ABOUT THE ARCHITECT:
William Smart is the Founder and Creative Director of Smart Design Studio, established in 1998. His approach to design is holistic, combining both architectural and interior design with passionate attention to detail. Over the past 23 years, Smart Design Studio has delivered a wide range of projects ranging from large-scale master planning, cultural buildings, offices, workplaces to private houses and product design. Although varied in scale, the projects are united by an ethos of “Architecture from the Inside Out”.
00;00;00;02 - 00;00;05;17
Doug Pat (DP)
Let's go inside the vault. The design vault.
00;00;05;19 - 00;00;30;25
William Smart (WS)
The approval authority wants us to respect how it looks from the outside and how it integrates with the streetscape, with the materials of the area, which is predominantly brick with sawtooth roofs. And they also want you to kind of reinforce and retain the great character of the precinct. So to keep these big, large, open plan offices with sawtooth roofs, I feel as a designer, we nailed it. We really got the design exactly right.
00;00;30;27 - 00;03;09;28
This is my guest, William Smart. I'll share more about him shortly. In this episode from the Design Vault will highlight William’s new Smart Design Studio building. The new Smart Design Studio is an innovative, sustainable and sculptural building with both new and renovated facades that sit within an inner city conservation area of brick warehouses. The design relates to the industrial buildings from the precinct.
While it makes a departure with a modern facade of tiles, galvanized sheeting, steel frame windows and dynamic forms of curling and curving brick. Structurally, a large portion of the building feels industrial with precast concrete slabs, structural brick roof vaults and steel. Environmentally, the naturally lit and ventilated studio collects its own water and generates its own power, creating a carbon neutral building.
In addition, large full length clear story windows enable natural light to enter the single industrial scale workspace. The Sawtooth roof trusses and a portion of the facades were retained with the exception of the offices on the western street frontage. That's where a narrow, highly designed apartment runs atop the length of the building. The apartment features four self-supporting offset brick, catenary vaults that allow light into the apartment.
Hi, I'm Doug Pat and this is Design Vault. William Smart is a fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects. He's also the founder and creative director of Smart Design Studio, established in 1998. The Office is a multi-disciplined design studio offering professional services and architecture, interior architecture and design. Over the past 23 years, Smart Design Studio has delivered a wide range of projects from large scale master planning, cultural buildings, offices, workplaces to private houses and product design.
Smart Design Studio’s buildings have received critical acclaim since its inception , SDS has received over 50 international and national awards for architecture, urban design and interior design. William was also the recipient of Indie Award’s Luminary Award. Williams taught and lectured across Australia, published written work and is an active participant in the design community. So welcome, William. Nice to have you with us today.
Before we get started, tell us a little bit about Smart Design Studio. So you're coming to us from about 16,000 kilometers away. So tell us where you're located. What's the size of your firm and the type of work that you do.
00;03;09;28 - 00;04;33;03
Doug It's a real pleasure to be here. Our studio is located in Sydney, which is on the east coast of Australia, and it's a temperate climate, so subtropical. So like today's the middle of winter, the maximum temperature will be 18 degrees Celsius in summer it gets quite warm, reasonably humid, but not quite tropical. It's quite a nice environment.
I'll talk about that in more detail because we've tried to do a very sustainable project for our offices, but we've been running for about 25 years now and with 50 people and we think that's just the perfect size for us because we can do some large projects that run over many years and we can do some small detail projects that allow us to be more innovative or to get a level of detail to explore and develop.
And we love integrating architecture and interiors and view it as one and through our own way of working, we've developed a methodology which we call design from the inside out or architecture from the inside out. And so we try to think of our buildings from the interior perspective. First, what is the space we're making? How do the occupants use the building?
And then we work through from that perspective toward the outside of the building and try to build an armature around it that's responsible, sustainable, complements the character of the community that we live in as well and tries to synthesize all those things together. But the approach is definitely to build it from the internal spaces.
00;04;33;06 - 00;04;34;20
So form follows function.
00;04;34;20 - 00;05;25;19
Absolutely form follows function. But we also think you can be really powerful with form and you can develop emotive responses to form. So just in that idea of internal spaces, we think that in a really great building, and the best of ours achieve this, you take someone to a moment when they go, Whoa, this is amazing, this is beautiful.
And sometimes that's more than the functionality. It can be just an internal space where there's a staircase or a vista or place you go to that's a surprising experience. And I'm often in my mind imagining how an occupant or a user of the building will circulate through it, how they will walk into a room, what the transition of light is from outside, inside and from one room to another.
And how they go to this place and think, Wow, I wasn't expecting this at all.
00;05;25;21 - 00;05;27;03
That's a beautiful description.
00;05;27;10 - 00;05;27;22
00;05;27;29 - 00;05;33;06
Absolutely. So I was on your website, pretty extensive. What type of projects do you guys take?
00;05;33;12 - 00;06;56;17
Well, we've been running for 25 years now, and that means we've really grown the company into a place where we can be careful about the projects we take. So we are looking for projects where we can design the architecture and the interiors as one. And that's borne out of our philosophy of how we work. And we're also looking for projects where we can achieve a lot of detail, and that doesn't necessarily mean we need to use expensive materials.
We actually quite like inexpensive materials, things like the everyday brick is something we're in love with and how we use that is probably where the innovation starts. But we like to do architecture and interiors has one a lot of detail and work on projects from start to end so we can really achieve the details and in that we prefer to have a range of projects.
So at least half of our work are residential projects and they can vary from large apartment buildings where there's more complex of buildings down to small houses and everything in between. And then we also do a few commercial projects, cultural projects such as art galleries, or recently we finished Science Gallery in Melbourne, which is about the fusion of art and science in this new space.
