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MUMBAI ` 200 SEPT 2012 VOL 26 (1) FOCUS 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate: Wang Shu ARCHITECTURE The Leisure Pavilion: Ar. Palinda Kannangara Janakee Sadan: Artha Studio ART ArcelorMittal Orbit: Anish Kapoor & Cecil Balmond


Indian Architect & Builder - Sept 2012

let’s partner


Reflections on Architectural ‘Practice’ James Murray talks about TANDEM - his studio in collaboration with Tim Hill - and their journey to discover architecture that defines their ideas as they initiate their work in India, in conversation with Indian Architect & Builder. Image: courtesy TANDEM Design Studio & Genesis Burson Marsteller, South Asia

James Murray is the co-founder of TANDEM Design Studio. TANDEM was formed in the year 2005 by James Murray and Tim Hill with a focus on architecture that reflects design and sustainability. The studio’s sphere of operation is broad and encompasses large-scale urban design master planning, medium-scale residential and commercial dwellings. The studio believes that the best approach towards ‘responsible design’ is to apply their experience in achieving sustainable benchmarks at all stages of a project. Since its inception, TANDEM has been involved in a variety of projects ranging from residential to commercial for a diverse range of clients from Australia and overseas.

IA&B: What is TANDEM studio all about? What is, if we were to call it, your ‘Manifesto’? JM: At university, my favourite manifesto was by the Italian futurists; evidence that even the most misguided and bizzare proclamations could lead to interesting work nonetheless. When my partner Tim Hill and I started TANDEM in 2005, we were only sure of a few things; we wanted to be our own bosses, we wanted to able to make a living, and we had no idea how we were going to do it. As we found our way through our first projects, we discovered that there was much we had taken on working together at our previous employers and much of this needed to be discarded if we were to find our own voice. After seven years we are probably not much closer to a coherent manifesto but we have found recurring themes and interests that have emerged and evolved sometimes from that baggage that we tried to throw away during our initial rebellion. One expression we coined early on still holds true: “Every project deserves a new beginning.” At the core of our identity lies a need to treat each project as an opportunity to explore new ideas; at times this is as much for our own benefit as the clients’. “Our proof of concept is the built form”; in some ways this is a conventional approach to the definition of architecture and yet it captures our need to see ideas tested in the realities and vagaries of the construction industry. “Sustainability is intrinsic and inseparable from good design”; this captures our approach to finding ways to ‘design in’ the initiatives that maximise a

building’s performance, making it near impossible to remove them and ideally difficult to see them. We react strongly against the bolt-on approach to sustainability that puts technological systems over sensible design and equates to a building as a high-tech machine that must look like one to be green. We owe some of this approach to our time working on Federation Square where success was judged by how a well-designed building or building element was able to improve performance, and also engage at other levels; a case of not one or the other but ‘both’. The labyrinth passive-cooling system used beneath the plaza at Federation Square is a great example of an integral system that provides both the support structure for the plaza as well as the labyrinth through which air is pumped and cooled for re-use on other areas of the project. These are some, but not all, of the themes we have found within our work. IA&B: How do you work? Can you tell us about your design approach? JM: To some extent our design approach is the core of what we are about. To say that we are the product of our experiences both at university and in practice is to understand that we have deliberately appropriated some. Other techniques that have helped developed this inclusive design culture include making physical models of the project at all stages. We find having all objects that can be handled, scrutinised and attacked, moves the design forward rapidly and, more importantly, allows a forum for all members of the office to engage with the project. Part of our design process accepts that Indian Architect & Builder - Sept 2012


