Studio Visit

Fender Katsalidis · 'Working Architecture'

Today we share a very special insight into an iconic architecture practice that has shaped our home city, Fender Katsalidis.

After a quarter of a century of defining ‘how Australia sees its architecture, and how the world sees Australia,’ the firm has just released its first book, ‘Working Architecture’.

Karl Fender and Nonda Katsalidis kindly took TDF through their impressive tome, reflecting on their history and landmark projects – including one in-the-works that’ll become the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere!

Elle Murrell

Nonda Katsalidis and Karl Fender of Fender Katsalidis architecture practice. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Creating landmark buildings across Melbourne, Australia and Asia since the 1990s, Fender Katsalidis have just released their first book, ‘Working Architecture. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Details of FK’s office in Melbourne’s Southbank, including a collection of re-iteration models of Merdeka PNB 118, their project in Kuala Lumpur. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The cover of ‘Working Architecture‘ alongside the opening spread of the 31st (and final) project showcased in the tome. This render shows the firm’s 100-storey Australia 108 building peeping out atop the clouds. When the Southbank skyscraper is completed in 2020, it will become the tallest building to roof in the Southern Hemisphere. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

An incredible model of the 318-metre Australia 108 building, which also provides a 2/3 visual example of the firm’s focus on: a pedestrian-engaging base, a functional view-optimising core, and a skyline-defining building top. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A look inside ‘Working Architecture’, where the pull quote reads: ‘Nonda Katsalidis, an Australian of Greek extraction and Karl Fender, an Australian of Dutch extraction’. The bottom spread showcases Little Hero. Built in Melbourne in 2010, it was a prototypical demonstration of Unitised Building (a prefabricated construction system developed by Nonda Katsalidis). Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Karl Fender and Nonda Katsalidis. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Karl looking over plans and sketches. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Nonda flicks through his firm’s chronicle. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The duo reflect on a spread showcasing HM@S in Port Melbourne. Completed in 2001, this project saw the redeveopment of the decomissioned HM@S Lonsdale naval training base into 240 residences. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Elle Murrell
10th of August 2017

Flipping through ‘Working Architecture  feels like taking an exclusive helicopter tour of Melbourne… BUT with the invaluable add-on of insightful commentary from two masterminds who have contributed so significantly to the city.

You’ll of course spot the crowning Eureka Tower gilding pages, as well as Republic Tower, Richmond Silos (The Malthouse), HM@S, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne Terrace, Little Hero, 505 St Kilda Road, and so many other unforgettable landmarks (without yet diverting to projects that are interstate or abroad – next trips: MONA and Moonah Links, please).

Celebrating 25 years in the business, Melbourne-based architecture practice Fender Katsalidis has unveiled a chronicle of its history, spotlighting 31 of the most emblematic projects from its repertoire.

Published by Uro Publications, this incredible hard cover book takes an in-depth look at the practice’s diverse portfolio, from cultural hubs, to commercial buildings, private housing, and apartment projects. It features written contributions from the likes of Leon van Schaik AO, Graeme Gunn AM, and Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medalist Peter Wilson, plus enough plans, elevations and sketches to intoxicate any architecture enthusiast.

One section likely to leave all amazed, if a little disoriented, is the closing chapter, which introduces the forthcoming Australia 108 skyscraper. Pictured in a render peeping out above the clouds, it is to become the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest building when completed in 2020.

We were elated to steal a few minutes from Nonda Katsalidis and Karl Fender for this recent conversation. The maestros took time to reflect on their practice’s legacy, their new book, and where things are heading next.

When did you both first realise that you wanted to become architects?

Karl Fender: I first knew I would be an architect when at age 16, I accompanied my parents to the home of their architect friend Hank Romyn. Situated as I recall within beautiful gardens in the Dandenongs, the cathedral-esque volumes of the house, and the touch and feel of his studio captivated my imagination.

Nonda Katsalidis: I always wanted to build. Being an architect was an extension of that.