And we use architecture to bring the two together and then we also tend to end up working on a few product design projects as well. So door handles, grip rails, other things going down into there. Very fine detail is something that we love doing concurrently.
00;06;56;24 - 00;07;04;18
That's really cool. I have a lot of questions. We'll get to them in just a minute. So tell us a little bit about yourself. So how did you start Smart Design Studio?
00;07;04;24 - 00;08;50;03
I started my own design studio in ‘98, so 25 years ago. And after graduating, I worked in France for a year and a half and learned about traditional ways of building. Following that, I worked for just over three years at Foster and Partners in London, which is a very big commercial practice and has built a number of buildings in the US.
And then I came back to Australia in ‘96 for the Olympics and I wanted to work on an Olympic project and I wanted to try living in Sydney because I grew up in the country, in Western Australia, in the outback, and I moved to Sydney to work on the railway station at the Olympic site. So I've gone from working on large projects and as that last project was nearing to an end, I felt this need to set up my own studio and do my own projects.
And I chose that name without having any projects in mind or in place. I thought I had something to say and I didn't know what it was, but I just felt I had a voice and I needed to create a platform to develop my own voice. And I wasn't getting that in working for other practices because I was channeling the voice of that practice.
So that's why I set it up and it's taken really sort of 15 years to find out what that voice is. I had things I liked I was interested in. There weren't always the budgets on the first few projects to achieve those things, but over time we've developed these interests in materials who work with the details, who work with the forms, the collaborations with other architects or engineers or other consultants and contractors, and have kind of come up with some buildings that are remarkable that people think and ask us, How did you do that? How was that made? How could you do all that? It seems unbelievable, which is great. I think that's what I wanted to do when I started this practice 25 years ago.
00;08;50;09 - 00;09;02;00
It's great. I have some of the same questions for you today about your building. So clearly when you got started, your office was relatively small. You've grown to 50 people. What's your role in the office now?
00;09;02;02 - 00;10;17;06
How I see my role is to kind of help guide a large team of people towards the great outcome. So we need to achieve. So my favorite thing is preparing drawings or writing specifications. I like that more than the other stuff that comes with running a company of this size and often there's a lot of meetings. But this morning I just was in an early morning meeting with some contractors about trying to nut out some key details that we couldn't let go of on a new commercial building we're doing.
And then the project architect that's running that's doing an amazing job, but at this moment needs me to come in and say to the contractors, this is the way it's going to be. We've got to document and develop in that way. So that's kind of how I end up steering things. And I work four days a week from Sydney and then one or two days a week out of town and on that day I try to sit down on the drawing board and not our new projects or complex projects, but I love that drawing time.
So I'm kind of like a person in the team that's almost like a coach that tries to help everybody get to the right place and at times I'll step in and lend a hand and at times I'll be working in the background, checking things and reviewing things and trying to help develop the direction of projects. But it's sort of like this really strong helping role that I've developed over time.
00;10;17;09 - 00;10;23;05
I'm sure this varies, but how many projects do you typically have in the office running at the same time?
00;10;23;05 - 00;11;21;10
I would say there's probably about 20 active projects at the moment and from that we would have three or four that are going through planning approval processes. And in Australia that's very slow. It takes probably a year for us to get planning consent on a project and they don't take a lot of work, but they take sporadic pieces of work.
So accounts who might come back and say change this time or work on that for a short while. So maybe five or six projects in those stages. We've always got a couple in preparing for planning. We've normally got a few in the documentation stage and then we’ve normally got half a dozen or even more at the moment that are under construction.
And some of those are very large projects that go over three or four years and then some of them are smaller ones. It might be a year or a year and a half, but it just naturally works out that somehow it's all fairly evenly spread between all the different stages, and it means that we can resource it well and improve on our systems and ways of documenting from the work we're building on site all the time.
00;11;21;13 - 00;11;41;15
Well, it certainly sounds interesting for you because you get to bounce around on a lot of different projects at different stages in the process, so it sounds like a lot of fun. So let's dig in here and talk about our building. Tell us about the new Smart Design Studio. So how long have you guys been in your current location and before that, what was your original location?
00;11;41;18 - 00;14;32;23
Before this, we were in an area in Sydney called Surry Hills, which is kind of a beautiful, quite central, historic part of town. And we moved to this new industrial area that's being transformed at the moment, halfway between the center of Sydney and the airport. And that means we're actually only four kilometers from the city center because our main airports very close to town.
What attracted us to this particular area was that we could get a very large piece of land at a relatively inexpensive price and build a studio where the whole of the team could work on one floor. And linked into that is a desire to not grow anymore. We've sort of arrived at 50, for us that’s the perfect size. We can do some large projects, some small ones, and control all of the stage as well.
So we do want to grow anymore. But we did recognize that from our last project and our last office that we needed to all be in one room and work from that space. So we bought an old warehouse building in a conservation area. And for us that means that it's not a heritage listed item, so you can make changes to it.
And quite extensive changes, but you've got to work within the character of the area and the approval authority wants us to respect how it looks from the outside and how it integrates with the streetscape, with the materials of the area, which is predominantly brick with sorted roofs. And I also want you to kind of reinforce and retain the great character of the precinct and to do that internally.
So to keep these big, large, open plan offices with sorted roofs. And that just worked perfectly for how we wanted to use that particular space. So we have an office of about 800 square meters just over. So it's almost 20 square meters per person. It's like a lot of room because we've had our own office before. We've understood what it is that we need and how we work and what the best range would be.