moving between mediums, whether it be sketches, physical or computer models, can lead to loss of information or translation issues, but can also allow happy accidents and opportunities for recalibrating the design that are lost if a design is kept confined to a single-process tangent. IA&B: You have worked on various projects at varying scales. What would you call your ‘language’? Is there a thread that connects all your work? JM: I guess the simple answer is that our design approach is our ‘language’. We are not interested in developing signature elements or aesthetics that define our work; each project is unique and as such requires its own logic, approaches and reason. This is not to say that we do not re-use any elements of our previous designs; if you were to look across our projects as a whole you would see recurring materials such as exposed concrete floors, exposed structural timber beams and cladding. Also evident is an interest in pattern; often manifested through the simple articulation of conventional building materials; on the Kensington Lighthouse it was slippages of slightly different tones of corrugated roof sheets; at Creeds Farm, a variation of this technique was used on the external timber cladding which requires continuous horizontal jointing due to panel size. At another level we try to find interest in the most economical and banal of materials; in the case of the interior of Charcoal Lane Restaurant we explored this slippage pattern further using vertical-orientated standard white tiles. My hope is that an outsider looking at our work would find continuity in our work through the attention paid to the particularities of each project; be they client, climate, site, context, budget, construction techniques, cultural and social influences. Our success, we believe, is tied to our ability to find synergies between these interests and hopefully unearth and reveal connections in unexpected ways. IA&B: Theory & Practice – tell us about your perception of the two since you decided to go back to school after working. JM: My interests lie around where the two connect; theory for theories’ sake and built works with no theoretical context are two poles I try to avoid. RMIT, led by the distinguished academic Leon van Schaik, has a Master’s course that takes invited practices and asks them to reflect upon the work of the practice, why they work the way they do, what they hope to do and does this in a nurturing critical environment. Tim Hill and I were invited to participate in 2009 and completed the Master’s in 2011. Running a practice is about doing - day in, day out. The act of doing takes priority over everything and leaves little time for research or reflection. We found the disruption of removing ourselves from the office and placing our work in a new context liberating and revitalising. The act of reframing our work and theorising about what the work means to us captured many elements that were there in the doing but never articulated. This helped us twofold; explaining what we do and why to an audience outside clients gave us new ways of thinking about ourselves and as importantly allowed us to better explain what we trying to do with the people in our office. Indian Architect & Builder - Sept 2012

Surrounding ourselves with other practitioners during our Master’s allowed us an insight into what is happening around us and how similar theoretical beginnings were creating quite different lineages amongst our colleagues. While I see our practice as strengthened through our connection with University, I am glad that our experience was not operating in the abstract and was directly tied to our work and processes. IA&B: Australia and India are poles apart as countries and cultures. What is your understanding of the Indian landscape? How do you see your architecture in an Indian context? JM: Having had limited exposure to the Indian landscape, I cannot pretend to have extensive understandings of the complexities and intricacies of one of the most diverse and fascinating arenas to work within. I have been fortunate to have listened to some great thinkers while on two recent trips and what is very clear is the enormity of growth and the seriousness of the problem responding and planning for this growth. While we do not share the scale of growth, Melbourne nonetheless has experienced a rapid population increase that has put growing strain on its infrastructure and threatens its status as one of the world’s most liveable cities for many people who cannot afford to live in suburbs close to the city. In planning new cities such as the 10 new centres proposed between Delhi and Mumbai, there are lessons that can be learnt from the relatively new city of Melbourne as well of course as the ancient cities in India. The need for density to avoid the sprawl that has spread 40km from Melbourne’s CBD can be tackled in a multitude of ways; the most interesting of which tend to mimic what happens naturally within established cities. The need for master plans that encourage diversity of function and building stock as well as multiple layers of transport and infrastructure tailored to the pedestrian rather than the car require diverse design teams to enact. At a building level our interest is in creating economical high-performance projects that are site-specific; responding to the local climate, context and cultural conditions which vary hugely across the states of India. Using the same collaborative and integrated processes, working with specialists with local experience, we would hope to produce projects that have utilised our design processes and systems that relate and engage with the Indian conditions. IA&B: When you say “Research is an ongoing and integrated process in the TANDEM office,” what exactly is the office involved in for research? JM: At one level, every architect who has spent time on projects that are not billable is conducting research. The difficulty is making time for these activities that, at first, may not seem directly related to a specific issue within the office. We believe that in order to avoid stagnating, there needs to be a critical body of internal investigation that can fuel future projects. This may be as simple as keeping abreast of developments in material and construction technologies. Everyone would have heard of the success firms like Google have had with allowing, in fact, forcing employees to “free play” on things that interest


