Architect Spotlight – Jennifer McMaster

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Jennifer McMasters.

Jennifer McMaster is a director of the award-winning architecture studio, TRIAS. Since its establishment in 2016, TRIAS has quickly developed a reputation for thoughtful and thorough design work based around the principles of ‘solid, simple and beautiful’ architecture.

TRIAS has completed residential and cultural projects across Australia and the UK and has won numerous competitions. In 2017, the studio was named one of the top twenty emerging practices in the world by Wallpaper* magazine while, in 2018, they were awarded the NSW AIA Architecture Award and the Newcastle Sustainability Award for their Three Piece House. Their installation, Four Periscopes, was also the winner of the Event category at the 2018 IDEA Awards.

Jennifer trained at the University of Sydney, graduating in 2015 with Honours. Upon graduation, she received the 2015 NSW Design Medal, the NSW AIA Graduate of the Year Award and the 2017 Archiprix International Prize. More recently, she was a participant on the 2019 Dulux Study Tour.

Jennifer is also enthusiastic about architectural advocacy. She is a passionate writer and speaker who teaches regularly. She is also active within the architectural community, as an alumni- and now mentor- within the MADE by the Opera House program, and as co-chair of Sydney’s Small Practice Forum.

How would you describe your design philosophy in 3 words?

TRIAS is founded on three ideals – solidity, simplicity and beauty. As we design, we endlessly mine each of these ideas for its potential.

How do you see design improving our quality of life, and how we live, work, consume and connect?

Design – and architecture – are so critical to our quality of life. After all, we spend most of our lives in buildings – they are the places where we grow up, raise families, learn, work and celebrate. These places really matter so, when they’re designed with craft and care, they really improve our lived experience.

At its best, architecture is also linked to cultural change –in many ways, it sets a tone for how we might live. Architecture can challenge our habits of consumption, by reminding us to think sustainably and live with less. It can shift our sense of the status quo by proposing alternative ways of living or being. It can ground us within places, history and time which can make us better citizens.

Most importantly, architecture can connect us to others, by framing our rituals and behaviours in a way that makes them more meaningful. This isn’t simply an aesthetic act; it’s cultural and political and quietly ground-breaking. So buildings, and good design, matter more than many of us think.

As society enters an unprecedented period of globalization, do you believe that australian designers have a unique aesthetic or attitude?

Absolutely. Australia is remarkably diverse: each state, and community, has its own climate, subculture, social history and landscape. These idiosyncrasies then translate into very distinctive architectural approaches, which vary from north to south and coast to coast.

At the same time, though, Australian architects are undoubtedly influenced by global conversations. I do think that, despite our distance, we make an effort to keep our finger on-the-pulse. Our profession is progressive, knowledgeable, well-travelled, and curious. These attitudes are enriching our architectural output, which feels locally grounded and yet globally relevant. This also means it’s a really exciting time to be practicing here, as we’re getting the best of both worlds.

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Three Piece House. Photography: Ben Hosking.

Tell us a project that made you really happy to work on.

Our Three Piece House was an absolute delight to work on. The project came to us shortly after we’d graduated from university, so it was a steep learning curve. Ultimately, though. the level of challenge that we faced was extremely satisfying and encouraged us to push ourselves as designers. We also formed an amazing relationship with our clients, who gave us the chance to learn while we were still young. It was a real privilege.

Three Piece House also brings me joy for what it represents: a spirit of modesty over excess, and a quiet radicalism within the suburbs. The house embraces a return to a simple, and more humble, suburban existence, where residents connect with their place and neighbourhood, rather than shutting everything out. This small statement makes us – and our clients – very happy.

How do you see design shaping the world around us?

Design shapes so many aspects of our world: it influences who we are, what we value and how we behave. I’ve always found endless fascination in architecture’s capacity to do so many different things: to be provocative, break our expectations or habits, or to simply intensify experience to its essence. Design makes us more aware of the world on so many levels and this, ultimately, is a good thing. It lends presence and sharpens reality.

Design is also both proactive and reactive. Right now, I feel a huge responsibility to respond to a number of issues that we’re currently facing: the overconsumption of resources, the privatisation of public space, the proliferation of technology, and the deterioration of quality housing. These issues aren’t just discussions for designers; they plug into broader narratives that define our society, environment and wellbeing.

To be honest, though, I wish that design was playing a bigger role in shaping our world.  I grew up thinking that design was a luxury – that it was connected to excess and expense. Yet, the more that I work within our industry, the more I realise how necessary design is. This is especially true today, when so many things require innovation and intelligence. Architecture has a role in navigating these complex territories, and this makes me feel it’s worth fighting for.

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Three Piece House. Photography: Ben Hosking.

For you, what is the most challenging part of the design process and what is the most rewarding?

Right now, I’d say our biggest challenge is around client education. While we have lots of amazing clients – who trust us and are willing to take risks – I sometimes get frustrated with the lack of belief people have in architects’ knowledge. Within our culture, it often feels like associated professions – like builders or project managers – garner considerable respect and trust, and architects are increasingly being pushed to the sidelines. We need to regain our voice and reignite people’s faith in our value and abilities.

The most rewarding part of the design process is working with others, especially our clients. I love watching the gradual education that happens with design, where people start to see the building as theirs. There’s often a particular moment where the idea takes on collective ownership, and others start defending decisions alongside you. It goes from being a battle to a collaboration. That sort of collective conviction – where everyone is working towards excellence – is what makes projects so fulfilling. They become bigger than you, or your team, and start to embody something else entirely.

If you were given an unrestricted creative brief, what would this look like?

I always like some limits: like a tricky site or a tight budget. Great work is always born from constraints – or quirks – and I don’t like infinite choice.

An ideal brief, though, would probably be an apartment building of some kind. I am so interested in ideas about living, so an apartment designed with progressive clients – who care about amenity, not just yield – would be a dream. That, or a library, as reading is my other great passion.

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Three Piece House. Photography: Ben Hosking.

At Brickworks, we are devotees to good design. What do you look for in good design?

Clarity, unpretentiousness, and timelessness. I’m not interested in fuss or trend, and prefer buildings that make people feel welcomed and relaxed.

I also look for a certain freshness of thinking – probably best described as design ambition. This can come about by experimenting with spatial planning, testing materials or pushing the limits of space. This needs to be thoughtful and reasoned, and not driven by ego.

Finally, certain intangible qualities are vital: atmosphere, ambiance and the cultivation of mood.

….And finally who are your design heroes?

I’ve always admired Jorn Utzon because he was an incredibly diverse designer. He could design spaces for spectacle, like Bagsvaerd Church, alongside very humble houses like Kingo or his home, Hellebaek. There’s a humanity that sits at the heart of his work which feels so welcoming and warm. Similarly, he was experimental and ambitious, and yet his work is underpinned by layers of logic.

Aside from that, I often look to Kahn, Aalto and Barragan for inspiration. I also love the current London scene; Carmody Groarke for their reductiveness, 6a for their intellectual rigour and Mary Duggan for her commitment to craft.

Visit their website: TRIAS

Follow them on Instagram: @trias.studio

Article by brickworksbp

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Architect Spotlight – Jennifer McMaster

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