And I feel as a designer, we nailed it. We really got the design exactly right. So it's one big room which is about 20 by 20 meters. And then on the outside of that, we have four separate rooms, one for model making. One is a kind of breakout space, what we call the canteen. One is a materials library, and then the last one is the front of house and meeting room area.
And so the activities that need to be segregated from the main working space are on the outside of that, but within the same volume and then the central space is flooded with natural light and has a beautiful acoustic to it. So you can hear the sound of people talking, but you actually can't hear what they're saying. So it doesn't take your attention away from what you're doing.
It's a really great space to work in. And one of the interesting things is we make a lot of models, we do a lot of hand drawings. All the walls are pinned up with work, and then there's maybe more than 100 models in various states of completion or degradation, over time through the studio space. So you feel like you've walked into this creative space where work is being developed and being designed on the run.
00;14;33;00 - 00;14;51;25
So I've always found that it's really hard to be my own client. And I'm kind of wondering, so you first lay out the programmatic requirements and as you start designing, did that evolve? Did the program change a little bit for you? What was a client like? Just kidding. And did you know right away what you wanted?
00;14;51;28 - 00;16;06;23
I've done a few projects for myself now and I'm designing a couple more and I love working for myself. I don't find it hard being my own client. The only sticking point every time is budget. Actually, I always run over budget dramatically and have to find a way of making that work. But I love designing for myself and the main studio spaces who are designing it.
And in fact the whole building almost felt like it designed itself. I didn't even feel like I was designing it. It just felt like it all fell into place quite easily for us. Those projects are rare, certainly the minority, but this one felt like as soon as we drew something, it felt right. And then you just made minor adjustments along the way and it kind of sold together quite beautifully.
And I feel like in just about every area, we got it really right because we put so much thought into what is it we need and how much space do we need for these kinds of materials? And you know, when we have all the models, what do you want the clients to see when they walk around the studio?
We even thought about that tour through the studio and how we would walk prospective clients and consultants through the space and tell the story of how we work and who we are. There's so many layers to the design and we had time to think about it properly and do a good job. So I feel like we've got it right.
00;16;06;23 - 00;16;11;29
The final design included an apartment. Tell us a little bit about that.
00;16;12;01 - 00;17;59;16
This conservation area in Sydney, what the city wants is for this to be a hub of activity and for that to not be where people live. They want businesses here, they want makers, they want microbreweries, they want art galleries, they want live music. So they're kind of trying to develop that in this particular area. So they have prohibited housing, including apartments in this area except for a caretaker's residence they allow.
So we were able to get an approval to build a caretaker's residence on this site. And that's why it's called the caretaker's residence, because it was permitted under the planning consent. And it's where I live with my partner and my dog and these catenary shaped and structural brick vaults. And there's two big ones and two small ones and the big ones are about seven meters wide and 4.2 meters high.
And the small ones are about five meters wide and 2.7 meters high. And in between these vaults, they're offset from each other, we have these large sheets of glass, and it allows light to flood into the space. I think what we were trying to do with the project on many levels is to be something that was very responsive to this precinct.
So it was a positive contribution to the heritage area that we work in. And also we wanted to just have a bit of fun with the project and do some things we didn't know how. I've been dreaming of doing beautiful vaulted brick structures like you might see in Barcelona. I've been dreaming of them for a long time and I couldn't find a client that wanted to do it because we generally get to a sticking point, which would be a conversation a bit like, Tell us about your experience in doing this.
So I haven't done it before, but I know how I can work it out and then a clients would just get to a point where that's how I want to be your guinea pig. I don't want to test this for you. So we were able to do that with ourselves and it's actually a beautiful space to be in.
00;17;59;18 - 00;18;18;17
It looks really wonderful. I'm going to stop you right there because we're going to come back to the vaults. Let's talk about the building design and we'll start with the basics. So tell us a little bit about the site now. It didn't look like there were any unique topographic features. Seemed pretty straightforward and there was a building on the property already. Tell us a little bit about that.
00;18;18;19 - 00;19;35;27
So there's an existing warehouse here and the front strip of that building, which was where the offices and meetings had been adjusted so many times over the past 60 years that it had lost all its integrity. And we demolished that front seven meters and rebuilt that. And then we kept the rest of the warehouse, which was about 80% of the footprint, and restored that.
And that's where that big room is in our studio. And the front strip, which is seven meters wide, has a beautiful brick vaulted facade that almost looks as though it's peeling open the brick kind of curves outwards and leans downwards. And we worked out a way to lay bricks facing downward direction and peels up again the other way.
And at the top of that three story structure, we have this apartment building which is got the four votes that we spoke of before. And so what we tried to do with the project was to use everyday ordinary materials like galvanized roof sheeting and galvanized steel windows and a very simple brick. But to take these materials and do something extraordinary with them.
So my kind of beautiful sculptural shapes or to make beautiful load bearing brick vaults. So that was one of the primary objectives and that talks to the history of the area and really relates back in a very sympathetic way to the context.
00;19;36;04 - 00;19;45;16
So you'd said it was a conservation area. Were the zoning restrictions challenging for you guys? And then was the building ultimately reviewed by a review board?
00;19;45;22 - 00;21;11;18
Totally. It was very well received and mostly it complies with the planning controls that the biggest challenge for us was getting this caretaker's residence approved. But one of the great initiatives of the project also was we wanted to make all our own power, collect our own water, and reuse that on onsite to be a carbon neutral building.
And the city responded very well to that. And because Sydney's quite a hot climate in summer, we need some way of controlling the climate and really stopping the sun from coming into the spaces. So we designed this sustainable building where we don't have any air conditioning in the studio or the apartment spaces and it's just naturally ventilated. And we have underfloor heating which has got hydraulic pipes that extend and wrap around through the floor and in summer they work in reverse and I call the floor and that chill the space.
