Creative director and founder of Melbourne-based landscape firm Acre Brett Robinson wants to shake up traditional landscape design by focusing on texture and contrast. He talks exclusively with Architecture & Design.
On your website, it says, "Landscapes fill our eyes, minds and hearts every day, impacting how we feel without us even knowing it. It's from this understanding of our unique connections to nature that Acre designs many outdoor surroundings." How does this influence how you go about designing whatever project you've got on?
I think we're landscape architects in the truest form, in that our first priority is always the architecture of the landscape. We're always looking at things for their site context and how you interact with the landscape, how you connect with the landscape, how the architecture actually flows into the landscape, and how you as a person will interact and actually use that space.
So that's always our first priority when it comes to designing. What we often do is we get that all working beautifully and then we will bring plants in as an overlay or as a second staging.
The plants play a real role in bringing a motive kind of softness to our spaces, and quite often our landscape architecture is very monolithic and quite brutal in its, I guess, its masculinity or its monolithic forms. I think it is the plants that play a role that almost counteract that somewhat and make these spaces that have a sense of emotion or have a sense of calm or a sense of excitement and make people feel a certain way within those spaces.
The ability to walk home and open your house and feel like you're in a sanctuary, or feel like you're relaxed as soon as you walk into that space is something we're really proud of, and it does create these areas that people want to be and they entertain more and they use the outdoor areas more and they actually leave outside more, more than they would if we had not been involved. We're very conscious of making the spaces active and it's something that we pride ourselves on.
One project that comes to mind is one we're talking about and working through at the moment where we've worked collaboratively with Hecker Guthrie and with the architects on this Future Cities project in South Yarra. Basically, we've been involved since day one. We've actually added a positive impact on the architecture. So, we have, I guess, allowed changes to be made during the process. There's nothing worse than coming to a project late in the game and not being able to change it.
Acre further says that, "Our goal is to be an industry leader constantly striving for the temporary style that is timeless in its form and rooted deeply in traditional design principles." Would you say that you've achieved this in terms of your designs?
The easiest way of kind of supporting that statement is the fact that we don't follow trends. I'm of the opinion that a trend is trendy and then dies very quickly and becomes very unpopular. You can look at beautiful stone clad walls and they could be 300 years old and they still have an element of elegance or an element of architectural detail or finesse.
What we pride ourselves on is a focus on beautiful natural materials, lovely architectural details, things that don't really date, things that aren't really of the moment. And we find that then gives us a, I guess, a timeless design.
A respect for the materiality and a respect for the detailing. There might be beauty in the simplicity of the architectural details or there might be wow factor actually in the complexity of those architectural details. That's something we do. We love to bring in a clarity on the materials palette and we love to I guess, refine our detailing when it comes to landscape architecture.
Circulation for us is important, definitely. How the rooms and how the architecture connects with the landscape is important, and that then links to the circulation. When we're talking about things like this Future Cities Project in River Street, I guess, the areas that the built form is actually recessed or proud allows internal courtyards, it allows spaces to chase the sun, chase the shade areas that kind of allow you to move around the building and allow air circulation to flow through the spaces. And then water for us is important for many reasons. We've got a pretty crazy climate here, which makes the difficulties of a landscape architect a little bit more pronounced than other parts of the world, particularly when we're moving up out of the air.
Let’s talk about the Future Cities. That idea is being replicated, I believe, all around Australia in various forms. But what exactly are you doing in terms of ACRE?
Well, I guess it comes back to the shift we've seen in the market, again, because when everyone started going up out of the ground, there was a massive influx in construction and there was a lot of buildings going up, and you're seeing it in Sydney at the moment, you're saying in Melbourne, badly built buildings going up.
What we've seen in the last five years is a real shift towards boutique style of architecture and putting more emphasis on making sellable packages that are really exceptional outcomes, I guess, for people to live in. We've seen a move away from 20-storey kind of mass-produced cookie cutter approach and we've seen a real move towards boutique style developments. And I guess that's what this Future Cities Project is, is it's I guess, a boutique development in its truest form. It is not a cookie cutter.
There's essentially three large townhouses across three levels that all have a different look and feel and a different story behind them, and it's quite interesting as a project because I guess that's a different direction for multi-res to date, because multi-res normally to date is that cookie cutter approach of replication to reduce costs. But we're actually finding that people are moving away from that as a model and putting more emphasis on these kinds of highly finished, detail resolved outcomes.
What I'm hearing is that you now have the market that is willing to pay for both quality, for both, let's call it a bespoke approach, and also for something that is not just four walls, it's actually an extension of their life and their values.
Apartment living was always internalised, and the difference is the idea of vistas actually coming to play in a high-rise, which is just, that's a new direction. That hasn't been done before, that you look through a light well and you get glimpses of landscape through a foyer and all of those kinds of things. There's excitement in this architecture and there's the ability to look through our living space and actually see a private garden. You might be three storeys, four storeys up in the air and you've got your own private pool. I mean, there's some real exciting things going on there that has just not been possible before. You're exactly right because the market hasn't been there, but the market has completely shifted to this style of living now and there's some beautiful details in this build site.
For the full interview with Brett Robinson, got to our podcast series: Talking Architecture & Design, and click on Episode 23.