Essay: Simon Swaney

Bates Smart Sydney 95-05

The Studio

Architecture demands much of its participants. clients, architects, designers and administrators alike have all to gather their belief in each other to set off on the journey of the creation of something that has never existed before. A piece of Architecture.

The key to this process is people and the environment and parameters within which they direct their efforts. When combined these factors create what is loosely termed the culture of the organisation.

In 10 years the Sydney office of Bates Smart has developed a well defined culture. Inevitably the 150 years of history in Melbourne and previous work done in Sydney from 1862 have influenced the character of this culture. Yet in many ways the creation of a permanent home for Bates Smart in Sydney has provided the opportunity to start afresh, a culture reflective of the city itself and its energetic and youthful way of life.

Visitors to the office remark on the vibrancy and sense of endeavour in the office. There is, like the Melbourne office, an underlying commitment to architecture, social responsibility and lasting quality. There is a distinct lack of hierarchy allowing the communication to be free flowing. Despite the sense of urgency there is a purposefulness and industry which acknowledges the importance of the tasks at hand.

The roles and boundaries of the disciplines are blurred with the sole aim of achieving the best result for the project. Varied skills and experiences are willingly shared and training is achieved as much by osmosis as by any formal structure. Meetings are convened to review current projects and architectural delights seen on travels. Forums have been held with external organisations to review areas of interest such as ESD.

Friendships too are easily cultivated as work colleagues know their opinions will be respected. Such frankness greatly enhances the opportunities for collaborative design as well as engendering loyalty and a sense of belonging. All a sound basis for an effective working environment.

These qualities do not arise by mishap. The underlying structure that encouraged their development was directed by Jim Milledge through a policy of selecting staff not only for their skills and commitment but also for their capacity to get on with others and contribute positively to the office environment. Philip Vivian, the next director, has continued this policy which when merged with his rigorous intellectual expectations of the people with whom he works ensures the best candidates are selected. Philip also emphasises, through his enthusiasm, the enjoyment of the process of creating architecture. A sense of excitement pervades all the opportunities which arise through the expectation of what could emerge.

The desire for great architecture means that the opportunities to create it have to be established in the first place. Competitions have been a significant part of the success of the office. The competitive urge fosters an enthusiasm to create architecture which is clear and logical and through its clarity carries an inherent sense of beauty.

The challenges lie ahead. Commitment, dedication and effectiveness need to be nurtured and vigilance is needed to ensure everyone concerned takes a share of the responsibility for the outcomes and pride in the achievements of the practice. I’m confident that the application of the principles first set in place 10 years ago and 150 years before will ensure that we meet those challenges and create great work and a great place to work.

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