And in Sydney, which has relatively high humidity, we have to manage that carefully so you don't get condensation on the floor surface. But we do all that through a building management system, which is like a computer that opens, it controls the windows, it also controls blinds, it controls the fans, it controls how much water goes through the floor and what temperature and so forth.
And tomorrow is thinking about today. And it's managing all that quite beautifully, actually. It all works extremely well. And it's a real milestone. There aren't many buildings in Sydney that are comfortable to be in without air conditioning in summer. It's just so hot here in the summer months and humid that it's a real challenge to make that work.
00;21;11;20 - 00;21;24;00
Yeah, I don't understand that. So it's natural ventilation, meaning windows or open air is flowing through the building. You've got to control the humidity on the interior. How is that done?
00;21;24;03 - 00;23;32;14
So how it works is the building sets up about five different climate times of the year. One of those is extremely hot and extremely cold. So they're two different times of the year. And then you have temperate and then warm and cool and then the perfect temperature. So this time of the year is a cool time of the year.
And what happens now is the windows will stay closed all day and then around midday they'll open for an hour and change the air and they'll close again. So they have little motors that open and control them. They're called actuators. And at nighttime, the building opens up all year round for either two or 5 hours, depending on whether it needs to cool down or heat up or how much air we need to change.
So big volume space, you can do this because there's so much air for the number of occupants that you don't need to have the windows open all day long. If you had a regular office building, you've got to rethink that because you run out of oxygen and people start to feel sleepy and tired. So what the building does is it kind of breathes in a way and lets the oxygen in at nighttime and fills up the space with the fresh air.
And in the daytime, if it's moderate like springtime, the windows just stay open all day long and they don't open a lot. They only open about an inch. So you're not getting air running through at high velocity. You're just getting a trickle of breeze running through the space. And what often happens is the high level windows are normally open a lot to let the hot air out.
So we have an overheating problem more than a problem of being too cold and we've got to warm up the space. But today it would be all the windows would be closed. Now, as I mentioned before, we're trying to hold on to the heat. And then what we're going to try and do is just block some of the heat load to stop, particularly the eastern and western sun from coming into the space and overcooking the space.
The building design has less glass on the east and the west than you would normally see in most office buildings. And then our design thinking is about what you do with the light when it comes into the space. How do you reflect and bounce it and make a beautiful private atmosphere to be in without having a huge amount of glass that would lose a lot of heat in winter and gain a lot of heat in summer?
00;23;32;17 - 00;23;37;25
Very interesting, very different than what we're used to here in the US for the most part.
00;23;37;28 - 00;24;32;03
Yeah. So glass is sort of interesting, isn't it? Because you think of it as the way of bringing light into the space and it absolutely does that. But in another way it's a poorly insulated material compared to others. So if you think of it as a very thin sheet of plastic or cling film or something like that, then even if it's not getting sun directly on it, it's going to let the heat out or the heat in whichever one you don't want.
It's just going to allow the temperature to move towards what's on the outside, even if you don't want it to. So a principle that we have is to reduce the amount of glass in buildings. We try not to do buildings that are mostly glass, you know, in an office building to get at least 30% of the facade is solid, but we're targeting more like 50% solid.
And you have to be very thoughtful about the occupants of the building and the desire of the tenants to have a lot of glass in the spaces and how you're going to be really responsible with that as well.
00;24;32;10 - 00;24;57;21
So let's go back to the building plan for a second so our listeners can imagine this. So you've got, as far as I understand it would be like a large square. The front end is a long rectangle, the series of stories and then the leftover, much larger rectangle is the workspaces. And then along that long front facing rectangle atop that is the apartment, am I correct?
00;24;57;27 - 00;24;58;16
That's exactly right/
00;24;58;16 - 00;25;12;29
Okay. So let's talk a little bit about the style choice now. So when you're walking in the alley in the back, you see one facade and you're walking along the main road in the front, you see a very esthetically different facade. Tell us a little bit about those.
00;25;13;02 - 00;27;58;20
Yeah. So the laneway at the back, which is called Balaclava Lane, is the original facade of the building. And it's interesting when you walk through this precinct because what you see is the laneways are almost exactly as they were built in the 1950s. So you see rusty old windows, old timber, rickety doors, original brickwork that's never been painted.
And they're beautiful, they're just gorgeous to look at. And people who find them think they're incredible. And this is a little bit of an undiscovered area right in the center of Sydney. It's kind of remarkable. And then on the front street faces of the building, all of the people have gone and renovated them, I guess, every ten years and modernized them.
And so there's no good buildings left behind. They've done them cheaply, badly. They've kind of destroyed the integrity of the streetscape. So we saw an opportunity with our building was to leave the back as it was because it's so beautiful. And our work there was to make it durable, waterproof, more environmentally responsible, but not stylistically too different. And then on the front streetscape, we had an opportunity there to be quite expressive.
So we tried to do a modern version of the building opposite ours, which is the only one in our street that hasn't been renovated. And it's a classic sort of modernist style where you have very long horizontal steel frame windows, a kind of beautiful ribbons of glass in between those in a bit of a tower at the end.
And we almost mimic that design. But we did that in a way that was more nuanced to keeping that hot sun out in particular and giving the views out from the internal rooms that we wanted to see. So in the main meeting rooms, we needed to have solid walls in the spaces so we could pin up our work and control the light.
And then we have high level windows to let light into the meeting rooms and low level windows to look out to a garden that's on the street below. So when we worked from that idea of what the internal spaces needed to be, and then we married that with what the environment needed to do and then thought about the context, it led to a new building from the outside, which looks like very long strip windows.
