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Synergy – architecture, design, sustainability and light

Sometimes in life, we trot along. And sometimes in life, we have an ‘ah ha’ moment, and we are forever changed for the better. The partnership between Shift Architecture and 10A Architecture is just that. Two colleagues with complementary strengths moving forward together to create something different. Something new, something fresh, something innovative.

Universal Light editor sat down with Juliana Torres from Shift Architecture and Emma Rodgers from 10AArchitecture to talk about their design collaboration set to cause a stir in the industry.

How did the partnership begin?

Juliana: Emma (10A) and I first worked together over 12 years ago when we were employed by a prestigious design firm in the CBD, working on large interior projects. We have since left this multi-national practice to establish our respective architectural studios. But in recent months, we have come back together and capitalised on symbiotic disciplines and our shared mindset of good sustainable design. 

Emma: With COVID, Juliana and I realised that change is one of the only constants in our world. Globally and collectively, we have undergone massive transformations. Some of those changes, we think, allow for new forms of partnership to flourish. And that was what happened between us. We are both ‘Jills of the Trade’ with our big-end-of-town design experience. Having worked together for many years, we know that we possess the skills and expertise that greatly complement each other. So we saw this as an opportunity to form 10A Shift. We are a client-focused design collaboration handling all areas of a project. Together, we deliver a personalised, holistic and relationship-based sustainable design solution for our clients. 

What has drawn you to design as a profession?

Juliana: It’s almost embarrassing to say, but maybe it was designing Barbie houses. Obviously, it was more than that as I also observed the architect role models around me — and Barbie was my first client. I was attracted to the profession at an early age, but with absolutely no foresight of how much hard work, sweat, and tears it would involve. Also, no understanding of how far it would take me — literally, the other side of the globe. My long architectural journey started from Belo Horizonte in Brazil, and now I call Perth, Australia home. Arriving on a sponsored visa 13 years ago to now an Australian citizen. How amazing is architecture? 

Emma: The first time I was truly aware of the impact of interior spaces was when I was 21, backpacking through Europe and visiting the Pantheon in Rome. The space took my breath away. The restrained exterior gave no hint of just how unique and all-encompassing an interior could be. Even with other tourists surrounding me, I was so wrapped up in the effect of the internal space that I felt as if I was entirely alone. Everything was so captivating, from the curved interior, the amazing patterned domed ceiling to the uncovered oculus that allowed intrusions of light and weather. Together, they created such an impactful experience that led me to pursue interior design as a profession. What has remained with me to this day is the significance of interior spaces and how they influence us. Every element matters; lighting, atmosphere, colour, texture, view, sound, and proportion are all integral to the success of a space.

How do you go from a design brief to a good design?

Juliana: With the design brief as the beginning of a conversation, a good design is the result of an honest long conversation. It is inclusive, and it flows. It is simple. It starts from the initial client ideas and then develops further during the design process to achieve never-thought-of results. This includes dialogue between designers, engineers, builders and manufacturers. It [good design] has a common goal. And that is how we design – with a lot of conversations, with collaboration.

Emma: Design is a collaborative effort. It is a team of people, including clients, consultants, contractors and specialists in their fields, that work together to bring a project to life. I constantly collaborate. My husband, who is an architect, is an excellent sounding board with very practical and great advice. Of course, my business partner Juliana is paramount in the collaboration process. Our projects are shared creations, with Juliana and I working together to get the best out of them.

An example of collaboration between a supplier and ourselves was the lighting scheme for a heritage project, where the lighting in a narrow foyer with a very high ceiling, needed to be a feature element. The design for the lighting came from referencing the pattern of the pressed tin ceiling in this space. We did not want to suspend luminaires. Instead, we wanted a fitting that we could install on the wall to highlight the space’s height and draw attention away from the interior’s narrowness. Being a heritage site, we also had firm constraints, such as all new cabling needed to be surface mounted. Working with the lighting manufacturer, we were able to modify a linear product to use the feed from an existing light fitting. The driver was then hidden in a fabricated box that we positioned to look like part of this lighting element.

Since we are a publication for the lighting curious, what is your view on lighting?

