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Clare Cousins to chair IDEA 2024 jury

Clare Cousins to chair IDEA 2024 jury


Clare Cousins, lead architect and founder of her award-winning eponymous architecture practice, has been named as the chairperson for IDEA 2024.

People, like buildings, have a particular energetic quality, from larger-than-life extroversion to diminutive quietness and everything in between. The energy of award-winning architect and IDEA 2024 chairperson Clare Cousins is one of calm, considered, wisdom.

Clare Cousins. Photographer Jessica Lindsay

Cousins arrives ever so slightly late for our interview at the Clare Cousins Architects office in North Melbourne — which was just as well as the entrance to the office proved tricky to find. Despite the fact she had been in back-to-back site visits and client meetings since 7.30am, there was not a hint of fluster as she entered the room, iPad and glass of water in hand. As we settled into our conversation, the energy of the meeting room settled into alignment with Cousins’s own —  qualities which will no doubt come in handy on jury day. 

Leading from a strong values base

Since establishing Clare Cousins Architects in 2005, Cousins has been at the forefront of thoughtful architectural design across large-scale commercial and smaller-scale residential projects. 

Every aspect of Cousins’ work is informed by her thoughtful and holistic approach. With a long list of awards and accolades, it is her involvement in the community-centric multi-residential Nightingale housing model that gives her the greatest sense of satisfaction. 

Nightingale Village. Photographer Tom Ross

“This sort of typology forces you to go back to the fundamentals of a residential building,” Cousins says. “The challenge is how do you infuse the fundamentals, which can’t be edited out of a project, with character or qualities or materiality or warmth to enrich the design and ultimately enhance the experience of the people who will live there?”

Cousins’s commitment to architectural design extends well beyond steering the success of her growing practice. She is a Life Fellow and Past National President of the Australian Institute of Architects. 

In 2021, she was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects ACT Chapter President’s Medal for her advocacy to protect Anzac Hall. In 2018, Cousins was the recipient of the American Institute of Architects Presidential Medal for her contribution to the profession, and in 2013, she was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Emerging Architects Prize.

Advocacy and championing the next generation of innovators

As a passionate advocate for the advancement of architecture, Cousins has lectured in New Zealand and Australia, as well as regularly contributing to strategic advisory panels in various states across Australia. 

Being named the chairperson for IDEA 2024 represents another avenue for Cousins to contribute her intellectual and aesthetic skills to the Australian design community. While as chairperson she won’t be assessing each entrant directly, her exceptional eye for recognising the special something which elevates a project, rendering it worthy of being an award winner, will come to the fore.

“I’m always really interested in innovation and there are a number of threads within innovation that I’ll be looking at,” Cousins says. “Are there things within the project that we haven’t seen before? Is the designer testing and breaking new ground? From a sustainability perspective, I’ll be looking at how the project has considered the efficient use of materials or reuse of materials. And finally, there is the execution of the actual design idea.” 

Aesop Collins Street. Photographer: Peter Bennetts

Throughout her storied career, Cousins has succeeded across a broad range of typologies. Beginning in single residential, the move to working across commercial, hospitality and multi-residential projects has been equal parts organic and deliberate. “We design architecture fundamentally to enrich how we live in spaces,” she says. “We listen to place and to people, designing with purpose and responding quietly with both function and delight. As architects and designers, we’re solving real problems — or as we prefer to say, working within constraints.” 

Working within constraints and achieving excellent outcomes across the trinity of design intention, client expectations and end-user delight is where Cousins shines. “I think bringing joy or delight to projects is one of the biggest challenges,” she says. “How do we know we’ve solved it? It’s almost a bit like when people say, ‘How does a painter know when they’ve finished the piece of art?’ For me, I feel like it’s the same with architecture. We just know when it’s not right. This is where the science and the art of architecture come together.” 

The alchemy of science and architecture

The alchemy of science and architecture came together beautifully in the Nightingale Village, which is now home to more than 200 families in Brunswick. As one of the project leads, co-developers and investors, Cousins leaned into her belief that the visual environment and design experience have a significant impact on the wellbeing of individuals and communities. 

“With Nightingale we consciously designed every element of the spaces, including the building envelope, to encourage community engagement and activation in the street, as well as standing the test of time from a material longevity and design perspective,” Cousins explains.  “For example, the buildings have quite a tough outer skin of concrete and metal cladding. We choose materials that would stand the test of time, so in 40 years they will still look similar, save the greenery that will grow up to envelop it. 

“We balanced this tough exterior with softness in the interior through the incorporation of warm timber materiality. We wanted to prove that it is possible to infuse a multi-residential interior with warmth and joy and touches of bespoke practicality even if you don’t actually know the end user.”

Stable & Cart House. Photographer: Sharyn Cairns

Longevity lies at the heart of Cousins’ design approach. For Cousins, longevity is about specifying sustainably, as well as incorporating natural materials and responding to the specific qualities of the site or existing building, in the case of renovations. 

“Generally we work with fundamentally simple materials,” Cousins says. “Concrete, brick, timber, steel. What we’re looking to do is not necessarily need to apply too many other materials within a space. As much as possible, we’re trying to build the building and the interiors in a way that they’re infused with character. We’re striving to create spaces that feel really interesting and have their own essence, even when they’re empty.”

While Cousins certainly isn’t looking for IDEA entries that mimic her own architectural aesthetic, she will, as mentioned, be looking for those projects that exhibit innovation and push the boundaries of what’s possible from both a stylistic and sustainability perspective.

Entries to IDEA close Sunday 12 May. Enter now


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