RICHARD FRANCIS-JONES / FJMT
IDA 2017 ARCHITECT DESIGN OF THE YEAR WINNER
Before turning to your winning project, The Bunjil Place, let’s talk a little bit about you. You were born and raised in Australia I assume. How and when did you find out that you have a passion for architecture and design?
My passion for architecture is a combination of chance, the choice to study architecture which at the time was somewhat random, and the result of study and experience, from which a great commitment developed.
What are your main sources of inspiration and motivation in your work?
Primary inspirations comes from the site, the rich physical, landscape and social complexity of a place, and equally the purpose, vision and aspiration behind the endeavour and sometimes silent in any brief.
What do you think is the secret for a successful architecture project, and what is the main philosophy behind your company, fjmt? How do you stand out from the crowd?
Our studio is dedicated to design excellence and the enhancement of public domain. No matter who commissions us, our ultimate ‘client’ is the community, in this sense every project is a public project. Our studio attracts like-minded designers aligned to our values and the direction of our work. The studio is a place of mutual high expectations and commitment but also a very open, collaborative, supportive and enjoyable workplace.
The Bunjil Place is a versatile community place in the City of Casey near Melbourne that serves many roles and incorporates a lot of different ideas. How would you describe this project in a few words and what were the main challenges involved?
Bunjil Place is an example of a new form of community and civic building. It is not a single use, or single facility that tends to divide and separate a community by interest, education or culture, but an inclusive hybrid form of public building, reflecting and embracing our diversity. It is a library, a performance theatre, a public gathering space, a place of exhibition, gallery and display, a flexible and experimental space for events, lectures, debate and celebration, it is a help point, a service centre and a place of work and collaboration. Above all perhaps, it is a place where all of this overlaps and interconnects and at the centre is the interconnecting fluid form of the foyer gathering space, a nonhierarchical space that unifies the complex. Bunjil Place is an outstanding example of complex timber structures, incorporating a number of challenging architectural and structural issues. The building provides a multipurpose integrated facility with each function owning particular design requirements that needed to be addressed by the engineering team. The outcome is a range of innovative bespoke solutions that address the constraints and deliver an exciting new facility that is a benchmark for future developments. The roof shape in particular created challenging issues in the analysis, design and construction stages, with detailed modelling in RHINO to create the shape, wind tunnel testing to optimise the wind loads, and many of the connections for the steelwork having to be specifically modelled using finite element programs to assess potential plasticity within the joints. Each separate area of the roof required detailed consideration of wind, thermal and earthquake effects.
The word Bunjil comes from the Australian aboriginal mythology, referring to a creator deity, a wedge-tailed eagle that served as the engine for the whole concept of the Bunjil Place. How can an architectural project successfully embrace such a philosophy? How did you make use of this traditional notion in a modern building?
We looked at the land, history and nature. A central theme was the interpretation of the land in the culture of Wurundjeri, Bunurong and Boon Wurrung people, the traditional owners and inhabitants of this land. Two stories inspired us: the “The Meeting of Many Paths” and “Bunjil” the Eagle. We began to conceive this project as an extended public ground plane and a broad sheltering roof, below which we could gather the hybrid uses of library, theatre, exhibition and also gathering itself.
The architecture began to form around the idea of an organic meeting of many paths, literal pathways but also paths of life. This gathering, to take place under the protective and sheltering wings of a great roof. The hybrid uses and gathering are sheltered under an iconic soaring roof. Like Bunjil’s wings, this sinuous element symbolises not only the traditions of the past, but provides a contemporary vision of the future, movement, technology and innovation. The emblematic roof provides a sheltered central civic space protected from the noise and pollution of the highway to create a welcoming celebration and back-drop for community life, gathering, external performance and interaction. The architecture of Bunjil Place reaches back to find inspiration and depth of meaning in an interpretation of place; to the eternal stories of pre-European settlement that have both specific and universal meaning. But also the architecture projects forward, expressing a vision and aspiration for the community of Narre Warren; a vision of welcome and inclusion, creativity and expression, knowledge sharing and innovation. It is an architecture that embraces new technology and innovation to express eternal and timeless themes true to the unique nature of this place.
What does this recognition mean to you and the team at fjmt, and why do you think these awards are important?
Awards like this are a great honour and acknowledgement of a project and the commitment of the whole team, client, stakeholders, contractors and design team behind it’s making. With a project like this, which seeks to represent a community and it’s inclusive commitment to culture and arts such an award will mean a great deal to the people of Narre Warren
How do you at fjmt decide about taking on specific projects? What do you think is the key to successful teamwork?
The studio culture revolves around project based collaboration. Focussed project groups are supported by the broader studio expertise and resources. It is an organic environment, made from interlocking and overlapping collaborative groups.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in the architecture world today, what is the way forward?
The biggest challenge for us as a profession, is without doubt climate change and the urgency of addressing the IPCC report of keeping global warming to below 1.5C.
What are you working on now, what is in the pipeline for you and for fjmt?
A few of the exciting projects we are working on are a vertical campus building for The University of Technology Sydney which includes advanced collaborative teaching spaces and a new campus library. It will be a remarkably transparent building opening to the central green through a series of glass and operable shading systems, a vertical high school that integrates a series of heritage buildings at the edge of an important public park in Sydney, and a exquisite refurbishment of the the Pepys Building Library for Magdalene College, University of Cambridge.
What is your ultimate goal? If you had to dream big, what would you wish for yourself and your career?
I don’t think in terms of great achievements or big meta dreams. Each project, no matter how modest should have a great aspiration and sense of purpose. Our work is to find and then share the dream within each project, and ultimately realise each of these dreams, big or small.