Are we out of touch? Or out of time? A challenge of relevance

Another article from the most recent issue of The Architect, written by CODA Director, Kieran Wong:

In Perth, I think the great challenge of our time is the growth of our city, and how to make it more inclusive, denser through better designed infill and with higher community amenity. This is a vital and urgent conversation that architects need to be part of. So why are we struggling to get an influential seat at the table? How can our profession can maintain its relevance, its credibility and be responsive to the changing needs of society?  How can we influence the future of our cities?

I truly believe that design thinking and our skills as architects are an essential part of the mix in working on the complex problems that we face as a society. This includes the increasingly important challenge around infill and the densification of our city, but our experience at the front line of this reveals both community unease and a general ambivalence towards our profession.

When I speak to other architects there is a sense of frustration in the system (beyond the usual craziness of the “Utopia” TV show antics of working with any bureaucracy) of how our voices, our skills and our ability to synthesise, intuit and respond to the complex problems of our cities is ignored. Much has been written about this, and the hand-wringing is often pre-figured by a nostalgic gaze but we need to build a positive relationship with the future of our profession, and its ability to be useful, generous and (if needed) stealthy.

A few years ago I attended “Transform: Altering the Future of Architecture”,  an amazing pre-conference event prior to the national AIA conference in Melbourne.  Organized by Parlour, the discussions and the presentations were amongst the best I’ve seen at a conference of architects. One comment in particular stuck in my mind, confirming some of my long held suspicions. Karen Burns, Parlour co-founder, academic and researcher summarised the findings of the Parlour research, outlining the shocking disparity and inequity of our profession along gender lines. But at the end of her compelling slideshow, describing the equity challenge of women in senior roles, the long working hours culture, the lack of flexibility, the cliff of motherhood, and its disproportionate impact upon working women in the profession she said (and I paraphrase) “after all this research, and a career of looking at this problem as a feminist, I’ve started to think that this is less a problem of gender, and more a problem of class”.

Architecture as a profession is most certainly inequitable along lines of gender. The proportion of women in senior (equity-principal or director) positions in Australian practices is tiny. But the challenge of diversity, of equitable representation in our profession, is broad.  On so many levels we are failing to represent the communities we serve and it is possible that this is challenging our relevance.

A couple of years ago, Emma and I taught a design studio for Masters of Architecture students looking at the possible growth and infill of Perth transport corridors. These corridors are spread across the breadth of metropolitan Perth and previously identified as growth corridors by a joint project of the Greens and AUDRC .  The students were asked to research a corridor each, with a view to selecting a key site along its length. In our first session I asked the students to place a pin on a large map of Perth of where they lived. There was a tight cluster of pins in the western suburbs, one in Fremantle and one in Scarborough. Interestingly each student chose a site at the closest point to the CBD or western suburbs as their corridor would allow. No-one chose a fringe suburb, or a site on the outskirts. Was it that is was not relevant to them or do such flat suburban landscapes offer little in the way of architectural heroics? I was reminded of Karen Hitchcock’s memorable piece in The Monthly on medical students:

It’s hard to argue that the ideal medical workforce should be mono in culture, class and gender, which was what traditional (university) entrance requirements mostly got you. Come from the same place, hang out together every day for another five or six years, maybe get a few lectures on cultural diversity, and then flood the entire country.

The groups who are least represented in higher education – especially in medicine – are also those with the poorest health: people from low socio-economic backgrounds, and indigenous Australians. Two-tiered private/public everything doesn’t help. But when it comes to tertiary education, studies consistently show that one of the major barriers to these groups even applying is the perception that they do not belong there.1

Switch medicine to architecture, and “poor health” to “poor design” and she makes the point I am trying to make most eloquently. Like the study and practice of medicine, a lack of diversity in architecture is not a new issue (it has always been served by and for the middle classes) but given our seemingly constant worry about “where will architecture be in 15 years”? and “what is the future of practice?”, I wonder why more is not made of our lack of diversity, of gender, of race and of class as being one of the reasons we are falling out of view?

