London-based architectural firm Make has arrived in Sydney with three major projects under its belt including Brookfield Office Properties’ massive Wynyard Place project. But according to lead partner Ian Lomas it’s not so much the studio’s European background and experience that have determined design solutions, but local conditions – such as the light, the height of the sky and even the way people move.
Lomas says that since winning a design competition for Wynyard a couple of years ago, he and others working on the project had been flying to Australia every month or so, but with more projects to work on, it made sense to set up a full-time Australian presence.
“You have to be somewhere to understand it,” he says. “You have to walk around and feel it and see how people live and how the sun is.”
In addition to Wynyard Place, the firm’s projects also include Pontiac Properties’ The Sandstones Buildings in Bridge Street, and Macrolink and Landream’s residential development at 71 Macquarie Street.
Internationally, the practice has designed major projects across residential, hospitality, retail, education, sport, culture, masterplanning and commercial office developments including Facebook’s UK HQ in London and HSBC’s private banking headquarters in Geneva.
At Wynyard, which the firm is designing in conjunction with Architectus, the project comprises a new mixed-use tower with frontages to George Street and Carrington Street located above Wynyard station and the refurbishment of an adjacent heritage building, Shell House.
The design includes a retail, hospitality and public space element on the ground plane that extends the width of the building and activates the station as a destination.
Lomas says his approach to design starts with responding to climate and to how people live in the city.
Coming from northern Europe, the first thing he had to “get the head around” is where the sun is and the angles of the sun. In some ways, this means “starting from scratch” as the light, the sun and the climate are so different.
For Wynyard, that meant some of the initial design moves did not work as he expected in terms of shading and penetration of light into the floorplates.
While the project achieved a 6 Star Green Star Office v3 by Design and a 5.5-star NABERS rating, Lomas says that when it comes to sustainability, he doesn’t like the “box ticking” approach.
“If you just talk about ratings, you’re missing the point.”
Instead, he says, the goal is to design the best building and then you’ll find the design will have met most of the requirements for a formal rating.
A major difference designing commercial office space for Sydney, as opposed to northern Europe, is that ensuring people have opportunities to be outside and connect to nature is vital, he says.
Design needs to maximise opportunities for people who work in offices to work outside.
“In northern Europe it is a fantasy to do that,” Lomas says.
Other key elements are maximising shading and capturing the winds from the harbour to ensure comfort.
The Sandstones Project
With The Sandstones project, which is to be a hotel, the design aims to ensure natural ventilation to all of the rooms. People want to be able to open the window and feel the city – that is part of the experience of being in a place, Lomas says.
Understanding the people in a place is fundamental. He says the difference between how well PassivHaus works in Germany in comparison to the UK is a good example. The Germans make greater use of those systems, but while they have been tried in the UK, people want to open the windows, which defeats the system.
“You have to think, how do people instinctively use spaces? People try to sidetrack the systems.
“You’ve got to listen and learn.”
Another fundamental is the way people move to and from a place and in and out of it. During the initial stages of designing Wynyard Place, Lomas and the team walked around that part of the city. They sat in the adjacent Wynyard Park and watched people. They looked at how the views changed as they moved along the streets.
People can surprise you with how they move, he says.
“I love the collisions of people in the city, how they [socially] bump into each other. That underpins everything.”
In terms of the Wynyard Place design, a pedestrian link has been incorporated that connects Carrington Street and George Street and invites people into and through the building.
Lomas says it’s also important to understand “how the building hits the ground” and how the light hits them.
Worm’s eye view beats bird’s eye view
One of his architecture teachers used to tell the students not to look at their models from the bird’s eye view of above, but from the “worm’s eye view” of ground level.
“This is how people are experiencing the buildings.”
Looking from the social and community perspectives is also part of sustainability, he says.
“If you create buildings that are worse for people to live, work and walk in, [the design] has failed.
“I want to create buildings that can evolve … then they maintain their value. A lot of buildings built for one use or one period fail because they are not relevant [anymore].”
It comes down to how buildings sit in the city and how they engage with people.
At Wynyard Place, the design creates a “frame” and a “stage set” that can change as people’s ways of working change, he says.
At The Sandstones, the challenge is to bring people into public buildings that have always been closed to the public before.
“They are some of Sydney’s finest pieces of architecture; they have so much history and beauty,” Lomas says. The design team aims to “keep the soul” of the buildings.
The buildings’ original designs, with verandahs and wintergardens, have some fundamental elements of contemporary sustainability. The team is going back to the 19th century architects’ and engineers’ drawings to see how the buildings were originally naturally ventilated.
Every project starts with an analysis of why something is there, he says.
Architects prefer constraints
Lomas says he regards greenfield projects as “probably the hardest sites” to design for.
“Architects love to have constraints to fight against. That inspires creativity.”
With a greenfield site, an architect needs to understand the climate, sun, wind and how people move around that site before designing for it.
“If you’ve got a [part of the] city where people can’t move around, and it ignores climate, it doesn’t work,” he says.
All projects have to give “that sense of inclusiveness”.
Community engagement is a fundamental part of the practice’s work, so the architects understand where people are coming from.
“You can learn so much from the meetings and workshops.”
In materials terms, Lomas says he also looks at the local area as a starting place. What materials can be sourced locally, and what has been used locally in the past that gets better with age?
Metals, with the way they develop patination, architectural ceramics and stone all look better in 50 years time than when a building is first completed.
In Sydney, the local sandstone and the way it reacts to sun is “gorgeous”, he says.
“There’s something about local materials and how they respond in that light [of a place].”
The light inspires boldness
Lomas says that in Sydney, the light with its high definition makes everything “sharp and crisp”, including creating sharp shadows.
The height of the skies is also a factor, and the blue, so different to the UK’s low cloudy skies. The blue of the sky and the sharp shadows let you know where you are, he says.
“You have to throw away the northern European palette. You have to be a lot bolder here, the light doesn’t allow you to be timid. Things need to be strong.”