An addiction called architecture

I saw that look in my business partner’s eyes. In architecture it’s rare.

Do you remember back to when you were a kid and having to wait a whole 12 months for Christmas to come seemed such a long time. But when it did arrive, the smile beamed right across your dial and no-one was left in any doubt about the excitement.

That’s pretty much how it is on the good side of this addiction we call architecture. We work hard, we try to be as good as we can, we try not to shout, we try not to cry, we try not to pout, I’m tellin’ you why… after what seems an eternity… It all comes to fruition.

Things have been fairly manic around our practice for a good while. It’s the reality of coming out of the GFC with a good reputation and a good team still in tact and now all we have to do is survive the boom…but here we are a few years on with quite a range of projects reaching that stage when you remember what it was all for. Sure there is great excitement in winning great projects with old and new clients; achieving development consent for projects that will add to their context and support their community in a myriad of ways; it’s great to get a build price in the realms of viable so the project proceeds to construction and then to have great teams of people collaborate to bring them to fruition. But the reality is, none of those things on their own, or even as a collective, can match the real excitement of bringing a project to it’s ultimate goal… a completed construction with a happy client and occupant.

“It wasn’t the usual professional handshake from Janelle this morning as we left the site… It was a full embrace”. When a good client realises what has been achieved for them in those closing moments of the construction, emotions and the depth of relationship that develops through the process overflow into natural and genuine affection… and at ‘that’ moment, we realise we have exceeded their goal and achieved our own. To see a great building from dream through conception to reality is the thing that feeds this addiction… there really is nothing else like it.

It’s a dangerous addiction. There are the obvious hazards of dedicating your waking hours to a pursuit which brings little financial benefit compared with the effort and risk invested (did you hear the one about the architect who won the lottery – “I’ll just keep practicing architecture till it’s all gone”). There are the less obvious hazards, like spending most of any sleeping hours that you do cobbled together resolving a troublesome plan or detail that really only works ‘in your dreams’. But there are the physical hazards as well – have you ever turned to use a staircase that you have walked down in your imagination for several years… but the builder hasn’t got around to installing yet?!

But when the builder has finished his work, and the client is delighting in the realisation of your imagination, that’s when you can see it in the eyes.

kenthurst house

Our collection of addicts have been getting their ‘hit’ of late: the team are bringing to conclusion a major project that has occupied their lives for the last 5 years and we humbly submit that we have done a damn good thing in Alice Street; but there is at least as much delight for us in bringing a ramshackle house in Concord to its new life for Bob and Janelle; and this is the same excitement that we enjoyed last week as our clients in Kenthurst showed the photographer through their new home, poised in it’s arcadian landscape like a modernist sculpture, framing views that were previously only undefined potential.

And I’ve had moments of it myself as my own family fills out the new atrium kitchen at the heart of our historic house with unsolicited compliments – can you believe, from teenagers! – surely the great privilege of any architect dad.

Creating great places for people, using imagination that fills our days, but unexpectedly delighted moments for our clients is the thing that drives this addiction. Watch for it in the eyes.

[avatar user=”” size=”thumbnail” align=”left”]Tony McBurney[/avatar]

Tony McBurney is director of integratedDESIGNgroup, an architectural practice founded in Bathurst and grown across offices in North Strathfield and Penrith. The practice has been intimately involved in the regeneration of Sydney’s outer areas and is keenly engaged in a bigger question of Australian regional development. As program chair of the ARDC tony is overseeing this years conference taking a positive view of the transition of regional centres from mining to a “real economy” of engagement in a globally connected society.