There is overwhelming research that shows there are inherent biases in groups that are singular in their composition and this creates a self-perpetuating cycle of rewarding and promoting others who are like them. We see this in research showing corporations who believe they reward on merit, in fact display the greatest levels of gender bias in promotion and have the biggest pool of (white) men at the top making the decisions. We like to support people who are like us, who think like us and look like us. They reflect our values, and confirm our suspicions of others as being less competent or less knowledgeable.

From a designer’s point of view this can make for a disastrous recipe – an inability to make good (broadly informed) decisions or understand complex problems, differing points of views and values that are part of the communities we work in. A profession that is not diverse or equitable in representation risks making decisions that reflect a very narrow view of the world, providing “answers” to “them” on the basis of our superior knowledge and competence.

We also face the risk that our skills and capabilities are ignored because (as well put by Sam Perversi-Brooks in his essay on Parlour 2) the work that we do has less and less relevance to more and more people.

Design skill and design thinking have never been so important to the challenges we face as a city, and so we must think through ways in which our profession and our people can become more reflective of the communities that we serve. Could it be through quotas in our universities? Or targeted scholarship or entry pathways for more diverse communities to enter our architecture programs? Practice plays a role of course, and we need better mentoring and support for architects of diverse backgrounds. Perhaps in practice we should institute HR policies that remove name, ethnicity and other identifying features from CV’s as part of our recruitment process? Sonia Sarangi’s sobering essay3 on Parlour quoted Alison Booth from the ANU Crawford School of public Policy whose research demonstrated:

To get as many interviews as an Anglo applicant with an Anglo-sounding name, an Indigenous person must submit 35 per cent more applications, a Chinese person must submit 68 per cent more applications, an Italian person must submit 12 per cent more applications, and a Middle Eastern person 64 per cent more applications.4

Architecture media needs to play a stronger role too, recognizing the often invisible work that good design thinking can do in our cities and communities that doesn’t result in a “hero shot” but perhaps in a more inclusive place for people.

The Institute’s Awards program and its own marketing of architecture could be considered in terms of this. If we were to place a pin on a map of Perth of award winning projects, like our design studio students, the clustering would be more intense around areas of privilege. We work for people like us, and we promote people like us, and thus the broader community thinks (quite rightly sometimes) that we are simply out of touch. We need to broaden and diversify the way we talk about architecture and the work that architects do.

There is no easy answer to this, but I do know that architecture must stay relevant to the community in the broadest possible terms if we are to have any hope of having a viable profession in the near future. Maybe if more types of people were architects our ability to maintain a relative level of influence, relevance and credibility would be more assured?

1.Karen Hitchcock, The Student Lottery, The Monthly July 2016

2. Class And Creed in Australian Architecture, Sam Perversi-Brooks


3. Sonia Sarangi, ‘Who’s afraid of ethnic diversity?’ July 14th, 2016

4. Alison Booth, ‘Job hunt success is all in a name’,The Canberra Times, 4 March, 2013




This Friday CODA Director, Kieran Wong, will be presenting at the Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference (IBECC16), which is being jointly hosted by UWA’s Centre for Social Impact and School of Indigenous Studies. He joins over 100 speakers, including Ben Wyatt MLA and Marcia Langton, who will contribute to a range of topics on indigenous business covering the creative industries, northern wealth and business achieving social change. The focus of Kieran’s presentation will be on the masterplanning and community engagement work that CODA undertook on Groote Eylandt in the North Territory.

Click here to read more about the conference, and to secure your ticket. We thoroughly agree with Professor Paul Flatau when he says, ‘you will become immersed in some of the most interesting topics ever to be discussed in Australia!’

Emma Williamson’s reflections on the AIA’s gender equity committee

The latest issue of The Architect focusses on equity, both in the way the profession operates internally and also in the way it addresses issues of social inequity through design. In this article CODA Director, Emma Williamson, reflects on her time as Chair of the Australian Institute of Architect’s National Gender Equity Committee.

