Four years ago, if you had have asked Matthew Eagle what was in store for him, he never would have imagined that the architectural practice he founded would be named Emerging Practice at the 2017 Houses Awards. And yet, four years after founding Gold Coast-based ME, that’s exactly the position he’s found himself in.
A young and humble architect from Queensland’s Gold Coast, Eagle founded his own practice after returning from years spent overseas – some of which were spent under the guidance of world-renowned studios such as OMA, the Netherlands-based architectural practice who was recently announced as the next MPavilion commission.
Having grown up on the Gold Coast, it felt natural to Eagle that he should set up his practice there; it was the place where he had the strongest connection. Ever since, Eagle has spent his time contributing to and redefining the suburban fabric of the area, with a particular focus on projects that respond uniquely to their context. (Or, in the words of the Houses Awards jury, “ME’s growing suite of sensitively contextual residential projects embraces the coastal way of life and climate.”)
In the wake of ME’s win at this year’s Houses Awards, we took five minutes to sit down with Matthew Eagle to chat architectural history, changes afoot in Queensland, and the future of his own “emerging” practice.
Can you run me briefly through your career in architecture? When did you start out and what’s been the trajectory?
I’m from the Gold Coast – I was born here – and I studied up at QUT [Queensland University of Technology]. At the time, [the architecture degree] was a six-year, practice-based program, which was really good because you got to work a few days a week, and get that exposure. Actually, I was in the same year group as Aaron Peters [of Vokes and Peters] and Lachlan Nielson [of Nielson Workshop], among others who were doing some really interesting work. It was a really interesting year group to be a part of.
After I wrapped up my studies, I moved over to the Netherlands and worked for OMA. I just spent a lot of time travelling overseas – two-and-a-half years all up, including some time spent in London. Then, when I returned, I was working for Wilson architects. I was really lucky, because at the time I was working there, they were doing a lot of interesting joint ventures with John Wardle, Timothy Hill and Lahz Nimmo, among others.
It was just under four years ago that I decided to go out on my own. When I was working in Brisbane [for Wilson Architects], I still lived on the coast, and I wanted to maintain my roots here. I’ve got a strong connection to the place. A lot of people down south tend to think that the Gold Coast is Surfer’s Paradise, but it’s a 25km stretch of coastline with lots of lovely urban centres along the way.
If you look back to the [1950s] and 60s, there was some incredible work going on here. There were a number of architects – Karl Langer, Hayes and Scott, Geoffrey Pie – who were doing some really experimental and interesting work that responded to our unique climate and location. Towards the 80s and 90s, a lot of that got lost, I feel. And I thought it would be nice to come back and try to contribute to the character of the place. Other than that period, there wasn’t a super strong architectural presence here, and I think that’s starting to shift. For instance, there are two architectural schools here now [one of which, the Bond University Abedian School of Archtecture, Eagle teaches at], which is definitely a positive thing.
Do you think you have a signature architectural ‘style’?
[Laughs] I suppose every architect likes to say, “No, I don’t”, and I suppose I would also fall into that category. I think every project should respond to its place and its setting, and whatever comes out of that, comes out of that. For instance, we’ve just finished a project on a steeper site with lots of vegetation, which differs a lot from our other work that’s closer to the coast. I think it’s the job of architects to make sure that every project fits in with its environment. Any project is what you make of it, whether it’s a toilet block or a university building.
What’s your favourite project you’ve worked on so far and why?
That’s a really tricky question [laughs]. I can’t discriminate. They all just have really different qualities, and there are great things in all of the projects we’ve done. Again, it’s just how you view it. I try to approach architecture with a really positive mindset, no matter the brief. If you put enough work and time into something, then you should come out the other end feeling proud of it.
How does it feel to be named Emerging Architectural Practice for 2017?
It’s pretty crazy, to be honest. If you had have asked me when [ME] started where we’d be in four years, and whether we thought we’d be receiving this calibre of awards, we never would’ve expected this. It’s super humbling. The work of the other practices that were nominated and shortlisted, they’re all doing incredible work, right across the country. It’s just a great time to be a part of the younger generation; there are some incredible architects. To receive it was just… I was shocked. It’s very humbling.
What’s next for ME?
We’ve got a number of projects that are currently in development, with some really interesting clients who are based on the coast. Again, that’s saying something about place: there’s a change happening, and clients are starting to demand more and demand better, which is a really positive thing. We’ve also got one project which is a step up in scale for us, which should be interesting. We’ll see how that goes. But we’re not planning on expanding. Right now it’s a nice, small practice; just myself and some casual staff members. I’m definitely not planning on world domination.