in imperfection’, or finding beauty and tranquillity in a sense that nothing is ‘perfect’ and that authentic things or materials have a special inherent individual character of their own.

We often design from a position of Wabi–Sabi. Although it cannot readily be defined as a particular thing, Wabi–Sabi lying in the background of all aspects of our design thinking and approach to space, texture, light, finish and experience really challenges and enlivens what we are doing. We believe that this factor is what sets our design work apart in that every line that is drawn, component that is placed or space that is conceived is tested on the basis of how it feels, how it can be experienced and how it can feed the soul. This may sound a little out-there, but ultimately when we design buildings for living in, they need to just feel good in as many ways as possible when they are built.

This is one reason we like site-formed concrete and high-mass materials. For example, when concrete is formed the resulting wall or other element has all the textures and blemishes from the formwork, small defects and unexpected textures that are created the moment the concrete is placed, frozen in that moment in time. This adds to the story and character of a building. When this is combined in a carefully balanced way with more engineered and accurately made things, the combined effect is always totally unique, and always much greater than the sum of its parts.

For example, one concrete house project we designed had off-form walls cast using plywood faced formwork shutters that had arrived in the country directly from a building site in Dubai. The plywood had minor damage from hammer marks and rough treatment when the formwork was erected in Dubai, and it was re-used just as it arrived on site. When the concrete was placed it moulded to the formwork, faithfully reproducing the same marks and defects in the new wall as the one in the Middle-East. The lumps and dents in the concrete represent another culture, place and people and the result of the hands of the unknown construction workers.

In the new house the defects can be seen and touched and tell the story. At night they are expressed by lighting washing the walls, casting shadows and highlighting the texture. This character cannot be bought at a shop, and is in our opinion far more interesting than a perfect finish in so many ways. This is Wabi-Sabi in action..!

CONCRETE & STEEL

Slap a concrete wall, wow! It feels good. Run your hand over raw concrete, velvety smooth, rough, hard, robust. Step back and see the texture, the direct inverse of the material within which it was cast. Concrete moulds to whatever forms it, revealing imagination.

Concrete has mass; it doesn’t get too cold or too hot. It can help your living environment be comfortable just by itself, lying passively within the building form. A few tweaks here and there and concrete can be manipulated to give even higher levels of comfort and performance. Concrete is very quiet to live with too, comfort is also about what we can hear.

Concrete is originally from the earth; rock, water, limestone and sand. Very simple ingredients with very low levels of processing in comparison to other construction materials. Concrete can also be recycled and used to make new concrete, even the reinforcing steel can be reborn as new reinforcing steel.

Structural Steel is also from the earth, heavy, strong and flexible, it integrates with concrete like a hand in a glove. Steel is engineered, it can be fashioned within a millimetre, made beautiful, and it is hard working. Steel’s strength can be exposed or hidden away, but either way, when combined with concrete structure it helps us create things that really are truly unique for our clients.

Concrete and steel in structure can be considered relatively low-impact materials on the overall resource environment. When used thoughtfully in buildings, they replace and do the work of many complex layers of tradtional processed materials. Over time expanded use of recycling will additonally reduce the raw material volume requirements for concrete and steel and that means even less impact on the future environment.

Remember, concrete has also been around for a couple of thousand years, it has an enormous track record. Concrete structures can also last a very long time, and that means you get something pretty authentic and substantial for the investment.

We love concrete and steel and have many years’ experience designing houses and buildings in concrete in a variety of forms and using multiple techniques. For true High-Performance houses and for the energy and cost-conscious, we also like ICF construction. ICF is EPS moulded reinforced concrete. Google ‘ICF’ if you can, it's a pretty cool way to build with concrete.

ICF & MAXMASS

At Architects S.PA we have become experts at designing buildings constructed using Insulating Concrete Formwork (ICF) methods of moulding concrete on site for the entire structures of houses. Insulating Concrete Formwork is permanent formwork that remains after the concrete for a house or building is placed and remains as insulation and the base for finishes. Our expertise has come from years of using all methods of traditional and concrete construction in the houses and buildings we design and has been followed up with extensive technical, performance and environmental research of EPS moulded concrete architecture on a global scale. We know we are at the forefront in design of buildings using this technology in New Zealand and Australia and we have plenty of built examples to illustrate what we have achieved for our clients.

