Nicholas Bandounas, practice director at Crone, has over 17 years’ experience in the industry.

He has honours qualifications in engineering and architecture and has previously worked on the Macquarie Bank Building on King Street Wharf.

Architecture and Design spoke to Bandounas about why the Waterloo Youth Centre is an iconic building, the relationships between form, nature and material, and how his engineering qualifications have helped in his architectural work.

You worked on the Macquarie Bank Building on King Street Wharf, which was an iconic and innovative building. How difficult is it to keep raising the bar for projects and meeting that challenge?

Macquarie Bank’s innovative design concept was driven by a unique set of existing site conditions that led to an external structural skin, the diagrid, being the most cost effective and space efficient solution. There is no superfluous facadism here, just purity of form and function. The diagrid is expressed and celebrated as the main structural element, and as a consequence, becomes the iconic ‘branding’ for the building.

This innovative and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking is a philosophy I take into all projects, no matter how big or small, whether its strategy, planning, competitions etc. I try to look at problem solving from an alternative perspective and test whether this best interprets the clients brief, and simultaneously provides the best solution for the site and its surrounding context. It doesn’t mean you will have an epiphany on every project, but may result in even the slightest of innovative ideas and advances that benefits the end result.


Macquarie Bank Building on King Street Wharf. Image: Fotlite

What building do you think has been the most iconic in Australia over the past five years?

This is a difficult question and always subject to interpretation. One that comes to mind is the Waterloo Youth Centre by Collins and Turner. It is a super robust and intelligent design that has become a social and physical focal point for Waterloo, and is more of a sculptural object than a building. The symbiotic relationship between the structure and the landscape planting will ensure the building will evolve over time and grow with the local community.


The Waterloo Youth Centre, Sydney. Photography by Richard Glover

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels from BIG is also someone worth mentioning. I saw him speak many years ago at UTS, and again at a NewYork conference at the end of last year. He is a very inspiring speaker, and an amazing architect who always looks at alternative processes and combines innovation, pragmatism, culture, context and technology. Some notable favourite projects include West 57th Street and WTC 2 in New York; 8 House in Denmark; and Vancouver house in Canada.

You explore the subtle relationships between form, nature and material. What does this mean to you?

Every project presents itself with unique constraints, challenges and, most importantly, opportunities. This generally results in individualised solutions that are site specific. Building form and planning are pure and driven by these challenges and opportunities, materiality is celebrated for its strengths and pragmatism, and nature is respected from environmental performance through to context appreciation.

Is it an approach the rest of the industry takes?

There are many philosophiess being adopted throughout the industry, from the pure pragmatism of ordered boxes to the utopian ideas of digital formalism, and everything in between.

It’s difficult to judge which methodology is correct, if any at all, but I believe in the old adage that architecture should have a profound impact on our lives. Architecture should not only shape our space physically and socially, but should also touch us personally. In an age of disposable consumerism, architecture has the potential to create equilibrium and be the ‘constant’, but in order to do this we must design environments that have purpose, that last.

You have honours qualifications in engineering and architecture. How do you think knowledge of both of these industries has helped you as an architect?

I strongly believe that architects need to have a deep understanding of structure and materiality and hence have the ability to push concepts to their full potential. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the expression on a builder’s face when you pull out a sketch that resolves an issue they told you ‘couldn’t be built’.

Why did you decide to study engineering?

I always wanted to be an architect or engineer and it was a difficult decision, especially at 18 years of age. I went down the engineering path because I was good at maths and complex problem solving, but as I progressed through the course I found myself always looking for creative solutions – my submissions were always different to other students. I started having doubts, and during my first year out in the workforce I decided to go back to uni and study architecture, and I’m so glad I did.

What was the most important lesson you learned during your honours study?

You must sleep during major submissions and deadlines, at least 4 hours a night. The human body and mind does not react well to sleep deprivation. I learnt that the hard way during my early years studying architecture.