Thrupp and Summers house by Kerry and Lindsay Clare

By Genevieve Lilley

This year, the Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal, has been awarded to the husband-and-wife team, Lindsay & Kerry Clare. It is the first time a couple has been awarded the honour, and only the second time in its 50 years that a woman has won it (the other was fellow-Queenslander Britt Andresen in 2002). The award was presented last night at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, which the Clares designed, (as directors of Architectus.)

See also sustainability award for Tony Arnel

As the jury report summarises, “Lindsay and Kerry Clare have made an enormous contribution to the advancement of architecture and particularly sustainable architecture, with a strong held belief that good design and sustainable design are intrinsically linked”. They make beautiful buildings, of all different scales, and they are always timeless. They have done so since establishing their practice in 1979, and their relative youth suggests their best work may yet be ahead of them. They have always worked with each other, and also in many different forms of collaboration with others.

Their work is not so much dramatic or striking but their projects display contextual sensitivity, clarity of design and environmentally sustainable principles. Their projects have won prestigious awards, including 28 State and National awards from the AIA for housing, public, educational, commercial and recycling projects.

As Queensland Government architect Philip Follent states, “The project output though relatively small in scale was diverse and, although attracting good private sector clients whose expectations were almost always delightfully surpassed, the forays into government work, despite, for example, the international acclaim for the Cotton Tree Pilot Housing Project did not yield an abundance of public projects.”

So in the mid 1990s, Lindsay and Kerry left their office on the Sunshine Coast, and joined the NSW Government Architect’s Office as design directors. In five years they achieved many urban design successes and made an impact with buildings such as the No 1 Fire Station in Sydney City. Since that time they have been design directors with Architectus.

Major awards include the 2008 AIA Queensland Public Architecture Award for the University of Sunshine Coast Chancellery, the 2007 RAIA National Public Architecture Award for the GOMA and the RAIA Robin Boyd Award in 1992 and 1995. The recently presented 25 Year Award for Enduring Architecture (Queensland State Awards) for the White Residence, designed while in practice with Ian Mitchell, is a testament to the quality and longevity of their work.

Kerry is also a member of the City of Sydney Design Advisory Panel, providing advice on public and private developments to maintain high standards of urban design. She also serves on the Design Review Panel (SEPP 65) for Randwick and Waverley Councils where she assists in the review of development applications.

Architects are usually heralded for the breathtaking wins and building successes, but the Clares’ skill is often equally revealed in how they handle the less glamorous parts of their profession – the knockbacks, working with others, working while raising families, managing poor cashflow, the frustrations of the job.

Biographies of famous architects are littered with disaffected children, tormented ex-wives, miserable employees and unhappy clients. Lindsay and Kerry’s complementary natures resulted in a no-nonsense approach to coordinating family life, work and study. Kerry was the steadfast anchor to Lindsay’s looser sketches and ideas.

The Clares have raised five children, run a practice producing numerous award winning projects and still always hang on to the detail that separates a fine piece of architecture from merely expedient building. I have known them since the mid-1980s when they shared projects with my father Geoffrey Pie, and can report they are magnanimous, determined, calm and generous.

They eschew fashions and trends in their work. It is strange that the couple are now recognised partly because sustainability is fashionable, a topic of much discussion (and rightly so). Their buildings have always been designed with the moniker of sustainability woven into their very essence. Their work teaches us that ensuring good ventilation, and playing with natural light, and maybe collecting water is a given, or an opportunity in design, an integral part of every decision made.

The Clares’ approach also teaches us that sometimes the way to build the things you want is to work with others rather than wait till it comes to you. They teach us that parents can have children, work, study and teach; that the latter rewards the tutor as much as it helps the pupil. They teach us that often the way to make a difference to planning policy is to be involved in its very making. Their work gives enormous inspiration for those who like designing at a small scale, and who deliberately choose to work across a range of scales. The medal recognises that architects can give as much to as they get from practice and public life.

Lindsay and Kerry Clare are architects in the Renaissance sense, in that they are driven, obsessed with architecture, live it, breathe it, yet are also fully rounded people. They are interested, interesting, fun, passionate about travel, tell good stories, make great lunch guests, give time to others. They have influenced hundreds of others who worked with them, below them and around them.

The Gold Medal is the Australian Institute of Architects’ highest accolade. It recognises distinguished service by Australian architects who have designed or executed buildings of high merit, produced work of great distinction resulting in the advancement of architecture, or endowed the profession of architecture in a distinguished manner. It is particularly nice when its recipients have given so much already and yet will undoubtedly give more yet.

Genevieve Lilley

Genevieve Lilley is director of Genevieve Lilley Architects, which was founded in London in 1999 and reopened in Sydney in 2005 after Genevieve returned to Australia from the UK and US.