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Inventing Practice
Making

‘Inventing practice’ could imply a grand plan from the start, but our use of this phrase is more about learning through experimentation, the sense of optimism, the gradual improvement over time, and not knowing where you might find yourself.

To explore this idea, we invited our staff to participate in an open conversation, framed around a set of themes that we feel reveals something about the way we work together.

In this conversation, we are interested to speculate on how such continuities might be matters of process as well as architectural language.

 

At JWA there is an ever-present desire to revel in the process of making and to push the limits of particular trades or craft. When and how does the advice and process of makers from beyond JWA influence the design outcome? 

 

John  An innate curiosity to know more about the process of making spans the history of the practice. This curiosity, and the knowledge that comes from it, gives us the confidence to subvert conventional uses of materials and systems.

One of our long-term mantras is to ‘appreciate the skills of others’. We have a genuine fascination with the chemistry of materials and the human qualities evident in fine construction. This can be as pronounced in digital fabrication as it is more traditional expressions of craft.

It’s good to get out of the office and visit highly skilled fabricators and tradespeople. We develop a deep appreciation for their work, which we then draw into our design process. It allows us to inflate the material possibilities. It gives us the confidence to use materials in a more flamboyant manner, or use a less rigid, conventional approach.

 

Mathew  Typically we do a lot of thinking before anyone makes anything. Familiarity and precision are useful and stoic; but a certain level of naivety and unfamiliarity can also produce unexpected results. A collaborative approach with experts in trades is fundamental to realising these experimentations.

Diego  We have genuine, exploratory discussions with a wide range of people – from steelmakers to rattan weavers. I’m not sure they’re used to architects taking such an intense interest in what they do and how they do it.

Through conversation you start to understand the challenges, whether of fabrication or the inherent qualities of the material. Sometimes it just takes a small tweak and suddenly they say, ‘Oh, yeah. We can do that.’ And that particular knot in the process is undone. You can’t do that sitting in the office looking at trade literature and magazines, or even watching it being constructed on site. You really need to be involved in the making of it.

 

Ariani  We’re reanalysing the idea of craft, and the role architecture has in relation to craft. It’s really refreshing to have that sensuous, tactile approach to materiality and what it means to inhabit buildings in an age of prefabricated elements and digital methods.

 

Andy  We value the tactile immediacy of a quick cardboard model, although we’re also very interested in digital fabrication. There’s something immediate about physical making – being able to see it and absorb it within a moment still interests us.

We have built up wonderful relationships with various subcontractors – ceramicists, fibreglass makers, cabinetmakers, steel fabricators, cane weavers. With them, we’ve tried and tested various different challenging configurations. Not all of them have worked. We’ve had to refine the way we’ve approached things. And we’ve maintained those relationships with craftspeople outside the office.

 

Danielle  Yes, a really important part of the practice is its relationship with the makers. I was just looking up at the bike rack which was custom designed by the office– there’s a little detail where the bit of steel bends down to take the bike wheel. That came out of a one-on-one discussion with a specialist fabricator in the next street, who the office has formed a working relationship with. It is such an intrinsic part of how our processes develop. These professional relationships Andy mentions make a real difference to the quality of detail revealed at the end of a project. They are reciprocal relationships that can only be developed over time.

 

Stefan  It is also about working closely with those on site. For the Nigel Peck Centre our site architect Barry Hayes was in constant conversation with the brickies about how best to achieve the large folding brick wall face. You’d think they’d be daunted, and initially they were, but they absolutely embraced it, and then helped to work through all the issues that inevitably come up when experimenting in this way.

The concrete at the Melbourne School of Design is similar. The formwork needed to create the in-situ concrete ceiling in the library was extraordinary – and that physical material (plywood )is lost once the building is finished. But the concrete still reveals the care of the people who built it. This communicates almost intrinsically that there is value in this. It’s virtually handmade.

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