Since establishing her practice in 2005, Clare Cousins has been an active voice in Melbourne’s architecture community. On top of producing a quality of work that regularly draws attention, Clare regularly acts as an educator, public speaker and mentor.
Along with already receiving a variety of award nominations and commendations this year, Clare was recently awarded National Emerging Architect of 2013 – a recognition of her “contribution to architectural practice, education, design excellence and the community”. Projects such as the Moor Street Apartment and Studio, the Brick House and Mornington Beach House are just some of the practice’s recent work that has led to such accolades.
From upcoming projects and presentations through to recent awards and fitting out a new office space, Clare talks about what’s been happening, what’s coming up and the pros and cons of being your own client.
Moor Street Apartment and Studio (Pic: Shannon McGrath)
Open Journal: You were recently awarded National Emerging Architect of 2013 by the Australian Institute of Architects. Congratulations! How important is this type of recognition? Do awards such as this instantly draw more attention and more enquiries?
Clare Cousins: I think it generates more industry recognition rather than public awareness but it is still a great honour to have received the award. It is meaningful to me as it recognises contribution to architectural practice, education and the community.
Does it also raise expectations of clients?
I’m not sure. We find clients generally have high expectations of the service we provide and the outcome of a project, which is fine by us as this has always been our approach to projects.
What was your trajectory from graduation to forming your own firm? Did you practice at other firms before starting your own? What ideas or vision drove you to go solo?
I worked at a couple of small architecture practices as a student and studied architecture on exchange in Berlin in my third year. During the last years of my degree I worked for a construction company and met Wood Marsh, the architects of the project, which lead me to approach them for a job when I graduated. I worked for them for over 3 years and after registration I decided to take a leap of faith and go out on my own.
Parents Retreat, Melbourne Central (Pic: Shannon McGrath)
You’ve been invited to present at the Nexus Newcastle Architecture Conference among quite a rich list of local and international speakers. What themes are you looking at exploring here?
The conference theme this year explores ideas of the ‘city’, reflecting on the past and envisaging what it might be in the future. Our presentation is titled ‘Big City – Small Projects’ and will look at various projects, ranging from public amenities, to the activation of un-utilised land and projects that increase the densification of regional cities.
Can great residential design be affordable? What can the architect do to facilitate this?
Unfortunately everyone seems to have champagne taste on a beer budget! Perhaps reality renovating shows and lifestyle magazines make it look all too easy to achieve. Our approach is to use cost effective materials in thoughtful ways. We believe big is not necessarily better and prefer to design smaller, efficient spaces that serve multiple functions.
What are some upcoming projects you’re excited about at the moment?
A couple of new houses we are designing at the moment are set to become great projects. One is in Northcote on an unusual wedge shape block located beside a train line which presents a lot more challenges than a typical suburban site. We are also working on a subterranean house in Mornington with a planted roof and ocean views. The client came to us with a passion for Hundertwasser buildings and paintings, so we’re excited to see where this one leads…
Render for Rail House, Northcote
How was the experience doing pro-bono work for bushfire-affected communities? There must have been some unique design restraints.
It really was an amazing experience. The site (the Christmas Hills House, below) is breathtakingly beautiful and falls steeply towards a valley with a platform where the original house stood. The design and rebuild process was an emotional experience for our clients, who were unsure whether they wanted to rebuild. The house design is modest in cost and scale, capturing the views of the valley which are the hero.
You’re currently fitting out a new office space, is that correct? What features and ideas will be inherent in the new space?
Our fitout is straight forward and on a shoestring budget. Open plan with long plywood storage ‘walls’ to partially screen our workspaces from clients.
We will share the building with construction company, Maben Group. It is an interesting dynamic sharing a kitchen with a building company. We hear what they are working on and visa versa.
Be it your own home or your own office, is designing for yourself a liberating and enjoyable process?
I find it quite difficult. It is liberating to some degree as it can be an opportunity to try things that a client may not want to live with. The challenge is that we need to keep switching mindset between architect and client. The design process also seems to take a lot longer; our projects are always at the bottom of the pile!
What piece of advice would you give to a 21 year old student architect?
Get as much practical experience you can during your studies. There is so much competition for work at the moment, especially for graduate architects. Practical experience doesn’t have to be in an architect’s office, any experience within the broader construction industry can be beneficial.
Clare Cousins Architects
Christmas Hills House (Pic: Shannon McGrath)
By Matt Hurst