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  • Work-Life Balance Allows Young Australian Architect To Design Out Of The Box
  • Work-life balance allows young Australian architect to design out of the box

    Photos by Andrew Maynard Architects

    Andrew Maynard

    He has been hailed as the “next big thing” and has been heaped with accolades for his wildly creative, playful and unorthodox designs.

    But all that this brilliant young Australian architect wants is to continue having fun doing what he loves best – designing, drawing and building houses that people live in by combining great concepts with creative technical applications.

    “It’s really lovely that people say all these things about me. But frankly, it terrifies me. I earnestly do my best with each project but it’s not helpful to have all these expectations. Because at the end of the day, I just like designing houses and having an office with  just five people in it. I doubt I will be the next big thing! I am not interested in growing bigger. I am having fun with what I do and that’s to me the most important thing,” says
    Andrew Maynard, 38, at the KL International Architectural Design Conference 2013 (Datum KL), which took place last month.

    A horde of mostly architectural students swamped Maynard after his presentation. Dressed in a blazer worn over a T-shirt, the young architect was approachable and friendly, fielding questions ranging from his design discipline to his hobbies which are reading comics and skateboarding.

    At a time where homogeneity tends to dominate, Maynard slants towards what he terms as “urban eclecticism”, producing edgy, dynamic designs that offer intelligent solutions and are ecologically responsive without the slap-on labels of being “green”.

    The Tattoo House is a small extension to an existing three-bedroom house in Fitzroy North, Victoria, Australia. The form is a simple box with the new architecture approached as no more than a deck. A sticker of trees serve as a multi-purpose solution to the dual requirements of council overlooking regulations and glare reduction.

    Online design blog Inhabitat has perhaps put it best: “Maynard’s work offers a flash of illumination toward the next generation of smart, compact, elegant home design. Each project begs a long, awe-inspired look and makes the future look like a very nice place to live.”

    The Tattoo House first whispered Maynard’s name as an architect to look out for in 2007. A translucent film in the shape of slender trees that reflects heat and glare and yet allows in sunlight was applied to the entire rear elevation of the building. As much as Maynard’s exterior designs are always eyecatching, the interiors showcase the architect’s talents for practicality and efficiency.

    Within Tattoo House are spaces and elements that have multiple uses. For example the kitchen bench is incorporated into the stairway. These multi-functional spaces were to become a principle in Maynard’s designs.

    The Ilma Grove home, which was an extension to a 100-year-old brick home, was built from bricks obtained from the demolished rear section of the existing house that had previously blocked out the sun. A roof terrace that doubles up as a deck is clad with artificial turf selected equally for its vibrant softness, as well as, effective insulation.

    Among Maynard’s most recognised works is Hill House, an adventurous home built in 2011 for a family of five in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. A little hill clad in artificial turf is topped with a cantilevered box that cleverly acts as a passive solar eave that effectively cuts out the harsh summer sun but allows the winter sun to flood in.

    “Each time I produced a good design, I’d go ‘whew, I pulled that off’. And when the next project comes along, I’d go into a panic of ‘how do you design again?’ It’s not like we have a template,” explains Maynard.

    “The process is not to start designing but to do my homework first. I talk a lot to my clients, to understand them thoroughly as we all live differently. I talk to the local council to know the restrictions. I push away any preconceived ideas I have. I draw a lot. The first 10 variations tend to be terrible.

    “We only work with one or two strong core ideas; not take a weak idea and patch up the holes around it. I don’t rush into a project or rush through it. There is always a rationale behind every idea we propose to our clients.

    “At the end of the day, design is a difficult process. There is a great deal of research, labour, revision and more revision. There is seldom a “magic moment”. I have been very fortunate for good clients who trust us to translate their needs into a good design.”

    The Eastern and Western facades of the Vader House’s extensions are encased in a shield of louvres. These peel back to reveal a folded internal environment of soft colours framed by exposed steel beams. Playful splashes of deep red enliven the interior which is occasionally punctured by windows allowing a cinematic light to dance over the internal workings of the home.

    Building a career
    Environmental consciousness has been inbred in Maynard since childhood. He was born in Tasmania where the beautiful wilderness left an indelible fingerprint on him. It was indoctrinated further at the University of Tasmania where he graduated with degrees in architecture and environmental design.

