MAKE Architecture is an emerging Melbourne-based practice which already has a collection of site-sensitive and thoughtful built work under its belt. The JWT Presentation Space is one of its more recent success stories; a contemporary re-invention that dares to strike up a conversation with an old building.

For the firm, designing sustainably and in line with a responsible social agenda is important. These values are evident in their projects, including House Reduction, which won the 2012 BPN Awards – Single Dwelling (Alterations & Extensions) category. The project particularly impressed our 2012 judges, who said that space has been utilised in the design in an innovative and flexible way, “a rare recognition of the fact that smaller is better.”

Click HERE to enter the 2014 BPN Sustainability Awards

We speak to MAKE’s founding director, Melissa Bright, about her design process, why a sustainable ethos is important, and how sustainability was an integrated part of the JWT Presentation Space.

Why did you become an architect?

I was actually going to do engineering when I was in high school. I suppose I couldn’t believe that you could do something that you really loved doing, was fun, and get paid for it.

I like that architecture is a crossover between creative pursuit and practicality, like having to keep the water out, and complying with planning regulations – all these mundane, boring stuff, although I do like working in a creative way within those constraints. With architecture, you also achieve a generalised lot of skills, and I like bringing together the variety of elements found within the profession.

Why still architecture today? Mostly because I just really enjoy creating spaces that are a pleasure to live in. This is why at MAKE, we really like doing small residential projects. There’s always a personal sense of creating something wonderful that adds value to someone’s life or the way they live, and at the next scale up, adds something extra to a community or a suburb; a building that is more than just some walls and a door.

Little Brick Studio by MAKE

What’s your favourite part of the job?

Seeing projects being built. In many ways, the point of building and finishing them is also the point when you’ve resolved all problems, gotten through it all and made it work. I take such great pleasure in that. Seeing something that you imagined in your head and on your computer come to life is truly, hugely satisfying.

Apart from that and designing, I think there’s something to be said about the variety that architecture brings, where I get to do lots of different things. We’ve got a work experience student here this week, and I’m trying to give her a sense of what it’s like to practice architecture – we’ve been on two sites and met new clients; we’re sitting here talking about power points at one point, and another time we’re looking at 3D models trying to work out whether the design’s right. I like these extremes of conversations in just one day, and find it really interesting and engaging.

Cucina Colac by MAKE

What is your design process like?

I think one of the biggest things that we look out for is being site-specific. This is related to an existing building – what the house and suburb, are like, and designing in accordance to what is appropriate to that context.

Even though at MAKE we focus on smaller projects, there’s this idea of ‘building small but thinking big’. We believe a small project can have greater ideas incorporated within it. It can give back to its community, be it by being more sustainable or positively affecting how its occupants live. This is an agenda that is always running in the office.

We like the different constraints that a client’s brief brings to the process, which means there is not necessarily a prescribed style to our designs, so our buildings look different. There’s clearly collaboration with our clients to produce a building, and you can see their personality shine through in the end result.

I’ve also always had a keen interest in landscape, so I try not to differentiate the indoors and outdoors with my buildings, but make them connect and flow.

House Reduction by MAKE

Sustainability is a key driver for MAKE. Why do you think a sustainable ethos is important, and how is it achieved with each project?

I don’t know anyone that would need me to tell them why sustainability is important. I think the question should be whether we want things that we currently enjoy to still be around for our kids. It’s about a larger social responsibility.

In the end, architecture is not really a sustainable profession – we’re building new things that use resources which are costly to the environment, and so we try to minimise our impact wherever we can. But, we’re not necessarily doing this through add-on sustainability features that cost money.

One of the conversations we’re more interested in having is how to design in a way that might help people to live sustainably. Rather than building poorly, we try to build a bit less, but make it of a higher quality so it lasts much longer.

The other major thing that’s part of every project for us is siting and orientation. These basic principles are so important, and you get them for free.

How does this translate to the JWT Presentation Space?

We’ve reused an existing warehouse space for the JWT project, which is a lot about sustainability in the office and work life. The office space has natural ventilation and access to light, and uses less energy for heating and cooling. In addition, we’ve tried to use materials with minimal impact, such as the recycled timbers.

A large part of the office is its breakout spaces, which were designed for a more sustainable way of working, like allowing occupants to take time out from their desk and get away from the computer screen. These little flexible spaces also perform more than one function, and can be used for multiple reasons, tying in with our idea of building less and small, but thinking big.

JWT Presentation Space by MAKE

What do you think are key obstacles hindering Australian architects in designing sustainably?

I probably think the current political climate, without naming names!

What improvements do you think should be made for policies as well as individual architects and practices so they can contribute to a more sustainable built environment?

Many of the people and clients who deal with architects know about sustainability and are engaged in that conversation, but educating people is still important. I think the biggest issue for architects is that we’re still only involved in such a small percentage of projects. We’re not relevant enough, so the suburbs are marching out and the growth boundaries keep being extended. Most of the cookie cutter houses being built are not designed by architects and have no consideration to orientation and siting.

Do you have any words of advice on sustainable design?

I don’t pretend to be an expert, but we work hard to think responsibly about what we do. With small budget projects, we try and integrate sustainable elements, so they are not necessarily things that you add on or take off. The most important tip I would give is to design for place, orientation and seasons.

Entries have opened for the 2014 BPN Sustainability Awards. To find out more or enter, please click here. Submissions close on 4 July 2014.