Work Space

Brutalism At Work With Clare Cousins Architects

It takes a certain skilled pair of ‘finding eyes’ to see potential in a run-down building. Today’s office tour with Clare Cousins Architecture is a perfect example of looking past first impressions, to uncover a hidden gem!

We chat with practice manager Laura Norris-Jones about peeling back the layers of this bunker-style building in North Melbourne, and celebrating the Brutalist materiality of the space. Viva la concrete!

Lucy Feagins

Clare Cousins Architecture – workspace goals! Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The leafy green balcony has become increasingly luscious since the architects and builders moved in five years ago. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Concentrating among concrete. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The shared space is dived into distinct work sites. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Designer seat for an award winning architect. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Office details. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Exposed brick work helps divide the space and give character to the offices. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Meetings wallpapered with greenery. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The Clare Cousins Architects team. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

A light filled ‘bunker.’ Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Lucy Feagins
22nd of October 2018

Clare Cousins Architects and commercial builders Maben Group have been office room-mates for over a decade, and enjoyed the dynamics of a shared, yet independent, working environment. Five years ago, both businesses relocated into what practice manager Laura describes as a ‘rabbit warren of small dark consulting rooms’, which they dubbed the ‘Blackwood Street Bunker’.

The team transformed the bleak and unloved space, through removing partition walls, revealing the concrete floors and blockwork walls, and introducing skylights. The custard-coloured exterior render was painstakingly chipped off by Maben, slowly piece-by-piece revealing a building with incredible Brutalist materiality. (See here for some exterior shots!). A hidden gem, sniffed out like a truffle by these clever architects and builders!

The design of the office has been structured to encourage collaboration, but also to separate work spaces from visitor areas. Lush greenery designed by Eckersley Garden Architecture brings a fresh sparkle into the space via the sliding glass doors onto the balcony, and also provides shade, eliminating the need for mechanical cooling in warmer months. Laura explains, ‘we love watching it change each season, and become more abundant each year – it’s also popular with some curious local birds.’

The genius here lies partly in the clever re-working of this 1970s building, but more powerfully, in the architects’ visionary ability to see the potential lurking beneath the surface of this lacking-in-love building. Laura highlights ‘the biggest hurdle came at the very beginning: looking past the building’s previous state to imagine what it could become.’

The office beams with the energy of Rowena Martinich and Caroline Walls’ artworks, and Clare’s office features designer-swoon items including a vintage Pollock Executive Chair and vintage Hans Wegner 3-legged chair. Seriously working in style! If you are curious about entering the bunker (not as foreboding as it sounds!), keep your peepers attuned to the Open House Melbourne website.


Type of space

Architectural Studio

Number of employees


Date moved in

October 2013

Renovation team

Clare Cousins Architects and Maben

An office should be…

…productive and enjoyable: we spend so much of our week at work, we’re lucky to spend it in a great space with great people.

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