- Article by Sara Kirby
Every week in our Q&ADR column, ADR interviews an architect, designer, object maker or industry person about who they are beyond the work – their life, inspiration, challenges and aspirations.
This week we meet Tracey Wiles, partner at Make. Wiles has just moved to Sydney from London to join Make’s new Australian offices. She comes to our shores with a portfolio of work including a string of projects for Harrods and Lord Foster’s residences.
ADR: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how your interest in architecture and design was sparked and grew?
Wiles: As long as I can remember I loved space, detail and materiality. My grandparents had the most magical houses and the memory of being in these wonderful places is one of my first. I also loved to draw impulsively and constantly from a very young age. A culmination of these influences very naturally led me to an interior design degree. However post completion, I felt confined by the walls and never felt appropriately skilled to manipulate the building. The only answer was to gain my architectural qualifications.
You’ve just moved from London to Australia to work with Make’s new Sydney office. How are you finding Australia so far and what are you enjoying about the country?
I am quite literally home. I travelled to London from Australia on a two-year working visa and ended up staying for 18 years! It is, however, absolutely fascinating coming back. After spending most of my professional life working and travelling in Europe I am now experiencing my home with fresh eyes. The sky is so high and blue. The light renders colours with amazing intensity. The food is so fresh and varied. People are super friendly. The industry is busy, energetic and enthusiastic. It was definitely time to reflect on lessons learnt in London both professionally and personally and continue the journey on home soil.
What are the differences you’ve noticed in architecture here, compared to London?
The infancy of Australian history engenders a real pioneering attitude, resulting in an amazing ability for designers to look forward without being tethered to historical references. Conversely, the rich history of the UK can provide brilliant design references. We had a fascinating experience working on several projects for Harrods. With full access to their archives illustrating its rich architectural history, we were able to source references that ensured a design linage whilst also working with contemporary materiality and detailing. I have learnt, and will continue to learn, great lessons from the past, but will endeavour never to lose sight of inventive ingenuity.
Have you drawn any new inspiration from Australian-specific design?
At Make we don’t have a house style which allows us to respond to clients; we have developed a rigorous framework for inquiry through which we explore the potential of every brief. This involves asking seven key questions: What is best for the site; the people, the environment, the client, the investment, the best ambition and the best legacy? Therefore the very nature of the change to our surroundings deeply influences our design. It is brilliant to be back home with a wealth of experience and professional maturity, and to respond to projects with new and diverse constraints and opportunities.
Who/what/where are you inspired by?
Who: I feel extremely privileged to work with amazingly talented colleagues. Ken Shuttleworth founded Make with a horizontal hierarchy ensuring collaborative teamwork and respect both within the studios and our wider project teams. I am inspired every day, without question, by the open-minded, inquisitive, creative people around me.
What: the generosity of kindness and spirit. Generosity of scale and proportion, space and time, food and wine.
Where: obscure places that unexpectedly cause you to pause.
Every creative puts a piece of themselves into every project. Which of your projects has been most important to you and why?
Like many designers I am obsessive about all of my projects. I recently had to put my career CV together to join the DIA; it was remarkable to look back on so many fabulous projects and client relationships. From private houses on spectacular sites, to Temple house in Chengdu and every remarkable project for Harrods.
However, if I had to choose a favourite child there would be two. My own house in London allowed me to practice all my philosophies on design, materiality, detail, hierarchy and prefabrication within a found space. It was an exercise in insertions of pre-plumbed, pre-wired, pre-fabricated joinery forming a magnificent sequence of spaces all within the brutal shell of ’60s bush hammered concrete.
The other has to be designing Opera residences. I am incredibly proud of my first project on home soil. It is a culmination of the best attributes taken from multiple sectors. Every apartment was considered with the attention to scale and sequencing of space of a one off private residence. The detail inspired by high-end retail with reference to classic joinery, creating unique pieces inspired by the architecture of the building. All of the attention to scale, space, materiality and detail integrated into the architectural language produced a design that maximised both aesthetic and financial value worthy of the incredible views commanded.
What is your favourite place or space in Australia and why?
We are spoilt by Australia’s natural beauty, however it’s the beach that disarms me every time. The removal of man-made stimuli is overwhelming. The strength and colour of the ever changing landscape is restorative to the soul without fail.
What would you say has been your proudest moment, either personal or career-wise?
Both professionally and personally to continue to build a life of integrity with my two children. I am doing what I love, I work relentlessly because design is a need not a want. I don’t have work/life balance, I have blend. I can only do that within our incredible company structure and the support of my children and colleagues, both of which move seamlessly between the studio and home, work and social. I am proud and eternally grateful for this integrated lifestyle.
What are you working on currently?
I’m so excited to be working on one of the penthouses in Opera Residences, maintaining the materiality and detail whilst personalising the spaces for the client; a spectacularly innovative small residential development in the eastern suburbs; an exciting but confidential hotel project; and meeting new people and introducing them to our work as we build our Australian portfolio.
Read Madeleine Swain’s interview with Make’s founder, Ken Shuttleworth.