Studio Visit

Hannah Tribe of Tribe Studio

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
8th of February 2013
Apartments Glencourt - new balconies and an additional apartment added to an existing waterfront apartment building by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Katherine Lu.
Apartments Glencourt - new balconies and an additional apartment added to an existing waterfront apartment building by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Katherine Lu.
Apartment Barnes McManus, designed by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Amanda Prior.
Apartment Barnes McManus joinery details, designed by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Amanda Prior.
House Clarke in Sydney's Coogee by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Katherine Lu.
Bathroom from House Savas Monaco by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Amanda Prior.
House Savas Monaco - terrace renovation by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Amanda Prior.
House Savas Monaco - terrace renovation by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Amanda Prior.
OK so as you guys know, I'm prone to a good girl crush at the best of times.... and whilst corresponding via email over the past week or two, both Lisa and I have been crushing hardcore on Sydney architect Hannah Tribe.  She's just so clever and so flippin' COOL.  She's got 2 kids, a thriving architectural practice, an awesome haircut, and as you'll read below, a great sense of humour!   This is the grown-up, totally 'got it together' woman I want to be when I grow up.  Fingers crossed on that. Hannah Tribe really is a force to be reckoned with.  Her practise, Tribe Studio, founded in 2003 (she looks far too young for this to make sense, I am a bit baffled) deals primarily with residential architecture, and as you will read below, designing and realising beautiful, functional and sustainable Australian homes really is Hannah's passion. As Hannah outlines below, Tribe Studio treats each home they develop as an intensely personal project - almost as a kind of 'portrait' of their client.  Hannah and her team love the idea of celebrating simple, unpretentious domesticity... their projects are always characterised by an intelligent, understated approach, with an emphasis on functional family life rather than glossy, picture-perfect environments.  Hannah's own home in Surry Hills is the perfect example of this - a renovated Federation terrace, the home was carefully designed to accommodate her young kids and the endless 'stuff' they accumulate!  Its characterised by clever hidden storage in every nook, and a clear, uncompromising focus on the basic functional requirements of a busy young family. Tribe Studio also has an impressive portfolio of multi-res and medium density housing under their belts - projects which are underpinned by Hannah's firm belief that 'residential and domestic architecture can transform the character and sustainability of the city'.  This work ranges from award-winning experimental projects to luxury apartments. But what is most engaging about Hannah, and what I hope comes across in this interview, is a genuine and burning ambition to be part of a wider movement around designing and building better Australian homes - homes that improve the Australian landscape and quality of life for their occupants. And so, aside from Tribe Studio's award-winning projects and many accolades, Hannah always has her eye on the bigger picture. 'I have a dream in which Australians build better houses' she states, quite matter-of-factly, in her responses below. To this end, Tribe Studio is working on a series of beautiful, affordable, high quality pre-fabricated homes. 'Off-the-rack suburban alternatives', she calls them.  Well that is just GENIUS!  I can't wait to see what becomes of this grand plan. I'll be sure to keep you posted! We feel very lucky to share an insight into Hannah's practise with you today...  big thanks to Hannah for her time and all the fantastic shots!
Hannah Tribe of Tribe Studio.  Photo - Brett Boardman.
Tell us a little bit about your background – what path initially led you to architecture and to eventually launching your own firm in 2003?
My family is riddled with architects. We call it the defective gene. I tried to follow another path, but ultimately couldn't resist the pull of the gene. I worked for small firms in Sydney and New York, and for my dad's company for a while before starting Tribe Studio in 2003. I was taking my painting quite seriously at the time, and had a few residential commissions and was teaching design at uni. From almost an organic and accidental start, Tribe has grown into an established practice.
What have been one or two of your favourite projects in recent years and why?
We see our houses as kind of non-figurative portraits of our clients, so I can't answer that question. They are all vehicles for our clients' self-expression and they are explorations of architectural ideas. So I love them all in different ways and for different reasons.
Apartment Podger Holmes - interior joinery / re-furb by Tribe Studio.  Photos by Murray Fredericks.
Apartment Podger Holmes - interior joinery / re-furb by Tribe Studio.  Photos by Murray Fredericks.
Your role is to realise other people’s ‘dream homes’, but what about your own home? How would you describe your own personal aesthetic?
We rebuilt our decrepit Federation terrace a couple of years ago. My husband, Malky, is an ambitious and adventurous cook and keen drinker. It was critical for him to have lots of wine storage and a really efficient kitchen. We had one son at the time (now we have two boys) and were seeing how dramatically one little dude changed how we lived. Babies and kids need so much stuff. I am a keen reader, and although we seem to be constantly culling paperbacks, books always become a default interior decoration motif where we live. All these factors mean that our home is characterised by storage. There's clever hidden storage, storage for display, wine storage, bike storage, pram storage, car-seat storage, toy storage, sports storage and a big pantry. Everything has a considered spot to live, so amongst the busy family chaos we can eke out calm, clutter-free spaces to live. At the root of all our projects is this kind of pragmatism. Often it is a vigorous exploration of the pragmatic that delivers the poetic.
House Eadie - Hannah's own home in Surry Hills, meticulously re-configured to accommodate  her busy young family.  Photo - Katherine Lu.
House Eadie - Hannah's own home in Surry Hills, meticulously re-configured to accommodate  her busy young family.  Photo - Katherine Lu.
Hannah's home interior, photographed for Megan Morton's book Things I Love!  Photo - Jason Busch, styling - Megan Morton.
