Jill Garner co-founded Garner Davis Architects in 1990 and joined the Office of the Victorian Government Architect as associate government architect in 2010, before becoming government architect in 2015. She is one of the first graduates of Masters by Design program offered at RMIT.
Garner is also a presenter on popular design, style and building TV show, Australia by Design and talks exclusively to Architecture & Design about her ideas on design, architecture, reality TV and the concept of a ‘sense of place’.
As a lecturer in architecture, what are some things that are taught at University but not applied by architects during their work careers?
My own teaching within the university has had a design focus that extends to the history and theory of contemporary architecture. These subjects teach understanding of how to tackle a design problem - this is part of the everyday work of an architect.
There are many subjects taught but not applied, usually because they are a separate capability. Learning how to calculate the size of a structural beam, how a cost estimate is put together, having the chance to build a brick wall – these are not what architects do day to day, but it is incredibly important to understand them as they are all parts of the process of making architecture real.
Do you think that shows like Australia by Design can help put Architects on the same public pedestal as Chefs with shows like MasterChef and is this a good or bad thing?
Our everyday lives are touched by the places that surround us. Any discussion that introduces the concept of ‘design’ as an important part of making these places - our buildings, streets and parks - is helping our community be more discerning.
I like to think the show is intriguing and informative, showing that the work of a good architect is functional, sustainable, safe, and a delight to experience. It would be nice to think a glimpse into the passion, commitment and beautiful projects delivered by architects can help raise public awareness of their work. At the same time, an understanding of the long-term responsibilities inherent in building architecture is not always evident – a burnt cake can always be put in the bin!
Let’s talk about a 'sense of place'. How does this translate to the buildings you design and how does this differ across the country?
Quality, thoughtful design is the essential ingredient at the heart of any successful project. The concept of a ‘sense of place’ or ‘genius loci’ (the word used in architectural education) encourages architects to capture the unique spirit of the places where we build, and the people for whom we build. Respect for the values and identity of community, culture, history and ecology can be embedded in the design of every place, building or landscape.
Although these principles can be the basis of every project, a design response will vary enormously across the country. Like many architects, I like to find a local history, peculiar to a place, that informs a building design. It means any library, kindergarten, school or health centre I design will resonate with the place where it is built and the people who use it.
What would be your dream project and why?
I am pretty good at ‘unravelling’ the complexities of a brief and finding a deceptively simple built solution to a client’s needs and wants. I really enjoy the process of making a building that is a little bit surprising.
This means my dream project would be one that has that challenge - it would be a public building, with complexity in its use, occupants, visitor needs and it would have the capacity to improve the quality of the place where it is built. My dream project would also need a dream client - where communication, trust and time are critical parts of the process of making.
Getting back to Australia by Design, is there something that you have learned from being on the show that will be an advantage for you in your practice?
I have had the privilege of meeting many architects and seeing many projects of all sizes and types right across Australia. It has reinforced the passion, commitment and clever experimentation that architects bring to their work. I’ve seen materials, concepts and details that remind me that the right mix of practicality and joy is the key to the success of a project.
On the point of running an architecture practice, I have seen over the past few years more and more women running practices and that are doing what one journalist described as 'really cool things' with urban design. Is this a trend that is set to continue and why has this trend become so prominent recently?
There are more women running practices - this probably may simply reflect a more balanced number of women graduating from our universities and registering as an architect. (Gender numbers were very unbalanced when I went through university and happily this has changed.)
Although an unenviable time commitment, running a practice can offer flexibility – this can be attractive to women at times over their career. I do not believe the statistics you discuss are reflected in the large architectural practices where it is still unusual to find gender balance in partnership roles.
Interest in urban design is an important general shift in the design of places. This broadened view of what is important when designing places for people has elevated the collaborative role of landscape architects (where statistics suggest there are more women practitioners).