With every new project we set ourselves the goal to reveal the ‘And’. It is rarely part of the client’s brief and often not imagined by a site’s development controls.

Instead the ‘And’ could be a key urban move, a unique built gesture or a subtle moment of surprise that forms through the design process - bringing value to the built environment and giving something back to the local community beyond the demands of the project.

A rich design process tests and challenges the obvious; it explores options and opportunities to create something unique and engaging, optimising the potential of every project and the positive impact that each can have on its place and its people; users and public alike.

The city deserves quality public spaces and buildings and no matter the scale or budget of the project, there is no reason to settle for the bare minimum or the most obvious solution. With design initiative, broad thinking and most importantly the ambition to test the status quo, every brief big or small has an important role to play in making a meaningful contribution to our city’s built fabric.

The most rewarding design processes are where the client, council and consultants all see the benefit of giving significant time and effort to a project to achieve the best possible outcome.

For Newcastle East End, SJB initiated an alternative design excellence process in consultation with the Council and their design review panel for the redevelopment of four city blocks within Newcastle’s old town.

Stage one of the development involves an entire block which incorporates the retention of multiple heritage facades and the former David Jones Building to be stitched amongst three new residential buildings. It was imperative to us that this development would ensure a rich diversity of architectural fabric be introduced to the site despite the fact that each new building would be designed and built at the same time.

For this we invited Tonkin Zulaikha Greer and Durbach Block Jaggers to design two new buildings adjacent to ours during an intensive design excellence process, with iterative presentations and reviews by the Council’s elected design review panel.

In contrast to the traditional design excellence competition, this process was a highly collaborative one where the broader design team was able to work together and challenge each other to make the most of the opportunity at hand, to reshape a whole city block and reinstate the urban grain lost throughout history.

Together we remoulded the massing, responding to one another and reforming each building’s skirt to define a strong edge to a new activated public square at the heart of the site, contributing a moment of discovery to a broader network of pedestrianised lanes.

Had each architectural design team worked in isolation, our ability to push the envelope and reshape the public domain in such a significant way would have been greatly diminished. In this case the ‘And’ was found through the power we were given to recreate the public spaces between our buildings in a synchronised and thoughtful manner.

Private developments can create unique opportunities to unlock parts of the city and connect dots in a way that would not otherwise be possible for the public domain. Even a single building project has the potential to positively impact the way in which we experience our city during the day to day.

Casba in Waterloo, Sydney designed in collaboration with SJB and BLP stitches together two sides of a large block by generously opening its communal open space to the public, creating a fruitful shortcut through the site and a pedestrian link not previously available to the public domain. The serenely landscaped courtyard at the site’s centre forms an oasis for both visitors and residents and has become a desirable, activated ant track for the local community.

In responding to a highly constrained CBD site, our Loftus Lane building proposal in Circular Quay introduces a new through-site link by pulling the envelope away from the adjacent heritage Hinchcliff House; forming an enticingly narrow pedestrian lane between our building and the newly exposed heritage wall.

This fine-grained break in the street wall has the characteristics of Nurses Walk in The Rocks and was not imagined by the masterplan we inherited; in reshaping our building’s envelope we have been able reveal a historical piece of building signage and celebrate its presence within the public domain.

Such moves allow a new precinct to establish itself seamlessly by adding to the layers of time within the city’s built fabric and integrating new and old buildings in a complementary way. 

Each of these projects revealed opportunities beyond their brief to contribute to their place in a more meaningful way than to simply provide the functions within.

As with heritage fabric, public art has the potential to tie a new development to its location and make it memorable and relevant to the public. One key identifier of having achieved the ‘And’ is if the minds of the public can be captured through architecture; if the local community notice and talk about architecture and the positive effect it has on their day to day life, then we have moved beyond creating architecture for architects.

The incorporation of public art into our projects presents an interesting opportunity to respond to context and local culture more deeply than our buildings can alone. Public Art, whilst often selected for its aesthetic properties, has a greater role of storytelling and engaging people in their place intellectually.

We find that the most successful of our projects incorporating public art are those that integrate the work into the architecture in a meaningful and considered way from an early design stage – not tacked on as an afterthought and not a token piece that floats in an empty space.

With public art a compulsory and valuable element of our new BMW and MINI showroom project in Rushcutters Bay, we developed an idea to introduce a significant piece of Indigenous public art whilst remaining within the bounds of the stringent corporate identity of the international brands.

At an early stage we identified the MINI showroom façade as an ideal canvas to integrate an artwork that spoke of the local culture place from an Indigenous perspective, whilst retaining the strong gridded architectural aesthetic of the MINI building.

For this, sisters Sarrita and Tarisse King were engaged to create an artwork that would wrap the entire building with perforated metal panels; every piece unique and making up the whole story.

We believe it is the first time worldwide that BMW and MINI have localised their buildings in such a direct way. It’s when these types of interventions are achieved on our projects we know that we have moved beyond an appropriate design response to a special one.

At a smaller scale we have used integrated artworks within residential projects as a generous offering to the residents that has a greater impact than luxury materials or grand spaces.

A piece within the lobby at our Coast development in Bondi engages the senses and memory with a carved sculptural piece by Mika Utzon-Popov which speaks of the immediate coastal context. Everybody touches the smooth formation as they walk through the space, adding to the beauty and patina of the concrete artwork.

The timeliness of each of the discussed interventions have been critical to their realisation – a discussion must start early to allow an idea to establish itself as being integral to the project’s completion.

As architects we have the responsibility to push ourselves to achieve excellence; the process isn’t over until the ‘And’ has been realised.

Read the full artcile in the April / July issue of Architecture & Design magazine.