Aaaaand we’re back with our legendary Interview series for 2017. Hooray! I’m super excited to kick things off by shining a little spotlight on the bright young spark that is Alex Lake, architect and founder of Melbourne based Architecture & Interior Design practice Therefore. To put it simply, Alex is a little legend who founded his studio in 2014 – a small, client focused practice with a guaranteed bright future ahead. Why do I say this? Well, you’ll know exactly what I mean when you read Alex’s interview, but let me just introduce him by saying that Alex always knew he wanted to be an architect (oh man – sorry to hear it, Alex); he is well aware that starting a practice requires a lot of support and cooperation with your peers, and many architects are too proud and competitive with one another to get the most out of their own networks (like, hello – what a little ripper!!); Alex takes enormous pride in running a process-driven practice with a belief that if the process is strong, then the outcomes will be too. Word.
“The name Therefore was chosen because as a word it can represent both a question and a conclusion. I still think this duality is relevant, and I have always liked to frame our work as a process where by people commission us to ask questions rather than just provide answers.”
Let’s have a massive virtual round of applause for Mr Alex Lake. Read on for further insight about his practice, his inspiration and his process.
Harrison Place Studios. Photography by Kate Ballis.
Team Therefore Architecture. From left to right – Ben Shackleton, Anouska Milstein & Alex Lake. Plus Raphael Graham who is not present in the photo. Photography by Tom Ross.
+ Hello Alex, welcome to Yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat. Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourself? When did you first decide you wanted to become an architect? And when did you decide it was time to start your business?
Like so many of us, I had always wanted to be an architect, from as far back as I can recall that was the case. I remember loving to draw in my younger years, but usually with a ruler, which looking back on it probably says a lot.
Despite this long lead-in, I still very much had to learn to love the career as an adult. I left university after my first year, finding happiness working in the hospitality industry and I had no real intention of going back. I did eventually return though, and ironically it was the friends I had made in the hospitality industry who became my first clients and allowed me to start a business.
I had been employed as a student and graduate for 5 years but was still quite young. It was around the time that the Melbourne café & bar culture really began to thrive and the expectations of design were growing. One or two café jobs turned into a steady stream of work being offered, and Therefore Studio was the eventual outcome. It wasn’t planned, I just found it hard to say no to the opportunity.
The Corner Hotel. Photography by Tom Ross.
+ What is your main priority when starting projects? Is there something that is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?
We are still a reasonably young practice so our initial aim is always to ask questions and learn things from our clients and collaborators. I think that we have a strong respect for the people we work for and what they can teach us about their own lives, their families, their businesses, their community… There is no one set method, instead we promote this inquisitive nature and open mindedness within the studio, believing that if the process is strong, then the outcomes will be too.
The name Therefore was chosen because as a word it can represent both a question and a conclusion. I still think this duality is relevant, and I have always liked to frame our work as a process where by people commission us to ask questions rather than just provide answers.
Elwood House. Photography by Tom Blachford. Styling by Marsha Golemac.
+ How is your studio structured? i.e. How many of you work in the studio, what types of skills do you have in-house, is there anything you are outsourcing, and how many projects do you handle at any one time?
We are currently a team of 4 which aside from myself includes an interior designer and two others from an architecture background. Working with both an architecture and an interior design skillset brings a particular regard for the inhabitation of buildings to our work. As a small practice everyone is encouraged to work together across all areas of our projects which allows all of us to gain a wider understanding. We don’t outsource any of our project work, but increasingly we have been collaborating with other practices to work on larger projects and specialty work. We have around 10 active jobs at the moment, but the nature of our work also ensures that the scale is varied, with some much smaller than others.
Nique Flinders Lane. Photography by Tom Blachford .
+ How do you organise and manage the competing demands of modern business and life? Do you have any tip or tricks you could share with us that help you in your day to day (i.e. software, online tools, shortcuts, task management, cheat sheets, advisors, anything!)
Invariably there will always be post-it-notes all over my desk, but typically we use Asana, Harvest and Xero to keep things running smoothly. We’re lucky to work with some very entrepreneurial and tech savvy clients who are always helpful on this front. It would be fair to say I’ve learnt the most about running a business through this process of looking beyond our own discipline for knowledge.
Having said that, I continue to learn an immense amount about our own discipline from some fantastic role models within the industry. There is a strong social network amongst designers that is invaluable in fulfilling the role of advisors for us. It’s often through informal events that we get the opportunity to converse with other great architects, and thankfully there is a good portion of the profession who are endlessly generous with their advice.
I am also involved in the Australian Institute of Architect’s and their committee for Emerging Architects, which are brilliant forums for sharing ideas about practice.
Square and Compas. Photography by Tom Blachford.
+ What do you feel is the most challenging part of being an architect today? And if you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
To me, the most challenging part of being an architect today is proving the value of design. Across the entire design industry we are losing that battle, and now more than ever we need to be working together to communicate our worth.
The design community is inwardly so strong and so confident, yet looking outside the industry we are failing in terms of public relations. Right now engagement, advocacy and education are all crucial.