Juliana: Lighting depends on whether it is a new build or refurbishment of an existing structure. Daylight and views of the world outside improve our health, but often there are no vistas. We then turn to lighting solutions to create a welcoming atmosphere. As an architect, the advancements in LED lighting are very exciting. We can integrate lighting into the design to support the architectural intent. Integrated lighting also provides a welcoming, comfortable space. Lighting can make a space feel bigger or smaller, light and sunny or moody and almost sensual. And, the technology offers lighting with lower energy requirements and exponentially longer lifetimes which supports our focus on sustainable design. 

In addition to selecting the fittings, sometimes we use automation and programming to enhance the solution. In the design of a remote operation centre, which runs 24/7/365, we used automation to adjust the colour temperature of the light fittings throughout the day to mimic the sun’s natural colour of the sun, which varies during the day. Early morning and late afternoon (the golden hours), it has a warmer colour temperature (around 3000K), and it has a cooler colour temperature around midday and overcast days (around 6500K). 

Emma: Both Juliana and I are very cognizant of the impact of lighting in our projects. Lighting allows us to see, but it does a whole lot more. We use apparent light sources like pendants, but we also use architectural light to focus on where we want to direct your attention, make you feel a certain way, and draw inhabitants towards the light. For example, in the ‘locker’ area discussed below, we used light as a metaphor running lines of light across several planes to provide light, visual interest and connection. 

As Green Star professionals, what do you think make a good sustainable design?

Juliana: We specialise in both residential and commercial interiors, so there’s no single way to define a good sustainable design. Still, there is a clear distinction between the two: Home design differs from commercial work. Commercial work is often designed for a ‘typical’ person, but home design is very personal. My favourite part of working on residential projects is the “sparkle” in clients’ eyes when their dream comes to life —` first in a drawing and then in their new home.

Emma: The commercial sector permits a concept or idea to drive our design process. For instance, we are currently working on a commercial project, and part of the brief was the installation of lockers for their staff. You may be thinking, ‘lockers, that is not exciting. I thought interior design was all about the glamour?’ Yes, the lockers do have a practical side as well as supporting the client’s bigger picture of incorporating agile work practices within their workplace. 

This project also involved some modifications to their workspaces. We looked at what we could reuse and readapt to suit their changing approach to work. With the changes, we knew that we would need to modify the existing lighting. The lighting needed to satisfy the practical aspect of seeing into the lockers as well as reflect the project’s underlying idea: connection. To meet this requirement, we agreed on a linear light fitting that we could install on the wall and then join with the suspended linear light on the ceiling to produce a seamless strip of connected light. As a result, we have a lighting scheme that represents the connection concept and the client’s business objective of connecting people and places. 

How do you think sustainability shapes and defines good design now and into the future? 

Juliana: We see that there is great awareness of design and its impact on the environment. The Paris Agreement states that by 2050, carbon emissions from buildings worldwide should be 80-90% lower than today. Sustainability doesn’t start with material choices but must be built into a project from day one, not an add on. Emma and I are also a fan of reusing things. We produce far too much waste as a society. Quality materials and furniture can have a long life — and multiple lives.

Emma: I believe that, as a designer, I have a responsibility not to compromise, to the best of my ability, our environment, now or in the future. Being considerate of the life cycle and impacts of the products I use within a project is vital.

The ‘locker’ project is also a great example of how aspects of sustainability can be delivered through thoughtful and mindful design. As stated before, our clients wanted to modify their existing workplace, which had been designed over ten years ago, to incorporate agile workspaces. To be honest, the existing bones of their workplace were good, so instead of stripping it out, Juliana and I looked at what we could suggest to the client to reuse and readapt to suit their changing approach to work. Their furniture, which was part of the original fit-out, was in excellent condition. Additionally, we saw joinery elements that could be modified to maintain the language of the original fit-out but slightly reworked, so it was familiar but also different. We actively pursued modifying some joinery elements and reusing and repositioning existing furniture. This ethos sat well with the client, who has a policy of zero landfill waste. It was exciting to see how responsive the client and their staff were to these modifications. By reusing and modifying existing elements, we were responsible for keeping items in excellent condition out of the landfill. It’s not just us. There are wonderful initiatives such as Green Chair who also strive to reduce the number of good condition items sent to landfills. 

10A Shift is our new collaborative direction born out of the passion for improving our clients’ well-being, and the world around us. It means working with clients, those who value sustainability and those not as knowledgeable, that we can guide so they too understand its value in good design. Together, we are focusing on repurposing, reconnection and invigorating the built space. 

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