Houses usually have some measure of concrete, mainly in foundations and floors, and this is often referred to as ‘Mass’. Mass is frequently discussed for its thermal benefits in passive solar design but we have found that increasing the amount of ‘mass’ can dramatically improve the quality of a house overall, making it a remarkably better place to live. We have expanded the use of concrete mass in our work to the level of creating the entire building envelope out of insulated reinforced concrete. We have found this produces real and authentic high-performance residential buildings in all aspects including thermal efficiency, reduced energy use, positive ecological and environmental advantages, structural integrity and strength, and a healthy human environment which is warm, dry and non-toxic.

Virtually all our houses are designed from the bottom-up to be constructed in this way, so we have taken the step to help with understanding our approach by describing it as MaxMass. Because we are so serious about our particular way of designing these types of authentic high-performance EPS moulded reinforced concrete houses for our clients, we have trademarked the name.

Architects S.PA is the only place where a MAXMASS® House can be designed, and with that branding you know exactly what you are getting, a highly durable, comfortable, high quality, efficient and safe environment, and what we believe is a far superior investment. We work closely with builders familiar with aspects of this construction method to perfect the building delivery, and assist those new to it with contacts and resources to get up to speed very quickly.

We are passionate about our work and the way we do it, but there is real benefit for the client and owner. Before making any building decision, we recommend cleints talk with us about our specific design services for MAXMASS and the opportunity to add that to a well-informed building choice.

SUSTAINABILITY

What is ‘Sustainability’?

Despite what is often said, there is actually no clear answer. Sustainability has wildly different meanings depending on what economic, ecological or social agendas a person has, or how ‘green’ a point of view is. Whether a thing, or activity is ‘sustainable’ or not, is actually entirely open to interpretation, and even one persons ‘sustainability’ can be another’s environmental terrorism. The growth of the concept has created such an intellectual labyrinth, and assumed an almost religious position to a point where it is impossible to fully define or achieve in any practical sense. Competing factions challenging and attacking one another, often based on loose facts and beliefs, can reveal an enormous amount of made-up or misleading statements in many ‘sustainability’ claims. These claims can ultimately become very confusing to consumers hoping to make well-intentioned and thoughtful purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, the term ‘sustainability’ is often used as a means of simply branding and selling unnecessary and ineffective things in a ‘feel good’ way.

This is of particular significance in designing and constructing buildings. Take timber vs. concrete construction for example; real research demonstrates that concrete can be considered considerably more ‘sustainable’ than timber and certainly more ‘green’, particularly on an ecological level. While many things are even labelled ‘renewable’ such as forestry timber for building, it does not necessarily mean ‘sustainable’ or even entirely useful. Authentic fact-checking can reveal a lot.

In the design process, we consider two things; ecological context and building performance to be better benchmarks. Understanding these things when seeking real-life sustainable activities requires a different and deeper analytical approach. Time, cost, ecological and human health deal much more with the real world, as does the ability to responsibly source and authentically recycle materials in sensible achievable ways.

A combination of Resilience Thinking and Material Flow Analysis is our method for understanding and achieving more ‘sustainable’ activities and solutions, and deals with much wider issues than just maintaining resources for ever. Resilience Thinking understands dynamically operating ‘complex adaptive systems’ throughout the human and natural environment, and accepts and anticipates change, as opposed to simply sustaining or reducing activities. Designing and building from an understanding of resilience theory can give real results that benefit both humans and the environment in ways that many sustainability arguments can only dream of. If this is of interest, Google ‘Resilience’, ‘Urban Resilience’ and 'Stockholm Resilience Center', it’s a really big subject, but you may be quite surprised. 

DISASTER RESILIENCE

The damage and destruction of buildings, land and infrastructure that occur in major natural events  such as extreme wind, earthquakes, floods and busfires are commonly described as ‘natural disasters’. However, they are in reality not that at all. Much of the damage can be attributed to historical human decisions made in the processes of legislating, designing and constructing the built environment. These decisions directly contribute to how the built environment performs during and following disaster, and the characteristic damage and loss when nature simply does its thing.

Housing is the most prolific and personal of all buildings. In its sheer numbers, housing presents the largest numbers of individual building damaged, and often the greatest challenge for reconstruction and resourcing following a natural event. 

