Three principal architects, one firm. One could easily be forgiven for mistaking the partners of Iredale Pedersen Hook or IPH Architects as the same person, judging from their side profiles. So bonded are they that what sets their architectural firm apart from other practices is the fact that all three directors were alumni of the Curtin University of Technology, Australia, who went their separate ways after graduation, only to find that they were destined to start their practice together. Incidentally, all of them later pursued their respective post graduate qualifications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia.
“It was intriguing. We had all gone off (after graduation) but had come back to Australia. Martyn (Hook) was teaching in Melbourne while we were both in Perth. We thought it was a really good opportunity to work together as we all respect each other. We’re different from the other architectural firms that usually have one or two directors,” shares Adrian Iredale, 42, during the exclusive interview session.
Uncanny resemblance aside, the unique synergy combining their aptitude speaks volumes about the tight bond they share. The trio also shares a similar passion for pursuing architectural designs that meet their client’s needs.
Having covered an event in Australia last week after a hiatus of 15 years since I last studied in Melbourne, the presentation given by Iredale and Hook during DATUM: KL 2012, the annual International Architectural Design Conference organised by the Malaysian Institute of Architects or Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) flashed back in my mind’s eye.
The duo had attributed Australia as being the “oldest, lowest, flattest and driest land” while sharing interesting snippets and nuggets of information concerning the fascinating land Down Under. Clearly proud citizens, besides expounding on the wonders of their home country, its culture, climate and geographical make-up, Iredale and Hook had also shared on some of the architectural projects by the firm.
Roots—Looking back in order to move forward: Presenting a discourse on architecture as viewed from the firm’s perspective using the lens of reflection following the theme “Roots”, they concur that the critical re-thinking of design with the intent of “development and progress for the future” ushers in the idea of a paradigm shift. The discourse on identity “in search of the meaning of architecture in their work” not only grapples with the reflections of the past and a sense of origins but also embraces the workings of culture as well as that of traditions in defining the sense of identity emerging in their architecture.
The evolution of the architectural practice also has the propensity to examine the “fundamental thinking and processes” from which design emerges. Ultimately, the conference, acting as a platform for architectural discourse and reflection that serves as a basis to design and construct future buildings, urban spaces and cities, propels the firm to “move forward to build but not to forget its ‘Roots”.
“The way three of us work is grounded in the way we know each other for a long time. There’s a trust and whoever takes the lead in each project happens through osmosis (and is dependent on) whose idea is followed through. One will not know what type of project will come through the process of design which is often a very interactive and strategic thing,” shares Iredale.
Hook, 41, agrees adding that the key differentiating point that separates IPH Architects from other firms lies with the fact that “every project has a critical idea”.
“Even the design of a small bar is (as) critical to us as a big design (project). It is not just (about undertaking) projects just to make money as we only design projects we want to,” enthuses Hook. Already, the formula is a winning one, with the firm having undertaken some 700 projects so far.
“The practice in Australia starts with small projects and we learn from building (a project) as compared to European architects who wait for years for a big project so it is really about seizing those opportunities,” says Hook, adding that the firm has been “building small and working surprisingly quickly” for its clients.
“Part of our work and methodologies (stem from the fact that) we’re precious about the idea of the project, but not about whether the client’s furniture is appropriate. It’s actually about how the clients’ needs are met and the ideas are essential about how the clients want to live. The studio, operating around three different individuals with three different approaches to their work has proven to be a truly complementary assemblage due to the collaborative skills of the partners.
Admitting to being passionate about each project the firm undertakes, Iredale says with a laugh that they’ve had the occasional client say “it’s time to let go” to them concerning the handover of the project back to the client. The sense of attachment and their “ongoing love” for the projects they undertake is obvious in the way they talk about their many projects.
“There are 15 of us in Perth and we’re also in Melbourne. Our aim is to keep the practice on a scale that’s manageable. If we handle a bigger project, we will also collaborate with other firms,” says Iredale of this progressive, young architectural practice with its expanding, diverse body of projects throughout Australia.
For IPH Architects, its projects can be connected in relation to the geographical location that is linked to the context of the design brief and architectural approach. Upon closer examination, the final design results from a collection of “thematic concerns that evolve and develop”.
The firm is dedicated to pursuing designs by creating “effective and sustainable buildings with a responsible environmental and social agenda” that has seen its projects being acknowledged in the form of awards including two honourable mentions in the UK Architectural Review (AR) Awards for Emerging Architects.
Hook says the firm’s synergistic approach interpreted in the unique context of the local cultural condition lends the firm its distinguishing winning feature and forms a strong characteristic backbone for the practice.
“We all come from a very strong design background. We don’t have one business development or human resource role… Somebody could be drawing over another person’s drawing or improving on someone else’s model, even through a phone call,” he offers, sharing a glimpse of the unique work approach employed.
“Adrian (Iredale) draws incessantly and I don’t draw much but Finn (Pedersen) draws in a very strategic manner,” affirms Hook. He adds that since they began the firm 13 years ago, they have come to such a coherent level of understanding, having worked together for so long that now, they can all wear different hats and take on various roles in the firm. The trio whose projects have been widely exhibited internationally, continue to lecture and teach in Australia and abroad.
The Beach House: The Beach House located in the growing suburbia of Perth, Australia was designed for a family who wanted a weekend home that was far enough from their house in Perth, away from it all.
