MASTERSPEC INTERVIEW: ANDREW MAYNARD - ANDREW MAYNARD ARCHITECTS

Masterspec were proud to support the NZIA’s in:situ conference by not only attending as a stand holder but sponsoring one of the Australian speakers, Andrew Maynard.  Many said that Andrew’s presentation was one of the highlights of the conference, so we took the opportunity to interview Andrew afterward. He shared his thoughts on achieving success in Architecture, maintaining your creativity, and above all having fun!

You’ve been in your own practice since 2002? – you’d don’t look old enough to have been doing this for 13 years!

Yeah, I had a baby face and it was a bit of a problem - a lot of people don’t want ‘kids’ designing their biggest investment – otherwise I had to go to meetings making sure that I’d ‘timed’ the shave.

But I was 27, I was too young to start a practice - I had to learn on the fly.

Of course with the beginner there’s endless possibilities – at least that’s what I told myself. But at the end of the day you have to have the right level of experience but then not be cynical, which happens to architects very easily.

Is cynicism common in the industry?

Architecture can be pretty hard - it’s really true what they say – it’s almost like having a child. You’re putting your soul out there - you can put three years of your life into a project and someone comes along and says “that’s awful’.

It can be a hard industry.

Then what is your chief motivation?

Well, it’s fun. I’ve kept it very small, very simple, 9-5, so the business doesn’t become a problem and I get really down. The other thing is, when I retreated from growth I went from a cool office in the city back to where I started which is a little shop front with me living upstairs. So I get to work by stumbling down some stairs where the rest of the crew are – well before me - as I always turn up late.

I’ve kept it pretty simple.  My business is strictly 5 people. I  went bigger than that and got pretty stressed, became a business manager, so returned to 5 people. Now it’s not daunting

Hill House Image

You seem to create  a lot of different kinds of work - you don’t seem to have pidgeon-holed yourself.    

The thing is I’m just interested in a lot of things. The reason to have so much flexibility and not much pressure coming from my business is so I can try new things. I just want to try new things.

Because I haven’t made the business a big machine, we don’t have to go “Right, we did that well and that was a profitable job, let’s keep doing the same thing”.

So if it’s not good enough to go on the wall you don’t do it?   

Exactly.  We’ve never done a project where we thought just get it in, bang it through as quickly as possible and make some nice profit on that job, it’s just not worth it. If anything that’s where the real discipline of my practice comes from - making sure you do resist that. Sometimes you get developers coming talking about doing bigger things and you have to say “hang on, it might make some money but will it make me happy”? It might cause some tears so I don’t want to do it 

How involving is the discovery phase with the client?

We take as much time as the client needs. Doing a lot of residential work, for most people it’s their biggest investment they’ll ever make. So attached to that is going to be a lot of emotion. The worst thing you can do is come in with just some wobbly lines and go “here’s my art, now pay for it”.

We just listen for a long time and we get them to write down the brief, what they want, and then we keep talking to them and start filling it out till it’s really quite detailed. If our work is eclectic it’s because I don’t just start drawing straight away - this is just like the previous one which was just like the previous one. 

So you don’t have a pre-conceived idea of what might happen in a project?

No. And I think that might be difficult for some clients. It’s been said working with me is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Most of our clients love to work with us. They’re thinking 30-year plan – they don’t want to just buy something, turn it over and do it quickly. They don’t necessarily want something safe but they want something about them and their family for 30 years.

How important is the specification to ensuring you get exactly what you want?

It’s actually fundamental. It’s all on the line when you’re building. You’ve got the builder there, they’ve got things they need to achieve, you’ve got the client there who are emotionally invested and financially invested, and you’ve got the architect who needs to ensure the challenges are met.

I have a very smart business partner – he’s the ‘how’ guy, I’m the ‘why’ guy – and he takes care of getting the contracts really tight. Our logic is if you’re going to do adventurous stuff you’ve got to make sure the ship is watertight. Because the moment during the building process where the owner says “where’s my toilet” and the builder goes ‘there was no toilet drawn’, those little leaks just corrode everything and relationships fall down and the whole thing turns into a disaster.

So to get away with really fun, interesting stuff, we just absolutely keep on top of this. You have to get all that contractual stuff right, and the spec. is the catch-all. If we’ve missed it somehow in other documentation I know that my partner has got it somewhere in the specification. He’s picked up all the leaks. So our specification is super-important.

What do you think of the Melbourne skyline?

Melbourne is a laboratory, which is what I quite like about it. People are willing to have a go. It’s so easy the be critical of some of the crazier work that’s there, but the reality is what an amazing place and culture, where you can get diverse architects with all different approaches and just let it all inhabit the same street. They just love to try things out. There are always heritage concerns and council restrictions but I do like that Melbourne is ‘up for it’ 

It’s very different to places like Auckland and Sydney where you’ve got an incredibly beautiful landscape to deal with in terms of how you put a building up, whereas Melbourne’s just flat. We’re very privileged – at the end of the day it doesn’t have to be beautiful, it has to be interesting. 

Federation Square’s a great example – you just have to look at where it’s sited. Just the very fact that it inhabits a corner with Flinders Street Station, which is an amazing building, the Anglican Church, and then a grotty old pub – that is so Melbourne to me. Some bits are stupid, some bits are amazing, some bits are super-well crafted, some bits are not, but they’re all just together there. It’s so diverse.

What’s your philosophy around pricing. Do you equate cheap with horrible?

I’ve been quoted before as saying we should spend more for our houses and get less. I’m all about high m2 rates. I think we should have well-performing buildings that are smaller rather then big houses that just leak. But I do think in terms of affordability and quality.

I think it’s crazy that if we’re going to talk about sustainability and affordability that we don’t go and build houses like cars. I think a lot of it is cultural. In Australia there’s a history of kit homes which were really like a batch I guess. I think a lot of people would be thinking “if you’re selling a pre-fab house you’re selling a batch or a shack”.

In Germany and Japan they don’t presume this – they’re more like “I’m going to get a tested, known outcome”.

Where does your creativity collide with the facts, the practicality of how you’re going to get a particular building made?

Well my dad sells hardware, so I grew up with a shed full of pretty good tools, and I knew how to build stuff before I knew how to draw stuff. So the actual building process is incredibly important to us. We’ve actually thought through the whole process right down to the details of where the screws go.  Making is really important 

I think that if you’re going to do some adventurous work you actually need more than people to go ‘wow this is a great house”, but say, “Wow these guys have really thought about it, all these little bits, what they were doing”.

So if you don’t know how to build well I don’t think you can do good architecture that’s convincing.

I don’t see a single visual signature in your work in the sense of I could immediately recognise your work. Is that important to you? 

I’m not a popularist in the way I work. If you look at my work it kind of reflects that – it’s eclectic but it’s not for everybody. There’s enough clients in the areas that I work in that I don’t have to say “come to us we’re the right architect for you”, cause often we’re probably not, and there are plenty of other architects doing amazing things. 

What does the future hold for you?

We want to just keep on enjoying life, and keeping that work/life balance. As they say the only ones who win the rat-race are the rats.

In terms of our work I don’t want to get on a treadmill, keep doing the same thing, and there’s no threat of that at the moment. But in terms of bigger work, the great thing with architecture is collaboration. One day I might get to build a museum or something like that and that would be great – my team will still be five and I’ll just collaborate with other firms. That’s the way I imagine we’ll do bigger work in the future.


Go here for more of Andrew's work

Read more about Andrew's work in Pol Oxygen
 
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