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Josh FitzGerald, Chris Gilbert and Chris Haddad of Archier

Studio Visit

Archier is a young, dynamic and versatile architectural and design practice in Melbourne founded by three graduate architects – Chris Gilbert, Chris Haddad and Josh Fitzgerald.

6th February, 2015
Lucy Feagins
Friday 6th February 2015

After studying together at UTas in Tasmania and finishing their respective Masters courses in Melbourne, Chris Gilbert, Chris Haddad and Josh Fitzgerald temporarily parted ways for further study and travel, before cutting their teeth at architectural practices Room 11 at Jackson Clements Burrows Architects in Melbourne.  Throughout this time, the three friends would often meet, and it wasn’t long before their conversations turned to the idea of collaboration. Each growing frustrated with the lengthy process of the various architectural projects they had been assigned to, they dreamt of opening a shared studio space in which they could continue working on architectural projects, whilst also making smaller scale design pieces, prototyping and manufacturing all under one roof.  They officially launched  Archier early last year.

The studio is centred around the workshop – where ideas can be drawn, discussed and prototyped in the same space on the same day. ‘Over the last year a furniture range has grown organically through private commissions and personal interests’ explains Josh. A complementary lighting range largely developed the same way, through personal necessity, as Chris G and Chris F were inspired by their own apartment renovations.

At heart, Archier is a business founded on friendship.  Launching this fledgling design studio has been a passion project for these three likeminded creative lads, and at this stage, all three partners still work very closely on every aspect of the business.  ‘As a new business, everyone is involved in everything’ explains Chris.  ‘Our dynamic is defined by communication and an intuitive knowledge of one anothers’ skills, rather than any definitive roles’ he says.

We’re inspired by Archier’s pared back design aesthetic, their commitment to good old fashioned hard work and collaboration, and their incredible drive. A seriously dynamic trio!

Tell us a little bit about each of your backgrounds – what did you study, how did you all meet and what path led you to launching Archier in 2013?

A lot of our history is shared. We studied together at UTas in Tasmania and finished our Masters in Melbourne. Chris (Gilbert) and Chris (Haddad) studied overseas in Sweden and China; Josh and Chris G worked at Room 11 (while Chris H worked at Jackson Clements Burrows Architects).

Throughout this time, we would often catchup and reflect on how architectural practices operate. These conversations often ended with the same conclusions, we loved our respective workplaces, but architecture as a medium was stifling us, mainly due to its lengthy feedback period. We found an architectural idea from ‘moment of genesis’ to ‘point of realisation’ would take 2-3 years, by which time we often found our design aesthetic or approach would have developed or evolved.

As a solution we proposed ‘Archier’. A small, flexible design studio that engages 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. Over the last year a furniture range has grown organically through private commissions and personal interests. Our lighting largely developed through personal interest as Chris G and Chris F were unhappy with lighting options for their own apartment renovations.

A hands on approach is also fundamental to our architectural practice. We like to be as physically involved in the construction of each project as possible, allowing direct, unfiltered feedback from the builder and contractors, thus improving our design documentation and efficiency. We are as interested in the refinement and experimentation of systems and networks behind the building as we are the aesthetic outcomes.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Archier – how is your design studio and factory structured? How do you manage the day-to-day side of the business, juggling your architecture practice with your lighting and furniture design work?

We find the different fields mesh quite well together.  Architectural projects naturally have peaks and troughs, so we fill the gaps designing and manufacturing our products.

Most of our discussion around design work is undertaken in the mornings over coffee, or walking to get lunch. We find it less formal and ideas come more freely. We deliberately structured our space in Preston to integrate the workshop within the studio. The idea here was to remove any hierarchy and keep us engaged with all sides of the business. We find this structure allows a flow of knowledge between each aspect of the studio – be it lighting, furniture or architecture – that in turn strengthens the studio as a whole.

An example of this is our Otway dining table. During the development from a prototype through to a product we engaged with a range of advanced manufacturers and fabricators, using techniques such as rotary laser cutting and bending. The knowledge and understanding of these manufacturing processes now allows us to look outside the box when specifying door handles, balustrades or hand rails on our Architecture projects, and has given us the ability to design and price customised solutions.

Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?

Clare Cousins – Not only do we love their work, we love the fact that they are a young energetic firm sticking it to the old (predominately male) guard.

Fieldwork / Assemble Projects – We really appreciate the priorities these guys have regarding their focus on sustainable, small footprint housing as well as the idea that architects can combine project finance with design practice.

Kate Stokes (Cocoflip) – We first met Kate 5 years ago while studying with her husband Haslett at RMIT. Since that time Kate has and continues to be a design and entrepreneurial inspiration.

