Ray Hudson is the practice principal at Budden Nangle Michael Hudson Architects, a Sydney architectural design practice that manages a wide range of Educational & Research sector projects throughout New South Wales.

He shares with us about what his ‘standard day involves’, his thoughts about the Australian architecture and design industry, and even dishes out advice for emerging architects.

Tell us a bit more about yourself.

I have a firm commitment to the process of Master Planning to guide the ongoing development of major Educational & Research Campuses, and have been fortunate to provide this service in addition to the architectural design of specific buildings for many of our clients.

My educational facility design experience covers all levels, from Early Learning through to high level Tertiary Research Facilities. It invariably involves detailed interaction with educators who are passionate and committed to achieving high quality outcomes, and who are therefore vitally interested in the quality of the physical environment we provide. This supports and enhances their educational process and the manner in which new building elements integrate with, support and add to the quality of the overall Campus environment.

I believe that education should be an enjoyable and invigorating process for students, educators and the wider community. Hence, much of my work focuses on creating environments that are fun to work in, research in, are simply enjoyable places to be in, and where the movement process throughout the campus is carefully designed to maximise social interaction during the day and to create a strong sense of collegiate community identity.

How did you get into architecture?

I enjoyed building models and understanding how buildings and machines worked throughout my childhood – I was constantly pulling apart mechanised toys to understand how they worked, then rebuilding in a different form and quite often to a custom design to create something unique.

My father was a Chartered Accountant and some work experience soon evidenced that, while I understood figures, I did not particularly enjoy them and I then considered a number of potential careers before deciding that architecture offered a challenging mix of sociology, design and technology that was closer to my natural interests.

I studied architecture at the University of Sydney and worked with two architectural practices during and immediately after completing my degrees, before joining my current practice in my mid-20s and becoming a Partner a few years later.

While the time commitment of architecture is intense – certainly not a 9 to 5 profession – it is incredibly rewarding, always challenging, never repetitive or boring, involves very close relationships with a range of interesting people and provides the opportunity to create environments and buildings that do have a real and hopefully positive impact upon people's lives. It is hard to imagine a better or more challenging career.

What does your standard day look like?

The great part about architecture is that there is no such thing as a standard day – even the journey to work varies as often I will schedule client meetings, flights to regional project inspections or Sydney based building site inspections first thing in the morning prior to going to the office.

Our office is a multilevel open plan environment which promotes direct and continuous interaction between all staff members who are all fully qualified architects and have worked with me over a long period – the guys will raise any issues that require my input so they are resolved throughout the day.

A considerable portion of the day is spent running the practice in conjunction with my office manager, my wife, so it is a very personal relationship and one that reduces my administrative load significantly – attending to emails, assisting the guys in responding to site construction queries and programming of future workloads.

Much of my design is done after hours – sometimes at home and other times during extended sessions at the office as it is easier to get the continuous thinking time required to resolve complex design issues when the phone stops ringing and email traffic has slowed down.

The biggest challenge is managing time to ensure that sufficient continuous and               uncluttered thinking time is available to design new projects and grapple with the often complex problems generated during the detailed design resolution stage of projects. This ensures that they remain consistent in conceptual terms, while still satisfying the multiple requirements of budget, statutory controls, functional outcomes and the integration specialist consultant input.

What inspires you?

People – the way in which they interact with their environment, their aspirations for themselves and others, and the pure complexity involved in identifying and understanding these issues so I can respond with a design and ultimately a built response that meets these needs and works into the future.

The process of architecture is an inspiration in itself. The outcomes are significant, generally long lasting and the responses the built form generates in others are generally assessable. The feedback is fuel for the next project.

The trust that is placed in you as an architect when you are commissioned is a rare privilege and a significant responsibility, as well as an inspiration to the process that follows.

Is there a particular building you wished you designed?

I enjoy experiencing buildings and travel extensively so that I can walk through and understand the way in which individual buildings of obvious merit respond to their social and physical environment and meet their functional programs.