The Architect, Spring Edition 2016

Can you describe the purpose of the committee?

The National Committee for Gender Equity was established in 2013 and through a couple of somewhat unexpected twists and turns (read pushes and prods) I found myself on the committee and then as the founding chair.

The mandate for the committee is to enact the AIA’s Gender Equity policy, looking at the practices of the Institute itself as well as developing ways to make the profession more equitable. Despite a 50/50 split of men and women entering architecture schools, and a relatively even split of graduates there is an alarming drop in women’s participation in the profession after 30 years of age. This represents a major loss of talent, experience and competency within the profession and the Institute rightly takes this very seriously.

What was your particular stance on the issues of equity in architecture prior to joining? What did you think that you personally could bring to the committee?

These are so many cultural constructs that create inequity between men and women, which are in no way unique to architecture. I see the issue as not just about creating more opportunities for women, but about creating the same opportunities for men and women. This may sound like a subtle difference but it’s a big one. Annabel Crabb’s, The Wife Drought, captures and articulates this position perfectly. It’s easy to refer to the lack of opportunity for women, but how about the pressure on men to maintain full time work, or the negative bias toward men who seek more flexible arrangements?

In my early career as an academic, I had my first taste of the limitations of career progression that resulted from part time work. Now as a practice owner I feel the complex relationship between time, money and competition that ultimately impacts on the quality of work (trying to do things quickly because there are no fees) and the (un)desirability of the profession for people seeking a balanced life.

Although I was initially resistant to the idea of being part of the committee, I did eventually feel that it was better to put some positive energy into making change rather than observing from the sidelines. Surely, we could capitalize on the conversations that are happening across the board about equity?

As Chair, I set an agenda of combining long term strategic moves with “quick-wins” with the idea that these would energize the committee and create an environment of change.  We were extremely fortunate to be able to operate in the slip stream of energy and action created by Parlour.

The committee is intentionally made up of men and women from small, medium and large practices as well as academia from all over Australia.  This has helped to ensure that we consider the impact of equity from all angles.  As a director of a medium sized practice, as an employer and as a working mother I think I have been well placed to contribute to the space that lies between the sole practitioner and the corporate practitioner. I have also learned a great deal from the other committee members and their experience the profession.

What do you think are the key issues in architecture to do with equity right now?

Each time I have made a presentation of the work of the committee I started by including some of the diagrams that had come out of the detailed and in-depth Parlour research, as a background to our work and approach. Despite the overwhelming evidence, each time I did this it seemed to spark a question and then a debate about why we have this problem, or why we still have this problem, or if it is a problem, or what is the problem or how do we tackle such a big problem.

In practice the question of how we tackle wicked problems can be stifling, yet as architects we are trained to solve complex problem! Whilst the issue of equity is firmly part of the public discourse, it does challenge so many professional norms and can lead to a type of practice paralysis! It’s difficult to know where to start, but the committee did take the broad view that if there is a problem and it has been identified then there is also an appetite for change.

Nowhere have the issues around equity and architecture been more succinctly articulated than in the Parlour Guides to Practice. Broken down into bite size chapters, the guides cover pay equity, the culture of long hours, part-time work, flexibility, recruitment, career progression, negotiation, career break, leadership, mentoring and registration. Each chapter reveals a depressing truth but amazingly manages to present it in such a pro-active way that one instantly feels empowered to make change.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to unpack and address one of these issues without revealing more about the state of the profession as a whole. How is it that we have managed to make ourselves so spectacularly undervalued whilst maintaining a culture of long hours? How can we offer so little in the way of contemporary work practices, and take on more and more liability, not only for our work but for the work of our consultants?

I believe a radical shift in the leadership within the profession is required to embrace change and make ourselves relevant again. Doing this requires not only recognition of equity but also diversity. Within the senior ranks of the vast majority of large practices in Australia there are VERY few women. In fact, they are largely made up of white men.

