CODA 5.0 : 2017 +

Over the past several years Kieran and I have used 4 words to help guide our decisions around work and communicate our core values – joyfulness, generosity, usefulness and stealthiness. We use these within our studio when we talk about an approach to design and we use these when we talk about how we want our practice to engage with others.

Moving from our “dining-table-practice” set-up when we left university 20 years ago to becoming a medium size practice doing public and community work has been a fantastic challenge and a spectacular learning experience. We have described this journey as moving from CODA 1.0 through to our current version 4.0!

We have grabbed every opportunity that presented itself and fought to find opportunities where none seemed to exist.  You could say we have been restless in our desire to keep moving forward and finding new avenues to work and create. In all of these years there has never been a moment where we have felt as though we have “made-it”, but we have been really grateful for all of our opportunities and the steep learning curve that comes from striking out on your own.

20 years has made us nostalgic, it’s made us thankful to be part of a studio that has attracted and been the beneficiary of so many fantastic minds and it has made us think carefully about what we want CODA 5.0 to look like.

We want to continue to work on projects that are complex, engaging and useful to many. We want to continue to develop an inclusive and diverse practice culture that gives every person in our studio the ability to develop to their full potential. To take these aspirations to the next level we decided we needed to be a different kind of practice.

So, CODA 5.0 looks very different. After 20 years of steady growth we are excited about the next chapter and our decision to merge with COX Architecture.  Kieran and I will take on roles as directors and all our staff will join us on the adventure.

By merging with COX Architecture, we have a real opportunity to get stuck into larger, and more complex work and to continue our interest in developing practice culture. The Perth studio of COX has the DNA of two significant West Australian firms, Howlett & Bailey and Forbes & Fitzhardinge Woodland in its make up – with an unprecedented portfolio of exemplary public work across the state and internationally. We have shared values and a shared passion for design. By becoming part of an international practice, we can truly engage in multi-faceted conversations about place and consider how architects can positively affect cities and places everywhere.

For 20 years Kieran and I have enjoyed working toward our shared vision of growing our practice and making an impact. We are excited about broadening this conversation and collaborating with our fellow Perth directors Steve, Greg, Mark, Bret, Matt and Fernando as well as other directors nationally.

Our core values: to be joyful, to be generous, to be useful and to be stealthy come with us. As of July 1, CODA will become COX – I guess you could argue that this is the ultimate stealthy move – we get to keep half the letters of our name!

CODA 1.0 : 1997 – 2002

Turning 20 has made us nostalgic! To celebrate, we’re sharing some of the highlights from our past two decades of practice. Here’s a peak into CODA 1.0, our formative years spent delivering family renos and small commercial commissions out of the Central Office of Design and Architecture – a collaborative practice consisting of us, a photographer, industrial designer, graphics and fashion. Basically, a creative collective resisting the pull of the eastern states!

Yin & Yang

CODA Directors, Emma Williamson and Kieran Wong, were separately interviewed for last weekend’s Yin&Yang article in The West. The result is an insightful (and quite funny!) peak into CODA and what drives us in our work.

Registration success for Akira

We’re very proud of our staff member, Akira Monaghan, who this week passed her Architectural Registration exam! A fantastic achievement, particularly given that she’s been working on a few special projects this year!

School treats kids as adults

The architecture of a new campus inspires learning

The West Australian

Saturday 20th May, 2017

Words: William Yeoman

You mightn’t think so sometimes, but the old saying still stands: treat kids like adults and they’ll behave like adults. This philosophy is evident in every aspect of CODA Studio and Broderick Architects’ unique joint venture, the new Bunbury Catholic College Mercy Campus in Australind.

Bunbury Catholic College Mercy Campus is just one of the many outstanding projects featured in this year’s WA Architecture Awards’ Educational category. Built by Smith Constructions, the $20 million co-educational college for Year 7  – 12 students aims to demonstrate, according to architects’ award citation, ‘that it’s possible to build educational spaces that achieve both the civic presence they deserve, and provide intimate student-scaled experiences.’

