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Architecture

Architect Spotlight: Albert Mo

Albert Mo is one of Australia’s most respected architects. As the Co-Director of acclaimed Melbourne-based architecture and design firm, Architects EAT, Albert is renowned for his residential and hospitality projects that push the boundaries and explore new modes of design centrered around the sensory experience. In our chat, Albert discusses the forces that influenced his career path, and led to his current success.
Project
Carpenter’s Square House
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Architect
Architects Eat, Albert Mo
Photography
Derek Swalwell
POSTED
05.02.2022

How and when did you realise your passion for design? 

Not so much a realisation but more like a cumulative life journey I would say: Mum is a calligrapher, watching her since I was a kid has given me spatial awareness subliminally; learning piano and photography were similar in this sense too. Then it was the moving and growing up in a few different countries that has expanded my mind, again subliminally, experiencing different built forms, cultures and city planning etc.

After that it was the architecture school in Melbourne University where I met these two professors & mentors: Haig Beck and Paolo Tombesi, they have literally beaten architecture into me. They always asked me why, and because of these whys I dug deeper and deeper, then I realised this motivation of answering the whys is actually the passion in me wanting to design better, I don’t want to stop until I’ve the answers that I seek.

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Can you tell us about your approach to design?

I deeply believe in context, both site context and human context. You can say I’m a contextualist and a rationalist. As way of example in our recent project Bellows House, the part that I love most is actually the wetsuits hanging rail that we’ve designed and the firewood storage at the side of the garage, to me they epitomise the idea of a holiday house and celebrate the location of it. Too often these everyday rituals and objects are left unconsidered, or as a last minute add-ons, however when you design them in mind from the beginning, they become part of the overall experiences and expression of the house, and improve the quality of living.

Great design to me is functional, plus experiential together: How does your foot step sound, how does the wood smell, how does the sunlight feel on your skin, the rustling of the brick as your hand smooths over it, how your window frames the view as you sip you first cup of coffee in the morning, how the air caresses your hairs as it pass through the house.

I also care a lot about craftsmanship and how things are being put together, some say I’m obsessive and care too much. It bothers me a lot when I see buildings that have no consideration of structure, as if structure is secondary to say wallpapers; or how does a handrail fixed to a wall? Not by glue I hope!

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What was the motivation for starting Architects EAT? 

I remember at uni, back in the days when we have physical studio and our own desks, we’d had poster drawn up with friends jokingly declaring we were a practice. Perhaps it has always been in my mind, because of the idea that comradery can create wonders and results. Little did we know starting and running a practice isn’t just about architecture, it is an actual business, which I had absolutely no idea of or interest in. 

EAT was started from a telephone call from the “T” of EAT telling us about this family project of his and asked if we want to work on it together. It was right after graduation, and I was writing my CV at the time, preparing to look for work in Sydney. I thought it would only run for a few years and eventually we would go find a proper job, but here we are after 21 years I’m still at EAT.

How would you describe the ethos of Architects EAT?

While no two designs are the same, all EAT designs stem from an ethos grounded in phenomenological design principles and core personal values; integrity, passion, fun, honesty and innovation. We maintain that our design process is driven by these consistent philosophical approaches rather than a predetermined style. We take delight in the experience of inhabitation and our sensitive approach, attention to detail, and exploration of sensory elements imbue our designs with a tactile and alluring quality.

A few years ago when we were doing our rebranding we have created this elevated pitch: 

"At Architects EAT, a notable structure needs more than good looks. It needs to be felt. Really felt. That’s why, our projects are purpose built for practicality, functionality but most importantly, the emotions they’ll house inside. A University is a place to push your mind. A hotel is a temporary home. Our spaces are made to heal in, to focus in, to love in and to move in – they play host to the scope of human existence in all of its beautiful, messy and extraordinary glory.” 

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Where do you take inspiration from, and how does this manifest in your designs? 

There was this TV show from about 10 years ago called The Mentalist, the protagonist Patrick Jane uses his sharp skills of observation to help solve crimes. I take inspiration from him, and deduction reasoning, but instead of solving crimes I solve architecture. Yes this might sounds far fetch and even pretentious, but is it? Is it really more so then if I say I’m inspired by modernism or the nature?!   

By deducting of what I said above, one can say I’m a keen observer and profiler, and use reasoning as my design methodology. Sure, I often use and cite many built examples from the past, some even say I’m great in my history, but in reality it is far easier for me to give precedents than words, because “A picture is worth a thousand words”

What is your career highlight so far? 

Thank you from clients, and going back to places that we have designed and seeing clients using and occupying them the way that we have intended, always delight me personally.

But the real highlight? My answer is always the next projects and you will see!

“Great design to me is functional, plus experiential together: How does your foot step sound, how does the wood smell, how does the sunlight feel on your skin, the rustling of the brick as your hand smooths over it, how your window frames the view as you sip you first cup of coffee in the morning, how the air caresses your hairs as it pass through the house.”

Albert Mo
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“Great design to me is functional, plus experiential together: How does your foot step sound, how does the wood smell, how does the sunlight feel on your skin, the rustling of the brick as your hand smooths over it, how your window frames the view as you sip you first cup of coffee in the morning, how the air caresses your hairs as it pass through the house.”

Albert Mo
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