Study after study shows that we tend to employ people in the image of ourselves. This human tendency toward an unconscious bias means that there is little on the horizon in terms of real leadership shifts, without some serious policies being put in place by practices. Proposing such a change requires courage and executing it is even more challenging – but I think it can be done!

I would like to see more practices taking this on board and seeing the effect of having more women in leadership positions. These women would need to be supported in their roles and allowed to contribute to a shift in what we see as the cultural norms in architecture. I believe this top down approach will help to create better pathways for both women and men. To do this we need to reimagine professional life that is more flexible, that repositions itself in a way that can communicate the value in the work that we do.

The thing that I love about architecture is the challenge and the opportunity of problem solving. There are so many complex, layered and unique challenges in each project.  In designing a building, we have to ensure it stays relevant for many, many decades. It’s these skills in imagining a future that need to be brought into play to re-think practice.

How effective do you think that the various initiatives of the Committee have been so far?

I feel very proud of the work of the Committee and feel that the conversation around equity has made a dramatic shift in the past 3 years.

The Institute has been very supportive of our recommendations, and at a time of contraction, realised the importance of a partnership with Parlour in order to reach out to non-members and to demonstrate its work in this area. It is important to note that Parlour is completely independent of the Insititute and the NGEC.  The work of Parlour has been so influential in our thinking and approach.  The initial research project demonstrated compelling evidence for the need for change within our profession and we respect the significant groundwork that lead to the formation of the committee. I am so pleased that as a committee we have managed to establish and maintain a strong working relationship with Parlour, and that we are able to use the Parlour website as a major communication channel to reach out to members and non-members.

We have established The Paula Whitman Prize for Leadership in Gender Equity, which has been launched this year.

We have started a range of communications initiatives that look to raise the profile of women within the profession and outside; in part, we recognize that this has allowed us an opportunity to broaden the definition of an architect.

Significantly, we successfully lobbied for a mandatory 30% representation by men and women on the new Board of Directors for the AIA. Although we cannot take credit for it, we were extremely pleased to see the appointment of a female CEO last year.

What do you imagine should be the ongoing priorities for the Committee in the future?

The role of the Committee is strategic and we will continue to raise the profile of women and push for equity.  Our priority is to help more women become leaders, to keep mid-career women engaged and valued and to help changes in practice culture that will keep more women contributing to the built environment.

We also have a mandate to keep checking in on the equity of the Institute and this lens is being applied to every aspect of Institute operations from its own employment policies, to the equitable representation of men and women in CPD events, to the composition of juries.

The committee reports directly to the National Council but we are also uniquely positioned to connect in with each chapter. Now that we have a few big runs on the board I think it is time for us to combine these bigger picture moves with connecting in with what’s happening locally. Our ambition is to have more women who are visible in architecture and to help women find a workable solution for their mid-career.  Every little thing helps.

Image courtesy of Parlour.

High Commendation at IDEA for St Stephen’s School

We are delighted with the news that our refurbishment of an nondescript and underutilised atrium at St Stephen’s School in Duncraig was highly commended at Friday’s Interior Design Excellence Award’s in Sydney! These awards celebrate the best of Australian interior design and attract hundreds of entries each year. It’s particularly thrilling given the incredibly high standard of shortlisted projects in the Public Design category. A complete list of winners and commendations can be read here.

Sen. Ludlam awarded by the Planning Institute of Australia


Last Friday, CODA Director, Kieran Wong, was proud to accept an Honorary Fellowship from the Planning Institute of Australia on behalf of Senator Scott Ludlam.

Ludlam has been awarded the fellowship for his contribution to the ground breaking report #designperth, which was released in June this year as a collaboration between the Australian Greens, CODA, the Property Council of Australia (WA) and the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute (CUSP).

Kieran said the report delivered a comprehensive comparison between the cost of residential development in infill areas and greenfield sites.

“In addition to demonstrating the economic benefit of urban infill, the report discusses the positive impact of creating denser communities that are well serviced by public transport, in which people can live, work and connect,” he said.