And the positioning of those relates to the internal functions of the space. And then we tried to be creative and inventive and to take that everyday material being a brick and just to kind of push it to do things no one had done with it before in our minds. I mean, you have some amazing architects in America, like Frank Gehry, who's done incredible things with brick as well.
But we sort of thought there's an opportunity here to represent this era of technology and to be a design that came from the 2020s, for example, rather than something from the 1950s.
00;27;58;22 - 00;28;05;25
So tell us a little bit more about this peeling brick facade. How did you guys make these partial vaults?
00;28;05;27 - 00;30;54;05
All of the work is in sections and cross section, not in plan. So when you look at the building as a floor plan, they're all rectangular rooms on the inside. But in section we have a part of the facade that peels outwards at the top and sort of leans outwards. And we worked out a way to lay the bricks on top of each other almost at 45 degrees.
And we're able to do that with creating a small jig to lay them on. And then we laid up to three courses at once and then we'd have to leave it for overnight and then lay another three courses the next day. So it dried and then on the bottom part, we lay them over a steel frame and on that steel frame we had a curved sheet of metal, so they were laid onto that curve sheet of metal and then tied back using brick ties to that other element that that projected outwards.
So that's sort of what was done in construction. How we came up with that was to work collaboratively with our bricklayers and our engineers and just sit down at the table. And we knew who we wanted to build the project before we'd finished all the documentation. And so we were able to sit down with them at a meeting table.
And I kind of said, here's the vision, this is what we want to do, and this is how I thought you might make it. But I don't really know how to lay a brick. Can you help us with this process? And the builders we chose I experts in heritage construction and they also know a lot about engineering. So they were able to sit down with their bricklayers and myself and our structure engineer and we workshopped it together.
And in a few hours we worked out how to do that. And then they went away and did on their own. And what I've learned over the last 25 years of doing my business is that sometimes you need to monitor something very closely and sometimes you actually just have to let it go. And these bricklayers were so good and so careful.
And they loved this job so much that they just wanted to be let go. And I hardly had to do any supervision work at all in the project. It was just developed by them. And one day I remember they turned up on site and they said, William, we think we have to change your brick causing dimension, which I'd set at 51.3 millimeters.
They said, we need to change it to 51.4 millimeters. So that's the height at which each brick goes from one to an x one. And it kind of came out with this big bit of paper that looked at all the maps and showed me how that would work and how many bricks it would be. And then I just thought, if we're talking about 0.1 of a millimeter, then you guys don't let me at all, you are there, you really embrace the project.
So it was 100% a really strong collaboration project where they would come along and say, We thought we'd like to change this part. And this is our suggestion. And most of the time it just made it better. That's the best part of collaboration, I think, is when you enjoy the process and other people make the project even better.
00;30;54;07 - 00;31;12;01
Yeah, for sure. I think I've asked every single guest we've had so far if they had trouble finding a mason, almost every one of them, I think every one of them so far said they did not have a difficult time. I know we've had some challenges over the years finding really talented Masons. It's a dying breed.
00;31;12;03 - 00;32;08;01
This project was a wonderful opportunity for some of those bricklayers to really show their skills and to be proud of what they did, and they're really proud of it. The two bricklayers we had here related that was Gareth, who is over 70 years old, lies drick six days a week, loves doing it, and his son in law, Harvey, Harvey, married Gareth daughter and they've been laying bricks together for like 30 years or something incredible.
And they just really love this project. And I realized that as architects we actually have an opportunity to create buildings where the tradesmen can really shine. And what I believe is that if you kind of create the vision and the project, the people will come to it. You'll find the people to make it. There'll be someone who just loves the challenge of doing something that's not square and upright and the standard thing. They want to kind of do some experimental parts of the project as well.
00;32;08;04 - 00;32;17;03
You said that you were thinking, Well, there's a lot of brick out here. I'd love to use brick. Were there any restrictions because it was a conservation area.
00;32;17;05 - 00;33;57;08
Not explicit. I mean, the cities, it's quite merit based in its assessment, I suppose, because what they're saying is we want you to make a positive contribution to this area. I think if you went in, proposed something like an aluminum clad building, they would reject the plans, but you probably could do concrete or concrete block or maybe stone as well.
But it seems so logical in this area that it'd be made from brick. I've had quite a lot of experience in working with brick site over the years. I've started to understand how to do mortar joints really well, how to make it kind of work gymnastics so it can do more expressive forms and it felt like the right material.
And then for us it came down to the point of choosing exactly the right brick. And we have two types of brick in our building. One is called a dry press brick, and that's made about 60 kilometers from Sydney, so very local. And they're beautiful. They're white, they're in the space that I mean, now they're chalky, they chip easily, they have incredible material quality to them.
And because they're on the inside, we can afford to use these more softer bricks and look after them. Well, and then on the outside of the building, we used a very durable brick called La Paloma, which is made in Spain, actually. And we wanted to use a black brick on the outside of the building for a bunch of different reasons.
But in Australia we don't have the really good clays that make good black bricks, so we had to use the Spanish brick and I made a special profile for us. So they were able to customize it and they're just incredibly strong and durable and look beautiful with the trees and the landscaping that's in this area and marry perfectly with the building opposite that I mentioned.
00;33;57;10 - 00;34;16;12
So let's get back to these unique vaults in the apartment. How did you build these? There's a series of them. I saw some photos. They looked like they were built in one location or perhaps moved or were they built at the spot they ended up in and also really unique shape, right? They're elliptical.
00;34;16;15 - 00;36;58;22
Yes. They're all built in situ. And how we built them was pretty close to what we imagined at the start. So we made a catenary shaped false work curve. So like a hollow boat sitting upside down, we made a timber plywood form and then we literally put the brakes top of that form so that the mortar didn't leak out in between.