Hannah's home interior, photographed for Megan Morton's book Things I Love!  Photo - Jason Busch, styling - Megan Morton.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Tribe Studio? Where are you based, how is your office structured, how many people do you employ, are you still very personally involved in the design process day to day, and what significant tasks do you outsource?
Tribe Studio is a team of six architects and designers and one administrator. We're based on the top floor of an unglamorous '60s building in Surry Hills, with great city skyline views over the back end of Sydney. It's really important to me that our projects stay fresh and original so we use internal design competitions to harness the design inspiration of the whole team. I am very involved in the design process…I just love it! Sometimes I am driving the design and critique comes from the team, sometimes I am the staunch critic and the ju-ju is coming from someone else. There's a great TED talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talks about the ancient Roman concept of genius visiting a person, rather than residing in a person. I love this idea. It plays to my belief in the enormous power of a motivated team working together to create 'talent', not one hero designer. We have an awesome team. We have a great time.
Which Australian architects, designers or creative people are you loving at the moment?
I am consistently impressed and delighted by the work of Brisbane firm Owen and Vokes and Peters. They apply an almost interior sensibility to the exteriors of their buildings. Their houses strike me as a true realisation of the indoor-outdoor Aussie dream (not just lip-service and some bi-folds). They also have the most awesome instagram presence. It's like a continuous visual essay in romantic Australian suburbia. I love birds. The painter Julian Meagher is doing beautiful bird portraits that explore expressions of masculinity. He paints male birds all dressed up in their crazy feathers to impress the lady-birds. I also love Leila Jeffery's bird portraits. They are close up photos, where the feathers are so enlarged that they look like brush strokes. She had a recent exhibition of cockatoos that all look like pompous head prefects. The painter Giles Alexander is doing amazing work that explores notions of space, outer space, architectural space. His work is so beautiful, but be prepared: you can't get any sense from photos of how totally amazing his paintings are.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to when you in need of a bolt of creative inspiration for a new brief or new project?
Inspirations comes from such strange places, for me at the moment I find it in the following: Season 2 of the Danish thriller The Killing has amazing interiors. There is a delicious mix of decadent nineteenth century spaces and mid-century spareness. The interiors are almost characters in the story. Outside it's cold and people get murdered. Inside the intrigue happens. I'm consistently inspired by the work of Japanese contemporary residential architects, who are really going to town on what and how a house might be. These projects help us to question assumptions about how we live. My team think this is hilarious, but I absolutely love World of Interiors. It is a total guilty pleasure of over-the-top squalid splendour. Sam Jacobs, the UK architect, writes a great architectural blog called Strange Harvest. He has also started to write editorial for dezeen, which is great, including a critique of dezeen itself. 'How can culture exist in a stream of Photoshopped incontinence?' is a great piece. He argues that there is just too much design on the internet and we consume it like fast food – "an endless glut of glossy images gushy through super-lubricated digital downpipes" – which is ultimately unsatisfying and undermines the complexity, inventiveness and imagination of the designer. It's all reduced to imagery for immediate consumption. And that is why sites like The Design Files are so important. It's curated. There's editorial. It's considered. It is fun to look at and read. And it doesn't leave you feeling like you've accidentally eaten too much but remember nothing.
Donna Hay General Store in Sydney.  Architecture by Kieran McInerney Architects, Interiors by Tribe Studio.  Photos by Murray Fredericks.
Donna Hay General Store in Sydney.  Architecture by Kieran McInerney Architects, Interiors by Tribe Studio.  Photos by Murray Fredericks.
Donna Hay General Store in Sydney.  Architecture by Kieran McInerney Architects, Interiors by Tribe Studio.  Photos by Murray Fredericks.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Drawing in the studio, drawing in a cafe, drawing with the team, watching models emerge, meetings, meetings, meetings, emails, emails, emails, and as little phone, phone, phone as possible.
What would be your dream creative project?
I have a dream in which Australians build better houses. We build the biggest houses in the world, and the bulk of them are pretty horrible. Big AND horrible. (That's bigger than the American average and equally horrible. Seriously.) We are working on a series of affordable, architecturally beautiful, off-the-rack suburban alternatives. They have considered interiors, beautiful natural light, quality construction and are really quick to build. Watch this space. At the other end of the ambition scale, Magnus, my three-year-old, and I are making some awesome things out of papier mache.
House Shmukler designed by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Brett Boardman.
What are you looking forward to?
I'm in a constant cycle of longing for each construction to be finished! We have four absolute beauties under construction at the moment. I am yearning for our clients to be living in their new homes. And a long holiday with my family in Italy.
Renovations and additions to House Kalafatas Challita, in suburban Sydney by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Peter Bennets.
Renovations and additions to House Kalafatas Challita, in suburban Sydney by Tribe Studio.  Photo - Peter Bennets.

Sydney Questions

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?
Surry Hills. I live here, work here, play here.
What your top spots in Sydney for sourcing furniture and furnishings for your clients?
Design classics from Corporate Culture, Living Edge, Great Dane, Thonet and Anibou. The Koskela guys are doing great things locally. We also design bespoke furniture for our clients which is great fun.
What and where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
Apollo in Potts Point. Great food, excellent wine (and great advice from the sommelier) and fabulous interior by George Livissianis.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Sleeping! Malky takes the boys away for a couple of hours, then they bring me breakfast in bed. Happiness.
Sydney’s best kept secret?
Swimming at Camp Cove just before sunset on long summer afternoons.
House Murray - a renovation project by Tribe Studio, photographed by Peter Bennetts.  (See the full addition / renovation pics here).

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