- Article by Charlotte Huston
Inspired by an upbringing surrounded by nature and the importance of ‘hands-on’ work, Sydney-based architect Katherine Burdett is all about architecture that positively inspires its inhabitants through feel and function.
The director of emerging design practice Noble Architecture, Burdett provides services to both Sydney and Regional Australia, with a particular focus on sustainable projects that soak up every ounce of its natural surroundings.
With most of her work under construction – both an exciting and frustrating period – Burdett has also designed her own home in Scone, which she approached as a testing ground before unleashing new materials or design methodologies on clients.
With that in mind, ADR recently caught up with Burdett to learn more about her committed design ethos, and career thus far.
ADR: Hi Katherine! Tell us about your upbringing and how you developed your love for design?
Katherine Burdett: I grew up in a 300-year-old cottage with thick walls and small windows so I always thought gardens were a space you wanted to draw in.
My parents also innately inspired me through their interests and general approach. Teachers, makers, gardeners with a “can do” attitude of “it’s totally possible to make that, and let’s work until it’s complete”.
I remember mum making stained glass objects, soldering colourful shapes together, and dad always building something out of timber or changing things in the garden, growing fruit and vegetables and building ponds and bird boxes. I was also completely surrounded by nature, immersed every day due to the location of our home. That visceral connection to the outdoors drives my design today.
Then through my education at The University of Manchester, my sphere of influence from a design perspective grew exponentially. Through sculpture, carpentry and metalwork, model making, sketching, theory and critical presentation we delved into what makes a building incredible.
After working in Sydney for a few years after university for a few different small practices I chose an unusual career path, out of curiosity and as someone not typically satisfied with the status quo.
I also really appreciate the opportunities that Australia offers. Compared to the UK where there’s such a lot of history that we have to tiptoe around, lovely as it is, we really are very free here as designers.
How do you describe your design sensibility and your aesthetic? Is there something that’s fundamental to your practice, your philosophy and your process?
Burdett: Aside from the usual architect spiel of “client-focused, project and site-specific design, intelligently crafted to create beautiful, sustainable and timeless architecture”, my approach is nurturing and joyful and seeks solutions that surprise and delight.
I believe an architect should deliver unique and exciting designs that wouldn’t have existed without their specific and personal involvement. I look at the site in its entirety, not just the building. An element of fun and contemporary design merges with a focus on relaxation, and comfort. I try to sculpt architecture to positively influence the way inhabitants feel and function, interwoven with the natural environment.
I also use my own home as a testing ground for anything new, constantly living on-site essentially, learning lessons every day and changing things before letting them loose on my clients’ projects.
What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practice?
Burdett: I’ve found it’s important to have flexibility with clients, to act in a supportive role throughout the project rather than produce the documentation alone.
Building a house is a very personal journey and it’s not easy to embark on any construction project. We have a responsibility to guide those that haven’t walked that path before. From conception to completion, I work with the clients, consultants and builders in a collaborative way.
What are your top 3 main sources of inspiration?
Burdett: Primarily overseas architectural references where there’s a high level of hand-crafted skill involved, including South America and the Mediterranean.
Secondly, local people developing new materials like the Natural Brick Co in Bondi with their innovative sustainable bricks and precast elements, and Gather Co sourcing unusual tiles/stone finishes, along with a local metal fabricator that can make anything I dream up it seems, and We Ponder who are handcrafting light fittings. These unique handcrafted components are an extension of the bespoke architecture and can inform the design process.
Thirdly, my contemporaries and close acquaintances like Koichi Takada and CHROFI are so passionate about their craft and push for constant positive change to help improve design practices. Site-specific unique architectural design approaches are about the project, not the architect delivering it.
What would be your dream creative project or a collaboration?
Burdett: A collaboration in itself would be a dream come true. I think the process of working with like-minded people would be fantastic, and who knows what could be achieved if more conscientious architects worked together.
How do you want people to feel when they walk into a Noble Architecture place?
What’s next – can you share with us your vision, some of your goals and some of your current projects?
Burdett: I’ll maintain an experimental practice – testing a lot of new materials and methods and employing the successes through client work to provide textured, crafted layers to a project.
I’m currently collaborating with friends who have moved from construction into development within the tourist and sustainable materials industries. I also have a lot of bespoke residential projects underway, in Sydney and rural NSW as well as Thailand.
I also have my own home and our family life. For now, I’d just like a secluded spot in the garden to sit and listen to the cicadas and birdlife once we’ve finished landscaping. I put a great deal of thought and effort into my work, but I’m quite an uncomplicated person.
Images supplied by Noble Architecture.
Keen to explore more Australian emerging designers? Check out our chat with Perth-based multi-disciplinary studio State of Kin!