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    Three Emerging Architecture Practices to Watch

    Geraldine Chua

    Much can be—and has been—said about ‘the next generation’, but it cannot be denied that they are invested in social and environmental sustainability. 

    As design director of Woods Bagot’s Brisbane Studio, Mark Damant, said in an interview in 2016:

    “One of the things that I’m noticing in the new generation and newer graduates is a higher level of ethics and responsibility, particularly with regard to community and the global climate.

    “It’s amazing the level of responsibility you see, and they’ll be able to put their money where their mouth is.”

    We explore three emerging architecture and design practices from around the world—including Australia—who are truly, walking the talk in sustainable design.

    IF_DO

    Established in 2014, London-based studio IF_DO is a RIBA chartered practice “dedicated to creating projects with a positive impact on users, the environment and the surrounding community.”

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    Perhaps their most notable project to date is the Dulwich Pavilion, a temporary public space that was showcased at the 2017 London Festival of Architecture.

    Named ‘After Image’, the project sought to mediate between the monolithic nature of a gallery originally designed by architect Sir John Soane, and the ever-changing nature of its surroundings.

    The pavilion’s form is lightweight and simple; a reflection of the gallery. A timber truss roof, resting on mirrored panels, is suspended over a timber deck. Together with cantilevered mesh, it creates a canopy-like environment, with the resulting shadows furthering the interplay of “space, perception and memory’.

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    Dulwich Pavilion by If_DO. Photography by Joakim Boren, courtesy of IF_DO.

    A series of translucent mirrored screens, which feature videos of the building and landscape, form the remaining ‘walls’. Moveable and replaceable, they can be reconfigured for different events.

    Elements of the structure—designed for minimal disruption and environmental impact to the site—were pre-fabricated by Weber Industries in their studio. Following the London Festival of Architecture, ‘After Image’ was dismantled and reassembled at the playground of a south London primary school.

    WHISPERING SMITH

    Whispering Smith, founded in 2011, seeks to collaborate “with clients, makers, professionals and everyday people who are passionate about making good spaces that are big on everyday delight”.

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    The practice’s House A project is a great example of this ethos. One of three carbon neutral dwellings in Scarborough, Western Australia, the three-storey structure features a loft on top and a garage underneath; and is made from whitewashed recycled brick and concrete panels made of high recycled content.

    Some of the house’s other reported ESD initiatives include a rain tank under the deck, the lack of air conditioning, solar panels, and excellent walls and roof insulation. The residence was also oriented so it receives sea breezes during the day,

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    Measuring just 170sqm, the project shows that well-designed small spaces are just as comfortable and liveable as bigger homes.

    "I recently did an analysis of a project home design, and out of 139 square metres on the ground floor, almost 100 square metres of it was unusable small spaces—dog legged corridors, water closets, an internet room, linen cupboards," Whispering House’s director, Kate Fitzgerald, told the ABC.

    "Just 39 square metres was for kitchen, dining and living.

    "In [House A] our wasted space is around 10 to 15 percent, so we need a lot less square meterage to achieve the results we have.”

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    Photography by Benjamin Hosking, courtesy of Whispering Smith.

    PEOPLE’S ARCHITECTURE OFFICE

    Founded in Beijing in 2010, People’s Architecture Office (PAO) believes in designing “for the public”, and is Asia’s first design agency with B Corporation certification. The certification is issued by non-profit organisation, B Lab, to for-profit companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance.  

    One of POA’s most noteworthy projects is the Plugin House, an exploration into affordable housing solutions in Beijing’s Xicheng Distrct.

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    Designing for a client who wanted to create a home in the Hutong neighbourhood she grew up in, the team transformed an old cottage using its proprietary prefabricated Plugin Panels. Originally developed for this project, the Plugin House System is waterproof and can be used outside of an existing structure.

    “These prefabricated modules incorporate insulation, interior and exterior finish into one molded part. Plugin Panels attach to each other with an integrated lock, making construction a task simple enough to be completed by a couple of unskilled people and one tool in one day,” PAO explains. “Wiring and plumbing are integrated into the molded composite panels.”

    The new home is custom-designed for the client, and features a living room with a double height ceiling and skylights. To relieve the client of her claustrophobia, the small bathroom also features a skylight, but receives reflected sunlight from a blue privacy screen. A roof deck gives her breathing room from the dense surroundings and private social space.

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    Replacing part of the old cottage, the Plugin features its own kitchen and bathroom, as well as an off-the-grid composting toilet system. This makes life for the client more convenient in a neighbourhood with no sewage system and only public toilets.

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    Photography by People’s Architecture Office and Gao Tianxia, courtesy of POA.

    “As an expression of intersecting social forces the Plugin House is a new urban vernacular born from local conditions,” POA notes.

    “For original residents like Mrs. Fan to move back to these historic parts of Beijing is rare. Through improving living standards for an affordable price within given social constraints the Plugin House attempts to breathe new life into old neighborhoods.”

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