Shane Plazibat, principal architect and urban designer at Plazibat Architects, specialises in multi-residential, mixed-use developments and high-end residential homes.

He has more than 25 years’ experience designing projects such as New Farm river front apartment buildings Altura and Aquila, as well as Fig Tree Pocket Houses 1 and 2.

Architecture and Design spoke to Plazibat about the traps of luxury design, how he’s learnt to maximise space and the positive impact spaces can have on people.

Why do you enjoy designing residential buildings with a focus on luxury and high quality craftsmanship?

To me, luxury can have many connotations. I equate luxury in our architecture to the quality of space and light, the tactile nature of materials and the attention to detail or the craftsmanship afforded to both the design process and the build process.

There is a real joy and fulfilment in spending hours on research, drawing sketches and details by hand and then watching the build to achieve the end customised outcome. It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario – our designs are tailored to each client’s brief, which allows us to explore and develop our ideas to arrive at a personal solution.

What are some traps that designers can easily fall into when designing luxury buildings?

I think one of the traps that is easy to fall into is the idea that expensive materials equate to luxury. How materials are used is very important. We always feel that the quieter the visual outcome the better. Luxury is not about quantity, or covering everything in marble – it’s about quality of design and space, and using materials that are timeless and well-made, and considered in how they are put together.

New Farm House brings the backyard back into the heart of the home.  Photography by Alicia Taylor

You've worked on projects in Hong Kong and London. What have you learnt from the experience of working in these countries that you apply to your work here in Australia?

In Britain, there is a rich tradition and history of craftsmanship that relates back to the fabricator and manufacturer. Speaking with the person who actually makes a product helps you understand the quality of the material, how it might perform and where best to use it. It also allows the architect to work with the fabricator to develop new ideas. Working here we try to do the same, be it with a joiner, form worker or aluminium screen contractor. This allows us to create more personalised crafted outcomes.

My experience in Hong Kong made me fully aware of space and density. Coming from Australia and then moving to the centre of Hong Kong Island is quite a different spatial experience.

A key lesson I learnt is how to maximise space within apartment design. As land is very expensive, we worked on some apartment designs which were very compact but were still required to convey a sense a space and quality.

What projects are you currently working on? What are some challenges associated with those projects?

We are currently working on a 25-storey mixed-use building where the challenge is to integrate the building with the immediate context and provide public space at the ground level that will add value to the overall development. We have designed quality outdoor spaces for the residents that will create a vibrant community and village feel. Overall these aspects ensure a better living environment, and a more marketable project that contributes to the overall richness of the city.

Another interesting project is a three-storey riverfront house in an area with character housing. While we are designing a contemporary bespoke family house on the one hand, we still need to acknowledge the scale and materiality of other houses within the area. By understanding how the houses from 80 years ago were put together, we can work with proportion and scale to create a home for 2015 that is modern and yet contributes to its surroundings.

West End House internal courtyard by Shane Plazibat Architects. Photography by Alicia Taylor

You believe that spaces can have a positive impact on people. How do you try to incorporate that into your work when that can be such a subjective feeling?

We work closely with our clients to understand the aspects of a space that make them feel good and then we tailor our design to their needs. More generally, we find bringing the outdoors inside the building has a positive impact, so we try to create a connection with the natural setting or a landscape/garden setting and the building.


Internal bamboo garden. Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones

The idea for the main living space of the second house I designed for my own family is open on both sides, which makes you feel like you are in a garden setting. I had experienced a great space in Singapore on a trip during the design process that I reflected on when thinking about this space. The outcome was to introduce an internal linear bamboo garden on one side opening to the sky, and create a garden court on the other. When the large timber doors slide away, it feels like the room is in a garden.

We had a dinner party one night when one of our summer storms passed over. Everyone stopped eating and just experienced nature. Whilst we were protected from the rain, we were really just on the edge of it.

What building has a positive impact on you?

American Folk Art Museum

There are spaces that I have visited around the world that when you walk into them, they are really joyous. The Morgan Library by Renzo Piano and the American Folk Art Museum (sadly recently demolished) by Williams and Tsien, both in Manhattan are examples of this.

When I visit these types of buildings, I try to understand and look at the key elements of what it is about these spaces within the buildings that makes me appreciate them and have a positive impact on me as an architect. It could be the arrival sequence and the compression and expansion of space, the quality of light within different parts of the space, or the tactile nature of the material used within a stair detail.

When we design our own buildings I try to remember what is was about those spaces that made me feel or react in a certain way.

Morgan Library

What are the trends you see in high-end residential and multi-res?

The current trends I see in multi-residential is to include 5 star hotel type lobbies and porte cochere drop off points. Designers are also integrating recreation and garden spaces, such as rooftop pools and sub-tropical gardens with private lounge areas and feature green walls and skygardens into their buildings.

The high-end residential market is also increasingly using elements that add value to recreation spaces and blur the lines between inside and outside with outdoor kitchens with pizza ovens, internal courtyards with gardens, and ponds. I also see clients who want to enjoy the exotic and indulgent experiences they have while travelling being introduced into their own homes. For example, a resort-style spa experience in their main ensuite with a steam room or sophisticated entertaining spaces like wine and cheese rooms.