idea09: jury report

December 1, 2009

Andrew Mackenzie reports on a marathon jury day and the strengths of the winners of idea09.

*Andrew Mackenzie*, Editor-in-Chief, _(inside)_
*Jury Members*
*Suzie Atwill*, Associate Professor, Program Director Interior Design School of Architecture + Design, RMIT University
*Chris Connell*, Director of Chris Connell Design and MAP International
*Tim Greer*, Director of Tonkin Zulaihka Greer Architects
*Paul Kelly*, Principal of Paul Kelly Design
*Kirsty Máté*, Senior Lecturer, Head of the Interior Architecture Program Faculty of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales
*Judith O’Callaghan*, Senior Lecturer, Interior Architecture Program Faculty of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales
*Jan Henderson*, Editor _(inside)_

As in previous years the jury comprised a broad range of design professionals: designers, architects, academics and critics. Although it is never entirely possible to assess the degree of personal taste that informs each jury member’s decision, subjective opinion was in all cases tested by the jury, through intense discussion over a jury day that lasted more than 10 hours. The diversity engendered by this robust jury debate is demonstrated by our selection of winning projects, representing a broad cross-section, from cool minimalism to exuberant decoration, from urban pragmatic to alpine chic. The criteria that most exercised debate included:

• innovation from a standard category type
• appropriateness to site, brief and client
• thoroughness of execution
• quality of written and visual communication, and
• overall design integrity.

A key point of discussion throughout the day related to the perennial distinction between interior design qualities and architectural qualities, particularly in the category of Residential Design. More than any other category the entries submitted into this category were authored variously by architects, interior designers or a combined team of both, where the qualities of the interior and the base building went often hand in glove. In some cases the distinction of where architecture stopped and interior design started was almost impossible to determine. In others, the interior design was not confined by or determined by the architectural envelope. With the awards, as with practice, there is no black and white solution to this dilemma.

Each shortlisted entry was judged substantively on the quality of the project’s interiors. Where the architecture of a given base building posed significant challenges for the interior design, the degree to which the resulting interiors overcame those challenges was inevitably commended for its innovation within a difficult brief. Alternatively, where a given building presented itself as an outstanding piece of architecture, this alone did not influence the jury with regards to the assessment of its interiors. Whichever the case, it was the coherent and independent qualities of the project’s interior that resolved the jury’s decisions.

This year Kensington Lighthouse by Tandem Design Studio won the category of Residential Single, for the immaculately detailed and cleverly planned interior of a very small inner-urban block. Although the language of the interior is inseparable from the overall building’s aesthetic, the bent, laminated timber beams that support the house are woven seamlessly into the overall interior. Timber panelled walls cleverly conceal services and storage, allowing this compact house to breathe, creating space almost from thin air.

In the Residential Multi category Fjall, by Hecker Phelan & Guthrie, brings the surrounding snow-capped mountains into the interior through a range of alpine references. These references distil the best of Scandinavian aesthetics (pragmatic functionalism and crafted elegance) and fuse them to a very Australian contemporary interior.

The Commercial categories were once again dominant, reflecting the important and influential role interior design plays in the contemporary workplace. As research continues to reveal the robust connection between vibrant interior spaces, healthy environments and positive commercial outcomes, the role of interior design remains unassailable. That said, it was particularly within the larger commercial projects that the balance between design innovation and workplace cohesion was best struck. In the smaller scale projects there were a number of competent interiors, but few that really pushed the envelope or innovated in type. This may in no small part reflect an economic conservatism, as well as contemporary budgetary restraint. Untitled by Jackson Interiors won the day with a mixed use, flexible and adaptable interior, which is both a venue space/workspace and studio residence.

Surprisingly there appeared no such conservatism at the larger end of the spectrum, where a number of bold and imaginative interiors vied for the category award. In fact some major commercial interiors suffered almost from the opposite of conservatism, with pop iconoclasm and bold graphics assuming an almost overbearing importance. A number of projects impressed the jury with their delivery of bold interiors that challenged the norm, but always with a professionalism and discipline that kept the client and their needs at the forefront. The Gauge, Bovis Lend Lease Melbourne Offices by Hecker Phelan & Guthrie represented just such an exemplary balance between innovation and respect for convention.

Retail is a category that is perhaps most imposed on by the challenges of site. Often located within anonymous malls or hidden behind store façades, projects in this category can find it hard to meaningfully engage with a larger context. As such, these ‘islands’ of design rely heavily on their own merits and their own invented design cues. Inevitably the jury looked for designs that attempted to translate the brand identity of the product being sold into the design aesthetic of the project’s interior. Again there were a number of strong contenders for this award, but Ryan Russell’s store design for Aesop Doncaster was voted top Retail Interior, being a worthy award for both the designer and also the brand itself, which has proven itself a keen supporter of unique and bespoke design throughout all of its stores in Australia.