We didn't use regular mortar. We use two terracotta tile glue and we glued the bricks together so that there's no mortar joints. And if you’re laying them up down, that's a good way to do it, because you don't have that problem of the mortar leaking out in an uncontrolled way towards the inside face. We made the timber false work that was all CNC cut was put together without using nails.
We worked out that you could make this CNC machine work very hard for you and accented cutting is incredible force work because you can make it a perfect shape and it's really fast. They were all cut overnight, delivered in one day, all assembled within one week. So a very fast process. We laid the bricks across the top and then we put a thin layer of reinforcing mesh over the top of that and we sprayed it with 60 nostics of concrete.
Now, in that process, with all the bricks glued together and you have this concrete on the outside, the brick itself, in this catenary shape doesn't need any support. It will hold itself up. It is the perfect structural shape. And that shape can also be described by or represented by taking a chain and hold it at the two ends that slumps to a catenary shape in tension.
When you invert that and put that up the other way, it stays true to its shape, but it's all in compression and brick has a great material for compression. It's strong when the forces are loaded on top of it. And the person that made that famous is the Sagrada Familia Building in Barcelona uses catenary vaults everywhere. And Antonio Gaudí is the master of how those elements come together.
We laid bricks on top. We spread it with a thin layer of concrete, but we call shock crete. In Australia, it's a similar way to how you build swimming pools. They trialed that off and they left it to drive for a month and then after that we took it away. So the concrete in that system provides provide stability because you could imagine if you make this brick vault, then it's a bit vulnerable when you have kind of a strong sideways force, like a very large wind or a branch or a tree falling on it, it could all fall sideways and topple over and then take it away.
And it stands up beautifully in this place is kind of fun to do all that. We worked collaboratively with one of the local universities who helped with the CNC cutting. They wanted a project where they could talk about real life building within education programs, and they linked that into the software and how you would shape and develop it and how even patterned the bricks internally. It was all done through parametric software as well.
00;36;58;28 - 00;37;01;27
So I'm curious, do the walls have to be insulated?
00;37;01;29 - 00;37;22;02
So in that construction, we have brick on the inside, then we have this thin layer of concrete on the outside of that, we have a 100 millimeters thick insulation that you might only see in a courtroom. So it's rigid insulation, it's got silver socking it, it's very strong. And then outside of that, we have plywood and standing same galvanized roof sheeting.
00;37;22;08 - 00;37;23;04
So you had to curve the plywood?
00;37;23;06 - 00;38;39;22
Yeah, we curved the plywood and they were laid in strips that ran the length of the catenary except for in parts of it where we wanted to see this very thin edge. We use seven millimeters thick plywood and laid them in two different directions and glued them together. Gluing sounds like a horrible word, isn't it? Sounds like you're cheating in a way.
But if you think of it as adhesives, there's a lot of technology that's developed with very strong and durable adhesives now, so they can work well together and as I mentioned earlier, this space we're in now has no air conditioning in the space. It's a beautiful climate. There's a lot of thermal mass. So there's brick walls, stone floors, brick ceilings, effectively relatively small amount of windows.
So maybe 10% of the wall area is window. But it's a bright space because we carefully think about how the light comes into the space. So it is very comfortable all year round. We'll go through that week of very hot weather in the middle of summer where the temperatures soared to over 40 degrees and the humidity is up over 80%.
We go through that week of the year with a maximum temperature in the space would peak at 26 degrees. It's really comfortable. It works very well. It's a good illustration of that concept that a well insulated environment that has a lot of exposed thermal mass will be very resilient in hot weather as long as you keep it well insulated.
00;38;39;24 - 00;38;46;03
It sounds like it. So how long did the process take then from design to completion for the whole project?
00;38;46;06 - 00;40;35;20
The whole project was three years. So it was a year and a half to design and document and get planning consent. So while it was chugging its way through the consent authority, which is a very slow process in Sydney in particular, we were documenting the project and then it took us a year and a half to build. It was a wonderful experience.
I thought to myself at the outset of the project, here’s three years of my life and I've got to keep working at the same time to keep my business running. I really want to enjoy this and make it a special experience that I won't ever forget. So in doing that, I came to site with my dog every Saturday morning from seven and left at about two in the afternoon and spent a lot of time with the builders working through things, thinking about things, making sure we're prepared for the next week, and then did two site meetings a week on Tuesday mornings and Thursday mornings came down for a few hours each time and I got know every single person that was on the building site really well. So to that level where you knew where they lived, you knew what their family was like and developed a really strong kind of bond in the process. And many of these people have gone on to work on other projects, but we all know each other now, so friendships form in that process and I look back on it as a really wonderful time in my life where I kind of immersed myself in construction and it gave back more than I had to give it.
It taught me so much about building, about design, about opportunities with projects, about just if you have a vision, put it out there and just let the people come to it and let them do their magic. That doesn't always work perfectly for everybody because some people just don't want to do the hard stuff. They want to do the easy stuff.
But I feel like if you put it out there in the right way, then you will attract the people who want to do the really good projects.
00;40;35;22 - 00;41;04;18
Yeah, it's my favorite part of the job is the people part. Actually, I love to draw, but I love going out into the field and meeting people and listening to them and asking them questions and really feeling out early on how they would solve a problem before I tell them how it's going to be solved because I'm always going to learn something.
So I completely agree with you. You had said that you loved to draw. Who did the drawing for this building? Was it you and a series of other people or and did you do the drawings in 2D and 3D?