If I could change one thing, there would be more patronage of Architecture and design. We really need individuals and organisations that are willing to show belief in what we do. There have been some incredible local initiatives like the M Pavilion, the NGV Architecture Commission and Open House Melbourne to help this cause, but as a community our resources could support so much more. Opportunities for exploration and innovation through built work are invaluable.
Welcome To Thornbury. Photography by Tom Blachford.
+ What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused and expressive? And your top 3 main sources of inspiration and references you are drawn to regularly – i.e. books, magazines, websites/ blogs etc?
Above all I find that working directly with other people gives me a reason to remain motivated and focused – be they my own colleagues or clients and other contributors – I try to facilitate teamwork wherever possible. Also working on smaller jobs alongside larger ones is so beneficial for testing new ideas and rewarding the creative parts of your brain within a shorter feedback loop.
These days I find most of my serious inspiration through printed publications from good bookstores like Perimeter Books and URO. Increasingly I seek out design books that highlight process, details, drawings etc. The El Croquis and GA publications will always be two of the best. I’m also a huge fan of Pin-Up magazine.
At a simpler level, I find our materials library is a constant source of creativity and expression. Working on a wide spread of commercial and residential jobs has allowed us to collect interesting samples which we spend a lot of time with, and even with all the available technology I still find it incredibly powerful to hold something in your hand.
Mr Burger Melbourne Central. Photography by Rory Gardiner.
+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other architects, peers and creatives in general do you admire?
I am mostly influenced by the ideology and determination of other practitioners. To name a few: Jeremy McCloud and Breathe Architecture for their incredibly valuable work on sustainability and community via the Nightingale Housing model. Sean Godsell for his detailing, tenacity and advocacy for the role of the Architect. Six Degrees Architects for their research in the field of hospitality design and their focus on human inhabitation. Mel Bright and Make Architecture for resolving ideas of livability and community across all types of housing projects.
I am greatly influenced by the makers and craftspeople we get to work with, particularly time spent in their various workshops. To name a few: Hugh McCarthy, Hugh Altschwager of Inkster, Bruce Rowe of Anchor Ceramics, Jason Blake, David Murray and Shane Smith of Ficus.
We also work with some great branding agencies on commercial jobs like The Company You Keep, Open Season & Studio Hi-Ho.
Broadsheet Restaurant. Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen.
+ What advice would you give to emerging architects who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practice?
To become involved and engaged – in all areas – architectural, social, political, cultural issues… I think that I still have a lot to learn about the responsibility of my own work, but I now know that it is very hard to produce meaningful or fulfilling work when you are unaware of what problems you should be trying to solve.
To try to appreciate the timescale of a design practice. Understanding that mastery may take a lifetime is humbling, and very easy to forget.
Also, to be generous and helpful towards the people around you. Starting a practice requires so much support and cooperation from your peers, and many architects are too proud and competitive with one another to get the most out of their own network.
The biggest lesson that I have learnt is simply, that however long I think something will take, it will probably take twice as long.
The Marquis of Lorne. Photography by Tom Blachford.
+ What would be your dream creative project or a collaboration?
We spend a lot of time working on joinery and details at a furniture scale, so perhaps producing a piece of furniture or lighting would be my ideal project.
Truthfully though, a dream project is entirely related to a dream client. Working with someone who brings their own vision to a project, but also an open mind, is as good as it gets. For that reason I wouldn’t mind what the brief was, we are happy to do anything for great clients.
Richmond House. Render by Ben Shackleton.
Reece Designer Looks Bathroom. Render by Ben Shackleton.
+ What’s next – can you share with us your vision, some of your goals (and some of your current projects)?
I suppose that I quite enjoy having no particular vision. When I started Therefore I truly believed that I would just draw café’s and restaurants all day. Now we’re working on a huge range of interesting things and it’s a case of seeing where it takes us.
The only real goal has been to keep everyone happy. I think that this ties into wanting to run a practice in a more democratic and transparent way, where I acknowledge the contribution of great staff and treat them with respect. In reality it’s not easy to do, but we’re keen to remain small, which should help.
We’ve got a few fantastic residential projects at the moment that really excite me as we get to work through a much longer design process than the commercial jobs. We still love the commercial work though, and currently we’re working on another new café for my first ever clients, which will be our fifth project together. We’re also working on a Makerspace public fabrication workshop in collaboration with Anom Studio that will be a first for Melbourne, and a new co-working space for Inspire9.
Aside from our typical client work I’m looking forward to being involved in a couple of events for Melbourne Design Week including the Friends & Associates project by Dale Hardiman & Tom Skeehan.
Harrison Place Studios. Photography by Kate Ballis.
Let’s Get Real:
+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?
Not listening to people.
+ What rules do you live by?
It’s not work if it makes you happy.
+ Your most treasured belonging?
A set of good linen sheets.
+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?
I’m a Kiwi. I moved here when I was 12.
+ It’s not very cool, but I really like…
Youtube yoga classes.
Team Therefore Architecture. Photo by Tom Ross.
[Images courtesy of Therefore Architecture. Photography credits as noted.]
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