Kirsha Kaechele (KKProjects) – A conversation with her could start about a finer detail of architecture, then move into an obscure underground artistic movement – we admire her very broad knowledge/understanding/interests not to mention the fantastic work she produces. Check it out.

Ben and Amber Clohesy (The Woodsfolk) – They have been great clients and mentors over the past year and continue to surprise us with their knowledge and generosity.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media you tune in to regularly?

We devour podcasts in the workshop, Our current favourites are Startup, 99% Invisible, ReplyAll, RadioLab and Beats in Space.

Starting a new business was a foreign experience, fortunately for us around the same time we decided to commit, a Podcast called Startup launched. If you are thinking of starting a business for the first time we highly recommend downloading it.

99% Invisible is another podcast that looks at the stories behind design. We really love how it locates you in a broader historical and design context.

RadioLab an excellent podcast that attempts to understand the world through non-fiction story telling.

We’re also fans of the following books –

Adapt by Tim Harford is a studio favourite. Essentially it champions failure as a process of evolution, rather then something to be avoided. This is something we very much try to embrace.

Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser. This book led us into the turbulent world of economics through the lens of urban planning and architecture. We can safely say this book opened our eyes to a broader view of the built environment.

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist and author who continues the work of Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, fast and slow) and applies it to everyday decision making. He has published three books, all of which have been passed around the studio. If you like the sound of Kahneman but find him difficult to digest Ariely is a good option.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Every day begins with a morning coffee to plan the day; we have a list, which gives us a chance to discuss new ideas as well as focus both the day and week ahead. Usually this means assigning days to either spaces or objects. We need this focus otherwise we get carried away with experimenting and prototyping, and ensures we meet deadlines.

What would be your dream creative project?

Josh – I’ve been plotting a self-contained hotel in the Tasmanian wilderness for some time now (along the lines of the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway). I’m grappling with conflicting ideologies of providing access to such beautiful places versus the concept of ‘if you love it, then leave it alone.’

Chris H – Observing the construction of MONA in Tassie while studying at university, I’ve always dreamt of a call from David Walsh to design his next big project. I’m picturing the chance to form a design team with some of the artists that he has exhibited. In my mind, the dream brief from David would be ‘scare me’.

Chris G – The Tech industry is renowned for developing innovative devices and services, but unfortunately their headquarters usually look like a postmodernist wet dream. I would love the chance to design a new campus for, say, Tesla.

What are you looking forward to?

Josh – We’ve spent the last year or so designing, prototyping and developing our products and services, so 2015 is the year we can finally bring these to market. I’m excited about what we’ll learn from this, and how it will inform our design process moving forward.

Chris G – We’d like to fill a gap in the short-term, quality regional Victoria accommodation market. This has been reinforced through people’s interest in renting our recently completed Sawmill House in Yackandandah and the ease at which we’ve been able to rent out our city apartment on Airbnb.

Chris H – We’ve been interested in evolving from a service provider, to an investment based studio. My masters thesis at uni explored hybrid typologies, so we’re looking to realise this in a multi-use development that incorporates the Archier workshop with residential and short term accommodation. We practically live at the workshop, so it’s the logical step.

MELBOURNE QUESTIONS

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

Josh – Fitzroy, it’s an obvious one. Primarily its diversity and character, but I also like how everything is within walking/riding distance, the importance of which was nailed into me during my studies.

Chris H – Collingwood. Simply because it was where I moved to when I first arrived in Melbourne to study. I had a share house full of friends who have over the years supported and collaborated with Archier, helping to get us to where we are now.

Chris G – The CBD. We purchased our apartment on Lonsdale Street three years ago and, in that time, have seen it evolve into a truly diverse energetic 24-hour city. Edward Glaeser would be proud.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Josh –Alimentari on Brunswick St. I would quite literally eat three square meals there a day, with coffee breaks in between.

Chris H – A home-cooked Iranian feast at a friends’ house in Northcote.

Chris G – Tapas at Bomba on Lonsdale St.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Josh – Ideally, on the bike. Most likely, in the workshop.

Chris H – Ideally, sleeping. Most likely, in the workshop.

Chris G – Ideally, walking my dog with my beautiful wife. Most likely, in the workshop.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Josh – Early mornings at Cafe Rosamond in Fitzroy.

Chris H – Pulled pork rolls at Switchboard Cafe on a Friday.

Chris G – The bar in the NGV gardens. Art is better intoxicated.

Details from the Preston workshop and studio of architectural and design practice Archier.  Photo – Eve Wilson.

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