00;41;04;20 - 00;43;25;05
I led the team. For me, it was a personal project and that was my opportunity to have very strong and close leadership on every aspect of it, from the architecture to the interior design. In that interior design sort of realm, we custom designed about 13 new products for the project, from chairs to stools to grab rails to door handles to lighting fixtures.
For us, the product design stuff takes a lot of time, but it's very rewarding and we couldn't develop new product for it. But we went down to custom designing a whole lot of special things. We did the architecture and the interiors, and I led the design team. At its peak it was about five or six people working on the project during the documentation phase where in construction we had a full time architect plus myself and I was working actually about 40 hours a week on the project to kind of do all this, meetings and make sure everything was done properly. So I was probably not just a project architect, but a little bit of a developer, manager and managing the consultant to the council and other people in that process as well. And we drew it all in 2D software called Micro Station, and that was one of the last projects we did with that software.
We now use Revit for most of our documentation and we also used a little bit of software called Rhino, and we did a little bit of scripting for laying out pick patterns with that software, able to very quickly change the shape of the catenary and check the light coming into the space and very quickly change all that brick patterning, which is quite unique, sort of the bricks aren't light in a normal brick bound configuration.
They're laid where the offset is very close to the end of the brick. You get this beautiful rifling pattern of the vertical brick joints through the room. And so we used a bit of software for that, and then we made five cardboard models for the space. There was the early version which didn't have a catenary vault. It had a barrel vault in its roof.
And we made two other models of the apartment space and a few test models for the facade of the. So I've come to realize that the CGIs will kind of give you a perspective view on the space. A cardboard model will give you a three dimensional, very fast feeling of what the volumes are like. You see the light coming in.
It's a very different experience and we find that preparing a cardboard model with a CGI is the perfect way to describe a project to our clients. They love them.
00;43;25;12 - 00;43;38;10
Before we move on to one or two other questions, I wanted to go back to sustainability for a second. We talked a little bit about the lack of HVAC system there. Tell us a little bit about the water savings system.
00;43;38;12 - 00;46;18;07
So in an old warehouse building, we have a large proportion of roof to the floorplan. So the building here is just over a thousand square meters in its footprint on the land and more than 80% of that is a sawtooth roof which has tall windows facing south. That's our kind of not sunny side and then the inclined roofs facing pitching towards the north which is our sunny side in the southern hemisphere.
From that we collect all the water and push it into large rainwater tanks and then that's filtered and used for flushing toilets and for irrigating the property. So we have some irrigation pipes in the ground that drip feed the plants in the area in summer, able to harvest all the water and use that to be honest, we could have put much bigger tanks in because it collects so much water in heavy downpours, a subtropical area, you would kind of go through a month where there isn't any rain or two and then quite often have a big downpour where sometimes it will rain for a week without stopping.
So having bigger tanks is the next stage of the project. Actually, we're going to do the next stage, which is another building a few years on from now, and that building will have really big rainwater tanks in there because we can save it up even more for the future. That roof also allowed us to install 260 solar panels, which is about a 95 kilowatt solar farm system, and that generates in its own right more than twice the power that we need in our office.
And so we've set up a little network where we export the power to one of our neighbors and we sell them the power at the rate that they would buy it from the normal supplier. We just have a meter on it and we use that money to start to pay down some of the investment on this very large solar array system.
We also have a backup battery. So every day we fill up the battery and draw down that in the evening and some of that battery is reserved for backup power. If we were to have a power failure, it will help to run our server to shut down slowly and or things like that. We have a stage two for the project and a few years on from now we're going to build an even larger building on a neighboring site, which we also own, and that building will even be more sustained.
We're going to push this even harder. We've just launched our plans to the city to see if we can get approval for it, and it's being favorably received at the moment. But we believe there's a market in Sydney for spaces without air conditioning, with a lot of natural light, with natural ventilation and kind of a unique character that's not your average copper tiled ceiling tiled, sealed office building. I don't think people want that anymore, but we'll find out in the future.
00;46;18;09 - 00;46;33;14
It sounds profoundly unique and profoundly valuable. I mean, that is incredible. So because you're not spending all this money on energy, you're generating enough power to run not only your building, but you're selling it the energy as well. That’s amazing.
00;46;33;17 - 00;47;54;14
Our sort of energy system is quite advanced in allowing many different roofs of buildings in cities to have solar panels and then to blend that power with the power system of the city. So a lot of people have their own solar array systems. And if there's an excess, so a day like today, it's beautiful and sunny in Sydney and right now we would be making more power than we're using without doubt.
And what would be happening is the surplus power would be used to fill up the batteries and once they're filled up, that goes back into the grid for the city and the blend of power is distributed to other buildings in the area. We thought rather than doing that, we could firstly push it to our neighbors and then any top up power comes from the grid and any surplus power goes back into the great.
So it's the network set up to have these blended power sources and that makes a lot of sense because you really are producing the energy at the same place that you're using it. And a roof, for example, isn't a redundant asset in our mind. A roof should be used for, in addition to its performance to keep water out, it should be used to collect energy or to make green spaces for people and other animals like birds and bees to live in, in those spaces as well.
So we see that as an incredibly valuable asset to every building project.
00;47;54;21 - 00;48;07;14
Very forward thinking, really interesting. So one of the last questions got for you, give me one or two things that you guys learned during the design, drawing and construction process on this job. What was new to you?
00;48;07;16 - 00;50;43;16
One thing that I had thought about for a long time that this project absolutely cemented in my mind was this idea of bringing people to the table. So I spoke earlier about having our bricklayers and our engineers and the builder and myself come to the table and just say, Here's the vision of the project. I don't know how to lay bricks, but this is what I thought they might be like.
