Reflecting Living Proof

Yesterday was final presentations for studio, and overall it was a good afternoon/evening. I was happy with what I presented and received some constructive feedback. Naturally I wish I had just an extra week to solve some minor issues and prepare some more plans but that’s studio. Today I just wanted to reflect on the journey I had through my first studio in the Master of Architecture, and what I learnt from it all.

I realise I haven’t wrote too much about this studio, so some initial brief information. The project was to be focused primarily on social housing, while incorporating other uses and possible private housing as well. The overall site was large, in South Yarra and Prahran, including Horace Petty Estate on Malvern Road, Essex St, Kings St and Bangs St. The studio would involve master planning and then zooming in on a more architectural scale.

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The master planning phase was standard, we worked in small groups and we presented a very broken up site with more smaller buildings as oppose to a couple large buildings. I was pretty happy with our master plan, it presented some nice opportunities and looked at density in a different way. But after the master planning is where it started to happen.

 I had the Essex Street site to work on, which included Princes Park, the aquatic centre and some businesses along Lt Chapel St. The first week I spent mapping out the site, with the social housing on the DHS site, and a new community centre including a new aquatic centre. What ended up happening was spending too much time on the community centre, and needed to be reminded this was a studio on social housing. To design an aquatic centre was a whole different studio in itself, and that I should just provide a basic volumetric study of the aquatic centre.

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With a new focus, I tried out multiple layout options with small townhouse designs, working between the trace paper and SketchUp for massing. A big idea I had was to create a podium across the whole site, carve out some forecourts then create a small village above by have small building blocks spread across with plenty of outdoor space (left). This eventually evolved into slicing the podium up into smaller buildings, with the diagonals and angles being where the original buildings were (right). The tutors were fairly skeptical about this approach but I kept with it through to mid-sem reviews.

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Mid-semester went well, some criticisms about the angles (such as the sharp one seen on the above image with the yellow artwork) but they were excited about the prospect of the townhouses talking to each other, the ground usage and getting into the finer design detail of the townhouses. I left mid-sem feeling pretty good, and was awarded a surprising grade. Looking at this image again, boy did I use some cliche render people!

After mid-sem I started playing around with the site layout, removing the angles and going more conventional. However after a class visit from DHS in Week 09 I radically changed my design. Originally I went from 2-3-4 bedroom townhouses over the entire site to townhouses plus a couple apartment blocks, then after DHS it was all apartments. At the start of semester I really wanted to try and stick with one design, and not jump from design-to-design as in previous studios but I was doing just that. Week 10 I had yet another completely different design from Week 09, and Week 11 was another completely different design.

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I then spent the remaining time focusing on the design from Week 11, getting good reception from my tutors but this left me time poor. I wasn’t able to do more exploration or research, but that is how the cookie crumbles. At final presentations I presented a series of Nightingale inspired apartment blocks with courtyards in between, with bricks and recycled timber forming the main material palette. The circulation space is external, allowing fresh air and cross ventilation, and half the apartments facing north. My site, if you didn’t see the Google Map, has a long north-south orientation, with the street to the west, so it would have been easy to face it all west and east. Roof decks and communal spaces were designed to allow for chance encounters with your neighbours and provide you with activities you may not be able to do in a traditional apartment.

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The feedback I recieved from the guest critics included the economic viability of using brick on this scale and recycled material. Recycled materials cost more than going to Bowens or Bunnings, and often these gestures are first to be cut from a design for budget reasons. My apartment designs were criticized for being long and narrow. The next criticism was my facades, how they generally looked on the same on each orientation, and missed some good opportunities to differentiate each one with shading and so fourth. My design featured no car parks, and while they agreed with the premise, they said that there should be some service such as taxi pick-up/drop-off points or a few spaces for car-sharing. There was a sustainability guru on the panel and he did say I got 2/3 sustainability principles right, Environmental and Social, but the Economic sustainable lacked, but he did say it is near impossible to get a project to get all three. They also loved the story of Mildred, a woman who lived on my site and showed a series of perspectives taking us through her day on site.

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Upon reflection, I would have liked to designed each facade based on its orientation, but I did get fixed on this simple brick form. I could have used the brick more sparingly if I did this, and brought down costs associated with it. I could have spent more time on the apartment layouts and further design, instead I stuck with a typical layout from weeks ago and that dictated my building layouts. I could have used different layouts depending on orientation, and maybe them shorter and perhaps wider. I could have designed the apartments in a bit more detail as well, thinking about where you hang your coat, where you put your washing on a rainy day and so on. However, I am still happy with the design, and the output style of the perspectives and plans.

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While it would have been nice to stick to the one design and really developed it, I was able to explore a wide range of options and different designs. A lot of the time our first design or option isn’t the best, and exploration is needed. Overall, it was a good studio, and was able to work alongside talented classmates. Social housing is a big issue around the world, and was happy I was able to explore it in some capacity.

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