With features such as ‘dynamic internal streets’ which have been created to provide ‘ample opportunity to pause and connect’ and ‘moments of delight as brick walls graciously curve and whimsical patterns are created through a deliberate hit and miss pattern’ the architects believe the project ‘reveals the positive impact of joyful and considered school design on both the children and community that it serves.’

Eamon Broderick, of West Leederville-based Broderick Architects, says his firm specialises in schools; Fremantle-based CODA Studio specialises in urban design and interiors. ‘But we did everything together, all the way through,’ he says. ‘You don’t often get a chance to build a new school. More often, you’re adding to an existing school. So this was an exciting opportunity.’

He says that as a first build, not just of a new school but a new community, they wanted to design something that would last for ever. ‘Well, 100 years at least,’ he laughs. Thus the exteriors use ‘masonry’ brick, concrete but also ply – ‘as the primary material, giving permanence and a civic heart to the school.’ There are also sustainability elements such as light-reflecting windows and a bushland rehabilitation agreement.

Indeed, the idea of a civic building was central to the design. ‘As with other schools, the assumption was the broader community would engage with and borrow the spaces,’ Broderick says. ‘We also wanted something that was urban, not suburban, big but not spread out. The campus design is quite compact, mostly two storeys and with everything close together.

The result is a campus that encourages cross-disciplinary interaction. ‘So the science teacher might easily run into the English teacher and share ideas,’ Broderick says. And the students? ‘The exteriors are quite formal but the interiors are colourful and playful,’ he says.

‘For example, the library is known as the Learning Commons. It combines a traditional library, a research facility and a canteen. Kids can make their own tea or coffee, grab something to eat and take their computer or a book and really enjoy the space.’

Even the lecture theatre opens out into the foyer. ‘So if it’s cold or rainy outside you can come in here, eat your lunch and enjoy a performance by the school band or a short film or whatever. It’s quite civilised, it’s about treating kids as adults.’

He says the students have responded ‘very happily’ to the environment. ‘I guess good architecture is an example of how planning can influence behaviour.’ Which is also another example of good education and one that aligns with Bunbury Catholic College’s ‘commitment to the whole person’.

Emma Williamson at PRAXIS 2017

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At this year’s Australian Institute of Architects’ Conference, Emma Williamson joined Huw Turner and Penny Collins, John Wardle and Neil Durbach on stage to provide an 8 minutes insight into practice. This is the transcript of her speech:


Fortuitously the invitation to speak today has coincided with our practice turning 20 and a kind of yearlong “mid-life crisis” that Kieran and I have been having as we look back on what has passed and try to make a plan for the next 20!

I am not going to talk about any projects in particular this morning but I do want to discuss the conscious way in which we have crafted our practice.  To give some context a series of images will run in the background – so hopefully there will be something for everyone!  These represent some of the project work of the last decade and have, for the most part, been captured by Peter Bennetts, a dear friend and collaborator who we have very much enjoyed working with over this time.

Collaboration has always been a big part of the way we wanted to work.  We set up CODA as a multidisciplinary practice straight out of uni, with 2 other couples.  We felt certain we could tackle any design challenge through the coming together of our shared skills, our passion for design, our belief we could make a difference and our youthful enthusiasm.  It was great fun and created a strong foundation from which CODA the architecture practice could then evolve and grow.

We have built important and ongoing relationships. We have been supported by mentors, we have collaborated with artists, developed products with suppliers, collaborated with other architects, and importantly with our clients.  We have experienced enormous professional and personal generosity in building up our practice and we have, in turn, looked out for ways in which we can be generous within our community.

