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(Inventing) Practice

John Wardle Architects is constantly evolving. Periodically, we reflect upon our methods and our work, and recognise each time that the practice is a creation in its own right - invented collectively by the people who work here.    

Our practice is a large collaborative environment where every project has a range of creative, technical and strategic contributions from a diverse team of architects and interior designers within JWA. We retain the creative energy of a small studio, pinning work up, and exploring new territory. The conversations we have with our clients are often the seedbed for new ideas and directions. We are inclusive, always curious to understand another's point of view.

We have expertise in master planning, urban design, architecture, and interior design. Led by Founding Principal, John Wardle, we work across Australia and internationally from our base in Melbourne. Our work ranges across education, residential and commercial projects, encouraging the cross fertilisation of ideas.

Many projects by JWA have been highly awarded. This includes twice being recognised with the prestigious Sir Zelman Cowen Award for best public building in Australia in 2002 and 2006 and the Daryl Jackson Award for Educational Architecture by the Australian Institute of Architects. JWA has also won the Harold Desbrowe-Annear Award for best residential project on three occasions and has twice been the recipient of the Victorian Architecture Medal.


Like any good conversation, our design process requires us to be both good listeners and excellent advocates. We ask the right questions and provide thoughtful, and thought provoking answers. We like to imagine that this conversation continues, after we finish our work, between the building and its occupants. Perhaps, they may say to a friend: “This building likes me”.



There is a fundamental axis for founding Principal John Wardle, and our practice as a whole, between immersive work and reflective retreat, between our Collingwood studio and Bruny Island farm. These two places are very different. Collingwood is inner urban Melbourne, historically occupied by slum housing, small factories, distilleries and breweries. Bruny Island is pastoral landscape, connected to Tasmania’s history of whaling and farming, and also to aboriginal history prior to colonial settlement.

Our practice regularly spends time with local tradespeople on Bruny Island making small installations on the farm – a creek bridge, a stile to clamber over fences, a fire pit for the cold evenings, a bird watching platform – and planting trees as part of a reforestation program. As well as learning some practical skills (perhaps quickly forgotten), the real value is in immersing oneself in a place, which improves our powers of observation.



Our architectural ideas emerge from an understanding of place, through history, topography, context and culture. We see our work as being vitally connected to its surroundings and to the people who inhabit it. We often describe our projects as ‘explanatory buildings’ that reveal or frame an aspect of their inner workings, their cultural purpose or their relationship to the world.

In conversation, we talk about ‘scalelessness’, an invented word, and how architecture must work at many scales – from the landscape to the hand, from the city to an individual window – and in so doing reveal something about us and our surroundings. As a practice it means that we like to work both strategically and tactically, both conceptually and in detail.

We search for a combination of project and context (physical, historical and cultural) that elaborates upon a heightened sense of place.



We are fascinated by the nature and quality of a material, its colour and grain, the way that it is cut and fits together. The care shown in how materials are employed tells a story about the value that a community places in its built environment. It can also intertwine with a client’s aspirations, a city’s culture and traditions, a society’s preoccupations, the history of a place and new technology.

The detail of systems and materials, at the scale of a person, is highly considered by our practice. These are the moments of one-on-one interaction with a building, where you may touch a handrail, open a drawer, perceive the framing of a view, understand the way materials join, or how they may have been reinvigorated from an earlier life.

Our interest in the process of making, in turn leads to inventing new ways of making, to a strong material presence in our work that engages all of the senses.


Art and Architecture

Our practice has been fortunate to work with several of Australia’s most respected artists. They include Fiona Hall, Rose Nolan, Peter Kennedy, Judy Watson, Rosslynd Piggott, Dani Marti, Peter Hennessey and Simon Perry. This has been with the strong support and involvement of our clients. In every instance the process of working with an artist has encouraged us to reconsider our building’s relationship to the public realm and has enriched our architecture.

The integration of each work into the fabric of a building is our aim, in a way that makes a clear demarcation between art and architecture, but also makes it feel part of the whole urban ensemble. One of the earliest examples of this was when Peter Kennedy was commissioned by our Practice to create a 36-metre long artwork that runs the length of the window of our office in 2001. The neon artwork is entitled “A n d S o...Illumination 1.” In this case we were both client and architect, and able to see at first hand the powerful connection to the city and the completely different method of engaging with architecture, created by the involvement of an artist.

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