Sally Weerts on Gen Y and Life at CODA

Sally joined CODA whilst completing her Masters of Architecture at Curtin University. As a student, she made a million models for us and, following her graduation, was offered a permanent position. As a graduate, one of her first projects was working with Emma on our new studio in central Freo, which provided her an opportunity to be on site and amidst the action.


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Sally, the design and delivery of our studio was a quick process, and almost from the beginning you were onsite responding to questions and issues from the builders. I imagine this would have been quite challenging! How did you enjoy your role in this project?

As a fresh graduate this is one of those experiences that you always hope for so early in your career. I was lucky enough to be working on a really great project as well as working closely with one of the Practice Directors, Emma Williamson, whose guidance and tuition is invaluable.

Not only was I exposed to variety of procedures and systems specific to the practice of architecture, but also due to the nature and pace of the work, I was afforded the opportunity to work closely with the builder and sub-consultants.

Having the opportunity to learn directly from trades really changed the way I think about construction now. Often problems that had seemed complex to me were made simple through talking to the right person with the right knowledge.

I think its relatively easy in our profession to become detached from design work when most of it happens in the computer or as lines on paper. The way CODA practices has always enabled the process to be a lot more hands on and connected with not only the work but all the people that are involved in the process of making architecture.

Everyone at CODA was really pleased when you were shortlisted for the Gen Y competition! Could you tell us about your team and how you came to work together?

Mitch, Amy and I have fostered a close friendship over a number of years.

I studied with Mitch at Curtin and Amy also graduated from Interior Architecture a couple of years before us. Mitch and I had always shared similar views and interests and both of us centred our dissertation research around the notion of small footprint living and the complex and fascinating landscape of Western Australian suburban housing.

When the competition was advertised it was a really easy conversation to have with them both as we had always discussed working together in the future, and more than anything the competition brief was of interest to each of us individually.

Throughout the process of the Generation Y competition it seemed relatively easy for us to maintain a separate yet equal role within the project. We believe that the project stands as testament to how well we work together and we’re all looking forward to our next competition!


What were the key elements that drove your final design?

We had a number of critical design discussions to help clarify what this was for us; it helped that we ourselves were probably considered part of the target audience for this project brief: young, working professionals trying to find a foot into the housing market.

We asked ourselves: what do we value in the notion of ‘home’ and how can architecture endorse this? For us the project became about a reawakening of a suburban nostalgia that is specific to generation Y, one that rekindles childhood memories about the way a house engages with its neighbourhood.

The intent of the ground floor space is to engage the occupant with the street and the neighbourhood in a way that inverts traditional spatial relationships that place habitable outdoor spaces at the back of the house. By shifting these activities to the front of the house and designing the edges of the ground floor envelope to be habitable the house starts to interact with the street on all facades. It’s a house that is about reconnects with the suburb to begin to generate a culture of living closer together.

Included in this newsletter is a link to the trailer for a documentary called Tiny that discusses the small house movement gaining momentum in the US. At CODA, you’re currently working on two family houses that both share limited budgets and small footprints. What is your take on this idea that it’s possible to re-imagine the way in which our homes function?

This has always been of interest to me as I think it’s something specifically that the ‘Perthian’ easily loses sight of living in such abundance. Our parameters in terms of physical space are virtually limitless and this coupled with a thriving economy that is sustained by our ability to harvest our resources has meant we now live in sprawling suburbs and in houses that are built to their very edges. It really interesting to think of ways we can be more modest in our consumption of space but still have such a unique lifestyle.

The notion of small footprint living is not only a more environmentally responsible way of thinking about architecture but also a socially sustainable approach to building communities and neighbourhoods. As a designer, being able to create spaces that are meaningful, specific and show restraint is such a rewarding exercise. Both houses I’m currently working on at CODA are testing these ideas and demonstrate that small footprint living doesn’t necessarily equate to compromises, on the contrary there is a richness and meaningfulness to each space that is the result of careful design.

What’s the best thing about what you do? 

I have always found delight in the process of making and the idea of craft, but I do believe the prospect of being able to be a part of something that is meaningful to people’s lives is what makes this profession the most rewarding. Every project has its challenges and I’m learning every day, I don’t think that’s something that will ever stop.  Knowing that I am working on projects that are relevant to the peoples lives and the pressing need for a new approach to housing more broadly is very fulfilling. I feel fortunate that I can say that.