In roughly 5 year bands, the story of our practice has evolved into a series of chapters or versions:

Chapter 1 / CODA 1.0         the naïve multi-disciplinary practice, projects for people we knew, no money, no staff and lots of energy

Chapter 2 / CODA 2.0         the alts and ads, houses, no money, 4 staff, 2 kids, not enough sleep, lots of energy

Chapter 3 / CODA 3.0         the shift from residential toward larger work, no money, 12 staff, 3 kids, not enough sleep, feeling quite tired

Chapter 4 / CODA 4.0         public projects, education projects as well as urban design and masterplanning, still no money, up to 25 staff, 3 kids,  –  did I mention that I am quite tired.

From the beginning we have talked things up.

With nothing to show for ourselves we built a story that was bigger than we were.  We have had a pretty consistent “fake-it-til-you make-it” approach that has propelled us to work toward the space we have somewhat falsely declared we are in!

Early on we struggled with the idea of narrative within the studio.  With little in the way of practice history or a portfolio of work –  and with a desire to open things up rather than demonstrate a single hand – we found ourselves not actually to be great directors because we weren’t decisive enough! And over time we came to realise that people need direction.

We also struggled to reassure our staff that each step or change was part of a grand plan, and we didn’t properly anticipate the need to communicate a practice vision with strength and clarity to our staff. In the early days, there were real challenges around the idea of architecture embracing more invisible work, such as research and urban design, as well as the idea of creating more structure within the studio to allow us to grow.

With the benefit of hindsight these resistors helped us to articulate our position and create yet another story for the studio to grow into.

We came up with 4 words:

To be useful            and do work that could benefit many rather than a few

To be joyful             in the way that we work with one another but also in the spaces that we create

To be generous      in our interactions with others and in seeking out generosity in the way we design space

To be stealthy        in using our skills in ways that can have influence but may not be clearly identifiable as architecture

These aspirations helped to frame the way we work together and where we see opportunities to make an impact.  They galvanised the studio and allowed for many voices and the many valid and valued ways of being an architect to coexist.

In such a visual profession it has been hard to communicate the complexity and importance of some of our more invisible work, even within our studio.  The work cannot be summed up with beautiful photographs or even a few well constructed sentences. This work will remain largely invisible but the outcomes have the potential to affect many more people than a single building – no matter what the scale.

Collaboration is an ambitious goal – and it’s harder to pull off than you might think when you really scrutinise it. Kieran and I have learned through a process of trial and error that collaboration is not a form of socialism; in fact, this makes people nervous and they can’t do their best work when they are operating without boundaries.

The easy form of collaboration is where you have the genius idea and everyone works together to pull it off.  But true collaboration allows for many voices to come together to influence a project and make it richer. You need to have the capacity to put your ego aside.  You need to be ok with moving into terrain where there are potentially more questions than answers – where the problem explodes and becomes even bigger before you can reach a solution.

A successful collaboration needs leadership. The capacity to guide these voices and move the project forward. The capacity to recognise a good idea – even when it’s not yours – and the ability to make connections and join dots so that multiple ideas can come to influence the final outcome.  Our practice has evolved out of a dialogue in which we are not experts but we are deeply curious.  We are not afraid to ask questions in place of giving answers and we have learned to listen.

We use all the typical tools of an architecture studio – we sketch, we draw, we make models and we talk.  Importantly, we create a story for each project. It needs to be robust enough to change hands and have different “ghost-writers” and it needs to be strong enough to survive the hand of a ruthless editor – that by cost, or any other reason for that matter, sees fit to trim the fat off a scheme.

With the benefit of 20 years of practice we can no longer claim the space of the fresh faced, enthusiastic young turks that think they can do anything. We are mid-career. And we have a portfolio of work to show for our efforts.  The images are still moments in time and behind each of these is a unique and different story that was created through the collective efforts of our studio and collaborators.

Thank you

#codais20: celebrating our staff

As part of our 20th Anniversary, we’ve created a series of short movies that celebrate the various elements of our business over the past two decades. Projects, office dogs, craft activities, lunches we’ve eaten and cocktails we’ve drunk – no aspect of our office culture has been left unturned! First up is a flash through the 56 talented people who have worked with us over this time. Enjoy!