“The problem with this particular site was the growing suburbia. It was important for us to make it respond to the surrounding streetscape and preserve the area. References on how we engage with the landscape and the patterns of life with that of the building typologies were made to reintroduce the rigour, delight and economy that were being eroded and also to intensify the experience of being in front of the Indian Ocean.
“We maximised the relationship with the ocean and protected it from the physical elements – from the massive winds and sun. Everybody wants to look at the ocean to the due west so we designed two things – a platform that floats representing a removal from place – as the moment you step on the platform, you leave the suburban world behind you, as well as a floating, undulating and corrugated roof made out of plantation timber with its cladding made of steel and plasterboard,” shares Iredale.
The idea of the undulating roof and the ceiling highlights the organisation of the plan with the corrugation related to the idea of “taking the horizon and undulating it.”
“We believe the roof starts to push the gymnastics of the geometry and crafts the interiors. Expounding on the idea of the passive introverted room, we wanted to engage the family with each other alongside the landscape that also deals with cross ventilation.
“So we made a static element dynamic,” chuckles Iredale.
“People reinterpret space in their own way and the buildings can be used to our advantage as in how to use the grafting between old and new. The bit we are interested in is the poetic tension of the space that is formed by the roof and the linear layout plan. The poetry abounds in playing with the roof and the horizon details, with elements of the borrowed view of the horizon continuing throughout the house. The house from that street is intriguing while the story is told as you move through the building back and forth,” agrees Hook, adding that every project done by the firm is sustainable.
The Perth Zoo Orang Utan Exhibit: Coming in with a broad range of expertise, having designed sanctuaries for koalas and bush walk areas for elephants, IPH Architects was also engaged to do the preliminary redesign for the orang utan enclosure at the Perth Zoo.
“We were engaged to be their architect to masterplan their zoo. That was a role we undertook for 10 years. What we had to try to understand was how the orang utans live in their natural habitat and somehow capture the way they move and interact with the jungle.
“Ironically, the orang utans from Sumatra that have been born and bred in captivity gardens have never been in the jungle. They are bred with the aim of reintroducing them to the forest,” shares Hook.
“Some of the keepers are scientists and they have a great understanding of (animal) behavior. Our role was to create a design to challenge the intelligence quotient or IQ of the orang utans that is equivalent to that of a five or six year old child. They’re incredibly smart so we were designing things like puzzle boxes that the orang utans can take out and water cannons that they can drink water and trade items with,” he enthuses.
According to Iredale, the idea was not to assimilate the environment by giving the orang utans new trees or a new environment. Instead, the approach was to assimilate a space.
“It was about how we can begin to alter the environment and keep it natural and how the apparatus can be different and engaging within that space. The opportunities they’re given to develop and engage with the world are critical to them so it’s an intellectual and physical development we’re looking at,” he reflects thoughtfully, adding that they specifically designed the enclosure to ensure that the orang utans could move easily and brachiate between the apparatus. Also, convinced that good design improves health based on scientific evidence, the design approach employed 90 per cent recyclable materials.
“In fact, two years after we finished the enclosure, one of the old male orang utans diagnosed as diabetic showed improvements in his insulin levels and condition. The new built environment has kept him active and mentally stimulated, making him lose a bit of fat and the impact of his diabetics was improved because of the environment that has kept him mentally stimulated,” enthuses Hook.
The main structure of the orang utan exhibit is made of concrete street light poles donated by the power company, complemented by decommissioned ropes from the local navy. Palms from recycled Jarrah timber, a type of material features strongly in the project that also has shading devices to shelter the orang utans from the natural elements.
“The primary agenda of the space is about preserving the species and is very much about preserving the local and regional concern of the work and environment, also in a very global sense.
“Our understanding of architecture is that it has a greater impact that goes beyond the specific project itself. We are interested in the notion of architecture being a progressive instead of a reactive subject. I think it also engages with the larger conversation about the role of architecture within society as it is often about provoking certain behavior and not necessarily passively serving a client, but also trying to provide opportunities for new things to happen,” he says.
Improving prison conditions for the Aboriginal community: Improving the life of the aboriginal community for the indigenous population was another project undertaken by IPH Architects in relation to the prison designed in collaboration with TAG Architects. The project evolved from some tragic situations whereby some aboriginal people committed suicide while in custody so the aim of the prison project was to respond to aboriginal culture and to give them a sense of dignity and responsibility.
“The concept of the prison is to create a series of pavilions for the landscape and not to destroy the existing site while carefully locating buildings around an oval space that plays the role of the town centre.
“The buildings are grouped in clusters so that familiar language groups can be placed together to minimise conflict. Traditionally, that happens to be a fence. The idea is to try to reconnect people who are in jail back with the land and its people, as well as using their own traditional laws,” shares Hook.
The firm has been working with indigenous people for the past 20 years and has developed a sophisticated manner of interpreting and engaging with the realities of aboriginal people, so when placed in the context of rehabilitation, it becomes critical that the level of understanding can be applied with an understanding of the built form and natural climate.
“We know the designs validate the conditions of housing that we provide and can support the way they actually live. We wouldn’t tell any other client how they should live so why should we tell the indigenous people how they should live,” says Iredale.
He concludes that the architecture of the space starts by giving them respect to reduce the sense of isolation and bring about a better sense of living for them in this minimum to maximum security space in Derby, in the far north-west that was completed two weeks ago.