Disaster events leave an indelible mark in time and unavoidably impose a re-evaluation of the design and construction processes, materials, methods and the purpose of building things. These are brief but extremely valuable moments in time, so how these re-evaluations are responded to and actioned has the power to truly define the built environment for future generations, and the well-being of future generations is supposed to be what sustainability is all about. 

Resilience Thinking suggests that the future built environment needs to respond to not only the realities of nature and the historical evidence that plays out time after time, but also the need to work alongside and in anticipation of natural forces. Nature will always be more powerful and surprising than human activities will ever allude to be. Actively 'building-in' resilience in an engineering sense is essential, however so is thinking about the environmental implications of demolition and rebuilding, resources and waste, urban planning, infrastructure and communities within a dynamic natural ecological system.

Working alongside and respecting the dynamic characteristics of nature is essential, but not fearing nature. Humans as a part of nature have always proven to be adaptable so it would seem logical to actually think about and build-in 'adaptive capacity' to what we build.

The quality of the future places we all live is precisely determined by what we design and build from now, not by repeating what we had in the past

URBAN RESILIENCE DESIGN THINKING

The word ‘Resilience’ is mentioned a lot but is typically considered as simply an ability to ‘bounce-back’ following a force or shock. However that is just one very small part of the meaning of Resilience, particularly in ecology, and specifically within urban ecology and urban environments.

In modern ecolgically-based Resilience Theory, buildings themselves can be regarded as ‘complex adaptive systems’ and so are the ecological environments they are put into. Understanding and acting on the meaning of this in design, is the essence of Urban Resilience. The process of ‘building-in’ resilience across the board from a building's physical strength to its ecological footprint is one that requires a different mind-set and approach to design from the outset. Importantly, if it is integral to the design process it ends up integrated into the constructed building.

With Resilience Thinking applied, buildings are made robust and durable and they are also safe, healthy and ecologically inert. On a functional human level, buildings are able to be easily maintained and capable of change and adaptability over the years. Buildings constructed from this thinking use local materials and recycled materials and are able to be recyclable at the end of their long life. They are efficient in their construction, and designed at the outset to be effective in providing a comfortable environment, they will keep you warm, keep you cool, use energy efficiently, all in an entirely passive way.

Buildings designed from Resilience Thinking respond to their environment, they are resilient in earthquakes, cyclones, storms, winds, floods, fires and Resilient to natures desire to consume them as food. Buildings should and do assert themselves on the landscape, but they should also integrate with both nature and social systems in ways that do not threaten adaptive capacities. Good development adds more than it takes away,  adding strength, health and resilience to all systems. Healthy and Resilient cities are always as much about their social and ecological systems as they are about physical function.

Buildings designed with Ecologically-based Resilience characteristics throughout as a fundamental set of values have a quality like no other, and can help provide the framework for expanding a truely sustainable community, environment and economy.

Sound good? Absolutely!

GREEN BUILDING

What is Green Building?

When you think about it, it is difficult to make sense of the term 'Green Building'. Is it about promoting and protecting the green treed wilderness, forests and natural (green) environments?

Although the phrase 'Green Building' is common, it is too often used to sell a lot of stuff that usually isnt really 'green' or even ecologically responsible. 

Take timber for example, often held up as being the only real 'green' building material, and promoted for its 'renewable' characteristics and therefore 'green'. But to make a timber house work, the timber itself cut from forests, stripped, sawn, processed, transported many times, and is typically impregnated with chemicals to temporarily protect it. When arriving at the building site, many highly processed and potentially toxic materials are added for insulation, building wrap, flashings, cladding and linings, most of which are not able to be successfully recycled and are in fact treated as toxic waste. And even then most of the additional materials are only in place to reduce its inherent vulnerability.

Earthquake, fire, flood, wind, moisture, and termites are all natural enemies of timber houses, and we ceaselessly try to make them warm, cool, dry, healthy and safe……

That is why we are interested in other ways of building houses, and in particular adopting commercial and industrial building techniques and materials such as concrete and steel. They are robust, physically resilient and souced, processed and transported within strict environmentally controlled methods. They perfom in-use, have a long life-span and are totally recyclable at end-of-life for use in future buildings.

A radical position we take is describing the only True Green building is that which leaves the forests and their delicate ecosystems exactly where they are, caring for the planet and people. Concrete and steel does that!