Buildings that stood out in recent years are the library at Alexandria in Egypt, a small scale regional community library in Fallbrook USA, anything designed by Gaudi in Barcelona and the Frank Lloyd Wright prairie houses in Oak Park, Chicago.

I am not certain that I wished I had designed any of these buildings, as their designers have done an extraordinary job in balancing the built form and context in all cases, but I feel privileged to have visited these buildings, and am very happy that they exist to be enjoyed by others.

What do you think could be improved in Australia’s architecture and design industry?

I feel that Australia’s architecture is generally in a healthy state – the design quality of major projects is consistently improving and compares well on a world scale.

We do not have the history of corporate pride and the associated projection of corporate image/identity in buildings that is more prevalent in Europe and the USA. This limited the quality and budget of a number of our commercial office and factory/production buildings, which were often simply leased development driven solutions. This has changed over the last decade and the positive role of building design quality is now actively debated at all levels from the boardroom to the general community, and is more a focus of approval authorities than ever before.

There are improved opportunities for emerging designers, professional associations and Sydney City planning authorities to support these initiatives. One major improvement I could envisage would be to engage experienced practitioners in the assessment and approval process for a wider range of projects so that this process is more rigorously and professionally based. Although it is difficult to organise because we are all too busy designing our own new projects, this is something that would be beneficial to the wider community and further improve building outcomes.

Any tips for emerging architects or architecture students?

Listen carefully and take the time to understand your client's requirements. Assess context and design to enhance the total environment so that your focus is beyond the individual building forming the specific subject of your commission, and centred on the overall outcome for the relevant local built and social environment.

Carefully assess the external spaces surrounding buildings and the spaces created between new and existing buildings as these are a major component of the success of the final design solution.

Do not be afraid to interact with and understand the physical building process as this will ultimately help you realise your design concepts. Remember that, in addition to meeting their functional requirements, buildings should be fun to use and to be in, and design accordingly.

What was the design process for the Rae Building at Newington College?

The Rae building formed a part of the Sesquicentenary Project – Newington College's largest new building project on the Stanmore Campus since the original Thomas Rowe-designed Founders Building, which is the historic and heritage heart of Newington College.

We had prepared master plans for the College which included a central multi use library and resource building. However the proximity of the proposed new building to the Founders Building and the manner in which a new building could relate to and appropriately respect the prominence of Founders, while serving as an inspirational symbol of learning and knowledge, was considered a sufficient challenge by the College Council. As a result, they elected to proceed by way of a limited design competition to review a range of design responses to a specific brief generated by the College before commissioning an architect to design the project.

Our design process for the competition entry focused on achieving the extensive area brief by developing two separate new building elements and efficiently reusing a significant component of existing building fabric along the Newington Road facade to reduce the scale and visual bulk of the new building. This also generated strong vertical circulation nodes and direct horizontal links at a number of levels to place the new building at the centre of the redeveloped academic circulation.

We created a new visual external heart for the Campus by creating a new quadrangle to terminate the pedestrian entry access, and to link the Founders Building with the new Rae building with an open plaza containing a simple rhythm of deciduous trees and new street furniture to provide outdoor meeting and social interaction space for the Newington community.

A transparent facade for the library and resource area contained in the Rae building was fundamental to our design concept. The views into and from the library space generate a sense of excitement when using the building, visually integrating the new facility and the College’s heritage and creating a new visual focus for the academic centre of the College. The final building achieves the College’s objective of celebrating innovation, learning and knowledge in a clearly modern complex that carefully relates to and enhances the Founders Building and its curtilage.

All original design work was undertaken by hand sketching – both in plan and three-dimensional form – and the bulk of our design competition entry was hand drawn with the plans only transferred to our VectorWorks CAD system. Further design development was undertaken in both two and three-dimensional form in VectorWorks with individual detailed design refinement studies often hand sketched initially to prove and flesh out concepts.

The College arranged detailed briefing and review sessions with all academic and administrative departments involved in the new buildings so that the entire College community provided direct input throughout the design development process, contributing greatly to the ultimate success of all the facilities within the building.

All images of the Newington College by Budden Nangle Michael & Hudson.