As always the Hospitality category was brimming with theatricality and sensuous delight. One of the more promiscuous categories, in style and influence, entries into this category borrowed widely, from the heady opulence of Persia to the grandness of colonial empire, from the sleekness of European couture to the complexity of experimental art. This capacity for diverse influence not only characterised the category, but also the category winner, The ivy by collaborative partners Woods Bagot, Hecker Phelan & Guthrie & Merivale, which succeeded in coalescing many influences into one project. Yet despite the heterogeneous range of influences, materials and forms, and the building’s complex combination of bars, cafés, bistros, banqueting rooms, penthouses, dens, courtyards and rooftop pool, it was the jury’s opinion that the designers had succeeded in taking command of this complexity and pulled it together with a creative design discipline that was a tour de force for this seasoned design practice.

While conversation regarding sustainability was present throughout the day in all categories, it remains a lively debating point within the industry as to what extent best sustainable practice may also be the most innovative overall design. It would be fair to say that there was some divergence of opinion within the jury as to what degree this criterion should drive all others. For if it remains true that interior design is respected as an important form of cultural expression, it was also agreed that assessment of excellence must necessarily be defined as a layered combination of qualities, each with their own relative importance. As with all aspects of these awards, the criteria and structure of entry, including that of sustainability, reflects current professional practice. As such this assessment of sustainability will no doubt undergo further evolution and adjustment over the years. For now it remains appropriate to include sustainability as one of a number of criteria to judge all the projects entered, but to also include a separate award to celebrate best practice.

On this occasion Warry Street by HASSELL (its own Brisbane office) won Best Sustainable Design for the subtle balance this project achieves between conservation and reinvigoration. It is a fact that in any one year approximately 96 percent of Australia’s built environment is not new. New buildings account for around four percent. That being the case, the need for sensitive and well-designed repurposing of existing stock represents one of the most powerfully sustainable design moves available. Warry Street does this with a simple mix of materials and modest structural change, providing an interior that is sustainable not only in its engineering, but also in the transformation of a disused bakery into a dynamic social workspace.

The last of the project categories is Institutional and here there was swift and unanimous support for the National Portrait Gallery extension as the category winner. Although the traditional restraint of the classic white walled gallery required a minimal palate, it was felt that Johnson Pilton and Walker’s exceptional detailing, refined palette and disciplined spatial order represented the very peak of interior design practice in this sector.

With 44 shortisted entries the Product category was by far the most widely entered, and within it there were several potential winners. Only after much deliberation was it possible to decide on the victor. With so much furniture already in the market, one of the main points of deliberation related to the degree to which a new piece of furniture significantly added to and extended the available range, as opposed to simply creating more for the sake of it. There were a number of photogenic, playful and seductive products discussed, but the winning entry was in some ways a ‘slow burner’. Breathe by Helen Kontouris is not, on the face of it, a radical design. It is, rather, a more iterative evolution of the lazy lounge. Adaptable and elegant, used inside or out, formally or informally, an almost universal lounge, Breathe is not a ‘show pony’, but an intelligently designed, sensually formed piece of furniture that could live anywhere.

The question regarding the need for new designs to truly offer something new also influenced the jury’s decision on the category of Sustainable Product. The jury expected to see more innovation in this category and were concerned at the relative lack of rigour in both products and statements submitted. It is clear that next year this category will need more comprehensive guidelines, to ensure a greater clarity for entrants. One product that did stand out, for a number of reasons, was Freefold 02 by Freefold Furniture. It had identified a cash-strapped youth market that nevertheless needed shelving that was cheap to make, simple and robust. Freefold 02 is easily transportable, can be folded and unfolded, is recycled and recyclable, and uses minimal energy and natural resources in its making. It is both materially sustainable and, in its affordability, socially inclusive.

Having entered into a number of categories the three-person collaboration that is WSH Architects was voted Emerging Designer of the Year, in recognition of the quality of these entries and for their undoubted intention to push their own creative practice beyond the conventional. Their work demonstrates an engagement with research, emerging digital technologies, innovation in building processes and sustainability, all of which come into play in their new Architecture School department for Monash University.

Finally, those of you who have read this far will have realised by now that this year is a good one for Hecker Phelan & Guthrie, winning three IDEA awards. To cap it off the jury voted The ivy the overall winner for 2009. The ivy was arguably Australia’s largest single interior design job of the last year. For client, designer, architect and all key stakeholders, it was a truly ambitious undertaking.

Such abundance always brings with it the potential for epic failure. Collaborative partners Woods Bagot, Hecker Phelan & Guthrie & Merivale, however, not only resisted the potential for the project to spin out of control; the practice embraced its rich multifaceted nature and pushed each space to the limit of execution. In so doing, this project is not only a great piece of interior design. It is a celebration of what great interior design can do.

For a full list of winners, go to ["":]

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