them. We have found that activities that take you outside the office either physically or conceptually nearly always reap some benefit. Currently, areas of interest that we are researching include emerging materials such as CLT, cross laminated timber, which has been used to construct a 10-storey timber-framed high-rise in London. We are working with Curtin University and Melbourne University to submit for a grant to research into possible efficiencies within the construction sector utilising BIM modelling processes that take a project from conception to construction and, importantly, to the operating of the facility. Our focus is on how these approaches can be utilised by SMEs allowing productivity gains that keep these struggling smaller-scale practices competitive by giving them the tools to deliver more efficient, and therefore, better performing and more economical buildings. IA&B: When you say customised BIM technologies, what exact role does TANDEM play in customisation? Do you rigourously work on BIM systems? JM: Every project in our office is worked through using our BIM system. Initially we were merely continuing the processes we learnt and developed while on Federation Square. This followed the orthodox approach of creating a schematic computer model that was developed and detailed as the design progressed, eventually becoming the model that is used to generate 2D drawings from. This system has well-documented benefits that increase with customisation to suit practices particular approaches. During our seven years of operation, we have stayed abreast of developments on the software front and made a decision early on to stick with a single platform; Bentley Micro Station & Architecture. This has allowed us to refine our systems for visualisation design and documentation and maintain a single model for all stages of the project. The next level of customisation and one that we see as the future is the ability to take the BIM system and use it to produce a 3D model that is useful and used for all stages of the design-build-operate cycle. This is where our research and initial trials working with other consultants hopes to lead to an integrated delivery model where efficiencies are realised at all stages of the project. We have recently completed a test case for Federation Square which utilises a team of architects, MEP engineers and FM specialists to produce an as-built model that allows the owners of the facility to manage, audit and maintain their facilities much more efficiently. IA&B: Tell us about your project plans in India. What are you planning to build here? How do you plan to work? JM: We hope to realise work in India that exploits our experience working on cultural and commercial projects; we are not sector-specific but are more interested in finding clients who value innovation and new approaches to old questions. In order to deliver a project we are keen to collaborate with India-based designers and consultants who bring local knowledge and help us to

negotiate cultural, political and statutory questions as well as contributing to the design dialogue. Our experience working in countries outside Australia with local partners suggests that the size and type of work is not so important as the open dialogue and respect between parties. We believe the flow of knowledge should be equal in both directions and look to set up long-term alliances. We believe we have much to offer at the level of site masterplanning, working as part of a team, and are currently part of a consortium of five Victorian companies offering complete design and project management services for a 35-tower residential complex, north of Mumbai. In addition, we are looking for projects that can leverage from our experience working on cultural and civic buildings such as museums. TANDEM has been in the fortunate position of working on the two major galleries in Victoria and the largest privately owned gallery in the southern hemispheres, the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. Our long-term goal is to invest in India through an office based there that will be able to service the market locally as well as share projects in Australia and other countries such as China. IA&B: Who were your mentors? Whom do you idealise? JM: I have been fortunate to work for and with some exceptional architects as well as being taught by people who have deeply affected my views and approaches. My final year tutor at RMIT was a practicing architect, Peter Brew, who continues to quietly inspire and create modest yet beautiful projects while camouflaged within big-name practices. Other mentors from university include Peter Raisbeck and Prof Leon Van Shaik AO. After graduating, I worked for a large commercial practice where the director, Tim Hurburgh, gave me a huge amount of independence and responsibility; something I try to foster with my own staff. I also had a complete re-education through my seven years of work at Lab Architecture Studio. Here my greatest mentor, and at times tormentor, Peter Davidson worked tirelessly to push the staff beyond what they thought possible of themselves and the work they produced. Also, my mum! She has an amazing eye for art and design and has always been a huge support. I still send through designs for her opinion, she has the brutal honesty you only get with family (or Peter Davidson). Finally, things tend to come unstuck when I begin idealising people; whenever I become convinced that a person has the answers, I lose critical reason. This happened a few times at University and resulted in some failed projects that looked like bad regurgitations of another person’s approach. I enjoyed a time when I believed Carlo Mollino was God as the man designed beautiful buildings, furniture, cars, airplanes and superb interiors. Unfortunately the more I researched the more it seemed he was a very human individual, slightly perverse and very selfish; no more design idols for me. Indian Architect & Builder - Sept 2012

Let's Talk - Sept 2012