“Senator Ludlam has made an incredible contribution to the planning profession in Western Australia, and to increasing the profile of conversations about the future development of Australian cities more broadly.

“I commend Senator for his visions and contribution to the #designperth report, propelling this important topic into both the public sphere and parliamentary debate.”

Also receiving an Honorary Fellowship was our local mayor, Dr Brad Pettitt, making the awards ceremony a thoroughly Freo affair!

Man About the House

This week our Directors, Emma and Kieran, will host modernism aficionado and general raconteur, Tim Ross for the latest instalment of his travelling show, Man About the House. His visit has prompted a frenzy of planting, paving and seasol application to ensure that the Backhouse is well up to scratch.

Tim describes his Man About the House concept as an ‘insane’ combination of his three loves – comedy, music and design: ‘I’ve always been passionate about Mid Century Modern architecture and its preservation so this show has enabled me to explain in a completely different way why the architecture of the second half of the 20th century should be protected.’ You need look no further for evidence of his passion than this Design Files feature on his amazing home.

Weekend Australian Magazine recently interviewed Tim about his progression from radio DJ to votary of modern design, in anticipation of the start of his documentary, Streets of Your Town. Screening on the ABC over two nights in November, Streets of Your Town will tell the story of modernism in Australia focusing in particular on domestic architecture of the ’50s, ’60s and 70’s.

We ‘re really looking forward to the doco, but most of all we’re looking forward to having Tim in our orbit for a few hours this Thursday!

State Government advocates for quality design in WA

DWA Page Banner

Design WA is an initiative of the State Government to ensure that good design practice becomes imbedded in all new development across Western Australia. Delivered as a series of reforms to current design policy, the Department of Planning is seeking feedback on the initiative through until the 20th December.

From our perspective, it’s a relief to see the state government publically advocating for quality design in WA, particularly as it has come as a result of the recommendations put forward by #designperth! CODA worked with the Department on the multi-residential component of the reforms, reviewing a series of approved developments to see how they would stack up against the proposed new design codes.

More about Design WA can be found here, including a short film and downloadable versions of each policy.

WGV wins prestigious national award!

We are completely chuffed to be announced the recipients of the 2016 Australia Award for Urban Design, Policies, Programs and Concepts (small scale) for our work on Landcorp’s WGV project. This award tops off an extraordinary year for WGV, with ground being broken on site (almost daily) and swag of awards to its name!

CODA was heavily involved in the seminal planning stages of this project, proposing innovative housing typologies for the site, liaising with the surrounding community to ensure that they were comfortable with the development, and preparing a comprehensive set of Design Guidelines to inform the buildings to come. We are pleased to share the award with our client, Landcorp, and co-collaborators, Urbis and Josh Byrne and Associates.

Awards patron, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, described this year’s winning projects as having the ability to ‘enhance our cities’ built environment for the people they must serve, (providing) a lasting legacy for future generations’. This is the third year that CODA has entered these prestigious national awards and the third year that we have been awarded! We are very proud of our work in this often understated facet of architecture and design.

If you’re in Perth, we encourage you to experience WGV for yourself; Josh’s landscaping has flourished in the winter rain, the Gen Y development is nearing completion and several other buildings are well under way.

More about the Australian Urban Design Awards can be read here.

Artichoke Magazine: Claisebrook Design Community

The following review of the Claisebrook Design Community was published in the August edition of interior magazine, Artichoke. Read on to hear what they had to say:

160331 Gladston Street 0213_sml

Claisebrook Design Community

Words: Hayley Curnow

Photographs: Peter Bennetts

Working with an existing sawtooth-roof warehouse and doublestorey office in East Perth, CODA Studio has drawn on the light industrial activity of the site and surrounding precinct to deliver Claisebrook Design Community, a cleverly planned co-working space created with a series of tongue-in-cheek design moves that play on the warehouse typology.