And they would say, Yes, it works like this, you don't know that. That was really successful. And we did that almost in every single building element. So we would do the same process for the windows, for laying the floor tiles, for laying the roof shading. I kind of lay out here, here all the drawings. This is what I thought about.
This is what we're working towards. Do you think this is the right way of working? And in that process, I got a lot of respect from particularly the tradesmen doing the work because that really happens within they often get told what to do and they don't get asked what their ideas are. And I also realized that it gave them an opportunity to be engaged with the project mentally.
So they felt invested. And for that the reward that we had was we got a higher standard of construction than you would normally see. We got people bringing their ideas to the project and we got friendly, smiling faces on a building site. So it kind of had this great energy about it. So that was kind of good. I've been trying to roll that idea out in our practice where we call them briefing meetings.
We sit down with a contractor before they start preparing their detailed drawings of how to build what they're going to make. And we tell them about the vision. And people are very, very receptive to that. So that's kind of one thing that I learned in the process. I suppose it ignited this idea that I have now that a part of our role is that we could create opportunities for people to shine like tradesmen, to really show their ways and rather than bricklayers as being borderline ordinary bricks in unremarkable buildings, you could do special things.
And the other one I've touched on as well as just I think if you have a vision, then you probably just can just go after that, go looking for the people to collaborate with you and find them and bring them all together so that it's been kind of really invaluable. And I feel like in that process and in collaborating, this always works this way, you need to get to say this is what we're going to try to get out of the project. And in other times you've got to be loose about it and let the collaboration evolve. The design I hate that is not what I want, but you've actually got to back off a little bit from that and listen to them and hear what they're trying to say, because that's what collaboration is.
It's two minds coming together to make something better than what one person could do on their own.
00;50;43;19 - 00;51;37;06
Yeah, I always find when I ask somebody to give me their opinion or to tell me what they think the solution to a particular challenge is even if the idea they give me isn't something that I'd prefer. I always go back and think about it. And sometimes there are parts of that idea that I end up really falling in love with or liking a lot more than I did or incorporating somewhere else.
So I think as architects, we forget. We don't move beyond design all the time. We forget that this is a people business as much as it is about design and it's about money. So, you know, when we get out there in the field, we're working with human beings and to involve them in our jobs and make them invested in the thing that they're making, it ultimately makes a much better product.
So I think that's all very insightful.
00;51;37;06 - 00;51;40;25
The process is way more enjoyable if you do that as well.
00;51;40;28 - 00;51;43;00
Absolutely. My goodness.
00;51;43;03 - 00;52;28;13
The part that comes to mind really for the project is longevity is something I really believe in and we've spoken a bit about sustainability in terms of energy consumption or collecting water, but another layer of sustainability is if you design things to last a long time, then you can make really big gains in projects. So we won quite a few sustainability awards, principally based on this idea of making way more energy than we use and not having air conditioning, which is a real hurdle to sell over in our environment.
The other thing I think is just if you make buildings last for 50, 100 years, then you know, all the embodied energy that goes into making them is really amortized over a long lifespan and becomes much less significant.
00;52;28;15 - 00;52;51;03
Yeah, in college we hear a lot about timeless architecture, right? That's our goal is to make architecture timeless and it's so incredibly challenging to do just that. So I commend you guys on the building out there. It's really wonderful. So after all these years of being an architect or running a firm, if you could give your younger self some career advice, what would you say? What have you learned?
00;52;51;06 - 00;54;23;16
What I think in architecture is that it's a very broad spectrum of opportunities. You could be really good at detailing or you could be really good at design, or you could be really great with clients and consultants and approval, in a way you’re so good with words. What I feel like is that there aren't many people who can do all of those things extremely well.
People tend to have an area that they're good at for people to excel. I feel like you kind of got to go with what you're naturally good and develop and grow that skill and become amazing at that. That's probably what there is to do now that can be architectural detailing, or it could be a type of building that you're interested, or it could be a place you get excited.
Like I get excited about incredible internal spaces. That's my favorite thing to design and that's sort of what I try to build is opportunities with our projects. How do we build these amazing interiors? For me, the outside is secondary to that. I always do the insides first and then come to the outside afterwards. That's my favorite thing. And then I kind of work on the things that I'm not very good at.
I find conceptual design really hard. It exhausts me. I put a lot of time into it. I set my standards very high, so I do it again and again and again. So I get it right. But once I've got the foundation right, it feels like a lot of our projects, everything falls into place. So the second part's much easier.
Okay. I guess in my advice, you don't leave the parts you're not so good alone, but you probably have to recognize where your strengths are and also play to those as well.
00;54;23;18 - 00;54;38;12
Yeah, I always heard in business pick one thing and do it really well and ultimately you'll be successful. So that's a part of it for sure. So, William, it's been great to have you here. Thank you very much for your time. Where can people go to learn more about this Smart Design studio?
00;54;38;18 - 00;55;04;16
Now Website SmartDesignStudio.com has a lot of information about the projects we've completed and our team. And then also just on Instagram, we kind of put a lot of work in to updating people on what's happening, what's currently happening. So that's @Smart.Design.Studio. There's a lot of updates on that side about who we are and how we're working on all the very current information. It's been a great pleasure to be on the podcast again. Thank you for inviting me.
00;55;04;18 - 00;55;24;12
It was great to have you here, William, I learned an awful lot. The building's beautiful and the architecture your firm does is really quite wonderful. So check out the website.
You May Also Be Interested In
We Can Help With Your Next Project
Discover the latest + greatest in design trends, industry news & pro tips from pros.
For all of your project needs, you’ll find everything you need at a Supply Center.
Let Us Know How We Can Help!