Architect Spotlight: John Ellway
Architecture

Architect Spotlight: John Ellway

Architect John Ellway is renowned for creating functional and simple spaces that delight and surprise. In our chat John discussed his approach to sustainability, and how he cultivates spaces that spark a social connection.
Project
Hopscotch House
POSTED
14.12.2021

How and when did you realise your passion for architecture? How did you get your start in the industry?

I had ideas about becoming an architect when I was at school, but I actually had another career as a graphic designer before I studied, and registered as an architect. This meant I was one of ‘those’ mature age students sitting in the front of the class at architecture school!  Two different but similar professions. Both working creatively within rules, guiding clients, and solving problems. I ended up specialising in signage and wayfinding so the majority of my clients were architects. It was a fairly natural change when the time came in my early 30s.

What was the motivation for starting your practice?

Learning to be an architect is quite a lot like doing a building apprenticeship. I had a wonderful mentor working with James Russell for about 8 years during and after studying. And, to quote a recent episode of Ted Lasso, a good mentor knows you will move on, a great mentor encourages you to!

How would you describe the design ethos of your practice?

In the simplest terms, it is encouraging clients to build the least amount possible in a way that can adapt over time. Investigating how light, shadow and landscape can be captured are the key approaches to making simple functional spaces that delight and surprise.

Where do you see the future of architecture going, or are you noticing any particular movements or changes within modern architecture?

There is a real movement in the profession to communicate sustainability initiatives to the public. There are a lot of great architects that have been tackling this in their work for many years. I think it is important to move beyond carbon offsets, spreadsheet fiddling, and convince clients to adjust the materials used in their projects, reuse where possible, reduce size and reduce site waste.

Your projects are beautifully grounded and lean towards predominantly natural materiality. What is the design intention behind this decision?

I think it’s super important when choosing materials to not only think of your current client, but future owners as well. Everyone has an innate sense of wanting to customise the space they live in so we need to give people the opportunity to do this in a non-wasteful way. Using long-lasting, simple, timeless materials that won’t date and won’t be tossed away as owners change is the thinking. Owners can customise the space with books, collected memories, furniture, and cabinetry to make it their own.

I noticed that your projects are really abundant with a variety of different plants and greenery (especially the amazing Terrarium House!) How important do you think biodiversity is in both residential and commercial spaces?

The main driver for planting in my works is to make smaller spaces feel larger. A well thought out plan with social connections within the house (for eating, chatting and living together) and outward connections towards the neighbourhood is key. Window and door openings capture the adjacent landscape and draw it in. This allows the internal area of the house to be a bit smaller, more affordable, and therefore built with fewer materials. That physical and visual connection to the tree, and gardens outside extends the sense of space in each room.

“A well thought out plan with social connections within the house (for eating, chatting and living together) and outward connections towards the neighborhood is key.”

Architect Spotlight: John Ellway

“A well thought out plan with social connections within the house (for eating, chatting and living together) and outward connections towards the neighborhood is key.”

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