Emerging Architect of the Year 2018 – Meet Jean Graham, Winter Architecture.

Photograph: Jean Graham. Image credit Sayher Heffernan

Jean Graham of Melbourne’s Winter Architecture was named Emerging Architect of the Year in the 2018 Sustainability Awards. We talk to her about her architectural philosophy, and the practice’s novel approach to working remotely.

Firstly, congratulations on the Emerging Architect of the Year award. What does that kind of acknowledgement mean for a fairly young practice like Winter Architecture?

It’s very exciting to have been acknowledged alongside so many other great young practices in Australia. As a company, we hadn’t marketed ourselves a great deal in our first two years of practice, so it has been great to get our name out there and have people engaging in the work that we’re doing.

You’ve got a fairly unique working set-up for an architectural firm, with staff based at different locations across Australia. How does that kind of collaboration work? Did it happen organically or was it a distinct choice?

Remote working came about organically. We had a team in Melbourne and a number of staff members were moving interstate. As a company, we wanted to retain our great team and so we facilitated their move with an online cloud-based business structure. It’s definitely a common approach, but perhaps not so much in architecture. We “hang out” with our interstate team members most days, and our Victorian-based staff spend most of their time in the studio.

How would you describe your architectural philosophy?

Quiet, cosy, introspective. Our architecture aims to provoke honest experiences, products of our careful and humble approach. We prioritise the thoughtful over the luxurious, crafting detailed simplicity from the complexities that all projects bring.

Any particular influences? Architects whose work you really admire?

We have a great number of them … Carlo Scarpa, Jørn Utzon, Peter Zumthor, Richard Leplastrier, Glenn Murcutt, Robin Boyd, Sean Godsell, Kengo Kuma, Tadao Ando. Though the phrase “What would Boyd do?” is perhaps heard the most in the studio.

Photograph: Wash Street House. Image credit Darren Bradley via The Local Project.

A lot of ordinary Australians would probably consider an architect-designed home out of their realm financially. How do architects make their work more accessible and affordable?

This is a topic we often discuss in the studio. We firmly believe that architects are incredibly valuable resources for all scales and budgets. As a practice, we’re committed to tackling the small projects, and providing options to clients through facilitative design, staging and project scheduling and management to enable the best outcomes. Housing is a great expense, even at the volume built/project home level. Architects and clients are capable of doing great things with smaller budgets, as long as there is trust, communication and the right attitudes. It comes back to the age-old saying – ‘the architect is cheaper than the windows’. We’re an incredibly committed profession, and as a practice we care deeply about the outcomes for all of our clients, no matter the budget.

How does Australia fare on a global perspective in terms of sustainability in architecture and design?

I think Australians are forging a path of their own. Perhaps it’s a different one to what is seen in Europe. It’s a little more individualistic, partly because our policies are yet to truly enforce sustainability and also because I suppose Australians can be individualistic people. As a result, our approaches are localised and individualistic. We see projects with careful connections to their sites, localities and climates. We prefer to see this rather than globalised, production-like assemblies of high-tech sustainable “solutions”.

How do you create beautiful buildings where sustainability and green credentials shine? Are they mutually exclusive?

We don’t look to make sustainable and green credentials “shine”. For us, it’s about how we integrate the principles of sustainability into our projects. We try to make our buildings operate sustainably in ways that aren’t immediately visible to the inhabitants. We’re not trying to make our buildings scream “I am sustainable”. I suppose, for us, it’s just another project complexity that we seek to simplify.

Photograph: Port Melbourne House. Image credit Nicole England.

Is collaboration the key to the architect/client relationship?

Most definitely. We invest a great deal into forging relationships with our clients. To be able to trust, communicate and enjoy the process is essential to a great project for us. Beyond client relationships, we value collaboration with all professionals, from other architects, landscape architects, engineers, interior designers.

What projects do you have on the horizon that have you and the team excited?

A clifftop beach house in Bermagui on the south coast of NSW and a number of luxury retreats on Tasmania’s east coast.

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