Captivated by the benefits of cluster economics in Europe and the US, owner Gene Barker instigated the reuse project with the aim of creating a social and collaborative workspace that would spark synergies between thinkers, creators and makers working alongside each other. In response, CODA has broken down the scale of the large site, crafting a series of workspaces that express spatial interactions and employ a rich palette of industrial, off-the-shelf materials.

The nondescript front facade of the tilt-up warehouse has been enlivened by a quirky, postmodern awning articulated in charcoal corrugated sheet metal. A cost-effective and transformative addition, the awning contributes to the streetscape and generates a playful, industrial identity for the co-working space. The spirited, graphic appearance suggests the warehouse’s change in use and hints at the new design elements of the interior.

160331 Gladston Street 0453_sml

At the front of the site, the former loading dock accommodates an intimate cafe called Dr Clause, providing amenity to staff and the broader community. Lined with plywood and punctuated with a trussed bulkhead and bursts of coloured tiling, the cafe entices visitors with an upbeat, yet mellow setting to enjoy a coffee and small bite. With full exposure to the street front, the cafe reclaims a number of council parking bays with a scaffold entry canopy, hanging planters and a vegetable patch, contributing to East Perth’s activation as an urban village.

The existing layout of the warehouse was thoughtfully reconfigured to intertwine each program across the floor plate. The tidy spaces – the offices and cafe – are positioned at the front of the site in the former office and loading dock area, while the messier “maker” zones are housed in the expansive rear warehouse. Red tactile safety flooring boldly defines an axis that punctuates the rear warehouse, creating a connected hub of activity, while graphic, yellow safety stripes encourage movement between these areas.

Within the office space, a colourful trussed bulkhead defines a cluster of communal hot-desks; a play on the warehouse vernacular. A wall of blackened joinery provides personal storage lockers for studio-goers, while the surrounding walls offer writeable surfaces for group collaboration. Four private offices and a boardroom occupy the perimeter and a full-height window offers views to the Victorian cottages across the street, framed by the angled soffit of the exterior awning.

160331 Gladston Street 0117_sml

Triangulated vinyl flooring and yellow safety stripes to the office glazing draw on industrial imagery to give a punchy, graphic aesthetic to the office interior. A band of red paint to the exposed concrete floor slab provides a continuation of the main axis, leading to the rear of the warehouse where a large, open workshop celebrates the culture of creating. Palette racking, shelves and workbenches offer a robust shared workshop able to take the knocks of use, where Barker asserts that “everything from dressmaking to woodworking is taking place.” An adjacent bike workshop provides facilities for the servicing and customization of bikes. Black cyclone fencing secures the space, allowing visibility to the mess and mechanics of the workshop and enabling creators to engage with the broader warehouse community. Opposite, five small-scale workshop pods act as a tiny precinct of private sheds for finer work and feature rubber flooring, built-in desks and open shelving. Their open-top, saw-tooth roofs are clad in polycarbonate sheeting to expose the timber framework beneath, and the interiors express stud wall framing to reveal the tectonics of the structure.

160331 Gladston Street 0232_sml


Over-scaled sliding doors opening to the cafe and workshop define a generous function area in which to gather and entertain. An angular, plywood structure frames a polycarbonate ceiling panel, anchoring the space while funnelling natural light into the interior. Its plywood form cuts a striking figure against the exposed warehouse ceiling, providing focus in the large, harsh loading dock, while its exposed speed-rail framing celebrates pipework and shackle connections. A continuation of CODA’s playful approach to the site, a dramatic red curtain and circular red carpet complete the space, adding warmth and richness to the exposed surfaces of the warehouse.

160331 Gladston Street 0406_sml

CODA Studio has thoughtfully retained, interpreted and celebrated much of the original fabric of the building. This project sits comfortably within its light-industrial context and retains a sense of accessibility to the local community, standing as a triumph in rejuvenation over demolition. CODA’s strategic approach to the site enhances the grit and grain of the warehouse typology, while the studio itself offers the appeal of engaging in a dynamic co-working culture that hums with activity, or retreating to one’s own creative bubble.