When you look back, what stands out as the most formative experiences that have lead to your current points in your careers?

KF: I was incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunity of working as an assistant to Robin Boyd in the office of Romberg and Boyd in East Melbourne. Being mentored by Robin Boyd in my first architectural job was a privilege which in my opinion provided me with the highest quality enjoyable learning curve.

In later years, my travel years, working abroad in London, Rome, Hong Kong, Paris, Bangkok and Boston certainly gave me a strong international view of our profession and a pathway to enquiry.

NK: I worked as a carpenter and builder for a few years after university. That, and my first building that had a lift in it, lead to all the big things.

What are you both focusing on at the firm today, and how has this evolved over a quarter-of-a-century in practice?

NK: The focus is trying to find the projects that really matter, and the clients with their hearts in the right place. Nothing much has changed, except it’s getting harder.

KF: My focus within our current practice is threefold. I like to focus my attention to our clients, our best possible design outcomes for them, and the fostering of a team-based studio based on enquiry, mentoring and mutual respect.

Is there any pattern to the way you typically generate the ideas for your designs?

KF: Our designs are absolutely based on the pragmatic opportunities initially hidden within the client’s brief, the site and its potentials within the local context. We generate our first ideas as a collaboration within the studio and then develop these in collaboration with the client and the larger project team. A design idea will enhance and improve with process if it is true and strong at inception.

NK: I look for clues in the context and associations that come to mind. My processes are very intuitive.

What do you both see as your signature materials and why are YOU so fond of these?

KF: We have often incorporated and expressed robust, durable materials such as off-form, lightweight and precast concrete, linished stainless steel, hardy timbers and perforated metal sheets. Although industrial in nature, they weather elegantly requiring low maintenance, and if used with sculptural artistry, transcend their more commonly attributed basic uses.

NK: I like to leave materials as they are whenever I can. Finishes create a filter between the object and the observer which dilutes the experience of the building.

Why did you decide to release ‘Working Architecture’?

NK: It was time for a summary. It was time to stand back and look at what has been done.

KF: Working Architecture was our way of recognising and celebrating the many architects, consultants and clients who have contributed so significantly to the journey of our practice. It was intended to launch the book in 2005, after a decade of practice, but it took an extra 12 years because our priority was always working architecture to our fullest commitment.

The book explores 31 key projects from your wide portfolio. How did you GO ABOUT making this selection?

KF: The work included in the book represents a varied selection of small, tall, spread-out and old projects. There are many equally important (to us) projects which could and probably should have been included… We need to start on our next book!

NK: Hopefully they are the buildings that have been most successfully executed.

Karl once said: ‘Good architects will go beyond the fashion parade and start thinking about the urban design issues, the community issues and bring to their project a beautiful building that satisfies the lust of the local developer, but also is very responsible in the way it sits within the fabric that it’s located in’. What do you see as some of the urban design and community issues facing Melbourne today?

NK: It’s paramount to maintain the sense of ‘city building’ that Melbourne was based on from the beginning. We lose that commitment to community-focused urbanism at our peril.

KF: Every architectural commission has its own unique set of obligations, responsibilities and opportunities. I think it’s incumbent on the architectural team to properly and thoroughly understand those requisites to then be able to deliver the maximum result for all who will encounter the built result. Melbourne is fortunate to have such a high-calibre architectural community.

What’s it like to be revered as one of Australia’s most prolific and influential architectural practices?

NK: It’s very flattering, but it’s not very big in our consciousness. We love to design and build. That’s what we get on with.

KF: The practice of Fender Katsalidis is fortunate and proud to have been able to contribute in some small way to the life and vibrancy of built Melbourne.

What’s next for Fender Katsalidis Architects?

NK: The next generation of talent that has been nurtured within the practice is coming of age.

KF: We have laid the foundations that will ensure that the practice continues to be a major contributor to the built environment throughout Australia, and internationally. We are looking forward to seeing the practice reap the benefits of its expanded ownership and nationalised structure.

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