    After graduating, Maynard worked for Allom Lovell, Six Degrees and Richard Rogers, where he won both the Australia/New Zealand regional award and the overall Grand Prize in the Asia Pacific Design Awards for his Design Pod workstation.

    Then after a year in London, Maynard returned to Melbourne in 2002 with enough money to last six months. He set up Andrew Maynard Architects at the age of 27 with the intent of creating an office that gave equal value to both built projects and bold, polemical design studies.

    “It was a challenging period. But I was not a good employee. I didn’t want to dread going to work on Mondays and I hate having people tell me what to do. I knew I had to work for myself. I’m just going to have to make my own rules,” Maynard reflects.

    “Running a business is tough and like most architects I am not a very good businessman. Friends recommended me for various projects from a shed to homes. One thing led to another. I have always been very fortunate to have clients who trusted me. For many of them, a home is the biggest financial investment they have ever made and they are emotionally invested in it, so managing their expectations can be challenging.”

    In May last year, Maynard wrote an impassioned opinion piece on the importance of maintaining a healthy work/life balance in a field that was known for just the exact opposite of what he advocated. It created a buzz among young architects.

    Built out of the box: The backyard of Andrew Maynard’s Hill House, one of his most recognised works, an adventurous home built in 2011 for a family of five in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. A little hill clad in artificial turf is topped with a cantilevered box that acts as a passive solar eave which allows the winter sun to flood in.

    “Once you allow yourself and the staff around you to work past your contracted period of employment you are enabling a culture
    of exploitation,” argues Maynard.

    “A commercial office is an instrument to make money not art. There is a hint that gives this fact away – it’s the word ‘commercial’. Yet it is within the practice of commercial architecture that we see the greatest amount of unpaid work and we see the greatest donation of leisure time to an employer.

    “There is a strange unspoken, yet ubiquitous, competitiveness within architecture offices. Who will leave first? Who has put in the most hours? Who looks busiest? When I worked for one of Australia’s largest commercial architectural firms I deliberately ignored this internal scrutiny. I did not want to compete with my fellow employees and I did not want to be exploited by my employer.

    I dedicated myself to producing the best work I could within the constraints of my employment agreement.

    “I would arrive no earlier than 8.30am. I would have a morning tea break daily. I would never work through lunch. I would try to leave at 5.30pm, ensuring that I was gone before 6pm. I would never work on weekends or public holidays.

    “There is the belief that architecture is a profession that demands all or nothing. We are even led to believe that we are working in an industry whose margins are so tight that its very survival is reliant on donated time of architectural employees.”

    Maynard currently lives above his office in a shophouse that offers the best work/life balance he advocates.

    “My son comes home at 3.30pm and I am there to meet him. If he sees me working past 5.30pm, I am in trouble!”

    The Mash House’s original deep and dark, double-fronted Victorian house offered many challenges especially its lack of solar access. Maynard and his team created layered spaces that afford great flexibility. Instead of jamming further additions to the rear, a glass walkway pulled from the existing dwelling allows a distinct, spatial break between old and new. The residual space is framed as a courtyard, meaning the new living area has direct access to northern light and associated passive solar gain. The concept was driven by obtaining passive efficiency, via shrewd siting and orientation. Quality insulation, ample double-glazing and inslab heating all combine to make this home a sustainable exercise in modern house renovation.

    Maynard credits his varied interests in popular culture, including George Lucas’ Star Wars and Japanese comics, as what makes his work unique.

    “I refuse to become the type of stereotyped architect who has to stop doing the things I love to become an architect. I like the variety of storytelling in comic books; it presents a different view of life and stimulates thinking.

    And my hobby of skateboarding is also an amazing way to look at the city from the ground.”

    “I think that the biggest challenge, regardless of age and experience, is to avoid cynicism and negativity. Architects can be such cynical creatures. I tend to be very hard on myself and I hope this keeps me grounded.

    “Like most architects, I do hope to someday design a library or a museum, but the aims of my practice are simple. I do not want to be a slave to it. We aim to stay small and do work that is important to me and interesting. Most of all, each building should be an experiment.”