A Space to Exhale

CODA Directors, Emma Williamson and Kieran penned this dossier for the most recent edition of Architecture Australia.


160201 Tom Fisher House 0401

A Space to Exhale

Architecture Australia Sept/Oct 2016

Words: Emma Williamson and Kieran Wong

Images: Peter Bennetts


It is estimated that there are around ten thousand homeless people in Perth, many of whom are rough sleepers – that is, with no formal shelter of any kind from day to day. Vincentcare’s Tom Fisher House provides a “safe sleep” for up to ten of Perth’s chronically homeless and at-risk rough sleepers. The service receives referrals from Vincentcare’s Street to Home’s Assertive Outreach team, as well as the Nyoongar Patrol and Western Australia Police, and offers people somewhere to shower, wash clothes, prepare a light meal and receive basic first aid. It also offers access to information and counselling and the potential to connect with other service providers in the hope that this might help with the transition from a life on the streets.

The people who use this service cannot be accommodated in standard housing facilities. Many have severe mental illness and chronic alcohol and drug issues, requiring high levels of supervision and care. Some might have found their way into the police lockup overnight if not for the referral. The house is staffed by a multidisciplinary team, working through a harm reduction framework, including registered and enrolled nurses, care support workers and service support.

Through a previous project, “Building for Diversity” for Foundation Housing in Northbridge, we had come to understand the powerful cycle of homelessness from which people struggle to free themselves. In the Tom Fisher House project, those accommodated face an even greater challenge due to the compounding issues of mental illness and substance abuse. This was a serious undertaking, challenging our perception of what role architecture can play in such an enormous problem as homelessness. Our profession is not nimble, like the mobile services that provide medical checks, food and even laundry, yet in this project there is an opportunity to operate in the strange nexus between shelter, safety and security. It intentionally oscillates between the domestic and the institutional.

160201 Tom Fisher House 0371+374

While the functional and administrative challenges could easily have led the arrangement of the plan, we wanted to emphasize the creation of a welcoming place through materials, colour and volume. This is not a home or a community centre, but it is also not a prison or hospital. It is a place that provides essential services and at the same time, through design, creates a space of comfort and security. A space to exhale, or even relax. To get a good night’s – something impossible to do on the streets.

160201 Tom Fisher House 0072

In order to maintain an anonymous address, away from public scrutiny, and to allay the fears of nervous neighbours, Tom Fisher House sits at the very back of the block, with a nondescript commercial building, also designed by us, facing busy Beaufort Street. Planning developed through an intensive process of briefing and questioning to get an insight into both the needs of the consumers and the challenges for staff. Ten bedrooms – each with ensuite, including two doubles – line the southeastern boundary, with administration and support services on the other side of the communal spaces that sit between. It is in these spaces that we sought to exploit the opportunities for light and volume afforded by the reinterpretation of a sawtooth roof.

The staged entry sequence to the building is internally focused and allows for secure triage upon arrival. The interior is both warm and light, with open views at both ends providing visual relief but also a sense of security and safety. Within the covered outdoor courtyards there are a range of spaces, including customdesigned dog kennels, a fireplace and even a space to sleep outside if this is the preference.

160201 Tom Fisher House 0566

There are many, many challenges in the delivery of this type of pilot facility. Users of the shelter only come in the evenings and are transported back to the central city during the day. They are not settling in long-term and therefore are not in a position to surrender their belongings. The things that they need to survive may include weapons for personal safety or illicit substances for personal use. How can we manage and store this? Many have dogs for companionship and safety, but these very companions can often exclude them from other forms of shelter, or they may lose the dogs if they are taken into custody by police.

The impact of this project is perhaps minute when compared with the enormity of the challenge of homelessness but we hope that the project does offer relief, safety and a moment of repose for its temporary residents. Ultimately we sought to expand the brief and seek out spaces in which people can connect. The need for shelter is critical but so is providing a place to be welcomed with dignity and without judgement. We believe that good design has the power to do just that.