Episode 92 - Covering the Whole Mix with Director of Emily Armstrong Architects.

May 19, 2023
Episode 92 - Covering the Whole Mix with Director of Emily Armstrong Architects.

Aaron Kyle 0:00
Emily Armstrong from Emily Armstrong Architects. Welcome to build hatch.

Emily Armstrong 0:04
Thanks, Aaron. Nice to be on your podcast. Thank you for having me.

Aaron Kyle 0:09
Thank you for coming onto the show. Always love getting architects input in. Like all I guess we always like to go back to the very beginning. So did you grow up here in Melbourne?

Emily Armstrong 0:19
I did. Yeah, I did. I've always lived in Melbourne. Very different parts of Melbourne at different phases of my life. But yeah, Melbourne girl through and through.

Aaron Kyle 0:29
What sort of student way Emily?

Emily Armstrong 0:31
Good one in high school. Not a great one. Yeah, very academic in high school. And then I don't know, I think that the relaxed schedule at uni really agreed with me. So not as diligent at uni.

Aaron Kyle 0:48
Did you always want to be an architect? Like when you're at school, you're always thinking that you want to do enrol to me to be an architect.

Emily Armstrong 0:56
Yeah, it's interesting. I know, not until I hit you, 12. And then I don't know, I sort of came across architecture as a suggested profession. I just locked into it. And I was like, right, that's what I'm doing. So that really motivated me through year 12, to get into the degree.

Aaron Kyle 1:15
Just fell into it, as they say,

Emily Armstrong 1:17
Well, yeah, I think I've always been quite creative, just naturally, quite creative. And but then at school, I was quite good at the maths and sciences. So architecture, was this really not? Well, it presented itself as this really nice combination of the two. And I thought, yeah, that's that sort of engages both. So yeah, it was a bit of that, too, because I wanted to do something creative. One thing just led to another. Yeah.

Aaron Kyle 1:45
So you studied here in Melbourne? And what was university life, like, studying architecture?

Emily Armstrong 1:53
Quite intense, actually. Upon reflection, it was. I was quite lucky, I lived quite close to uni. So I had a nice little bubble in which existed for odd. Yeah, it was, it was demanding. So a lot of contact hours and, and given it was, you know, had creative elements, but also had a very strong physics element to it. It was quite a shock to kind of launch into that after school expecting you need to be a bit more cash. And a lot of Meyer into like, who did it the smart way and did degrees that were not as intense in first year. We're having a great time, but I seem to have to work. In Yeah, intense is really the best way to put it.

Aaron Kyle 2:42
Studying architecture is more on the art side of study, isn't it? I mean, as obvious as that sounds, but from a academic point of view.

Emily Armstrong 2:52
Yeah, no, no, not not obvious at all. It is because I guess your design studios take up the most amount of your time per semester. And they run for a long time. So you have design studios that go for three hours, as opposed to a lecture goes for an hour sort of thing. So it's very much weighted towards the creative side of the course. Yeah, it was it, which was kind of a a bit of a shock to the system actually having these big long studios and everyone might a lot of students worked quite collaboratively in studio as well. And I didn't, I quite liked working on my own. So I was always the person believing you need to work at home coming back in, it was just just surprised me that it wasn't very practical. That was probably the only thing about about the degree it didn't, wasn't really about preparing you for the working world and about the practicalities of sort of running a practice and, you know, structuring your workflow and all that sort of thing that you have to think about when you get into the working world. And I didn't like that so much.

Aaron Kyle 4:01
So for anyone listening to this, who's thinking, Well, what does that entail, like people say, say, a building or, or a project and, you know, they just say, bricks and mortar to be cliche? what actually goes on behind the scenes, because, as I said, it's very much along the Art Spectrum architecture, but like everyone I talk to, who's an architect, there's an approach or that an application and a process that applies to the actual project.

Emily Armstrong 4:29
Yeah, I, I've always approached it as creative problem solving architecture. So every project I do is so different from the last one, because the clients are completely different people. So I always go into it with this problem solving approach. And it's, for me almost a process of sort of unravelling the layers of my clients and their lives and then trying to translate that into spaces for them and And then factoring in all sorts of things like budgets and their aesthetic while also trying to direct them quietly towards your aesthetic as well. But yeah, that's, that's how I see it behind the scenes.

Aaron Kyle 5:18
Now take us through, I guess how you established EMILY ARMSTRONG architects? How did that come about?

Emily Armstrong 5:24
So I didn't stay very long in my grad job. I did about three years with techni architects, which was a great firm. And I actually wanted to leave the profession. I left there thinking I was getting into food, because I've always been passionate, cook, and very, very much into food. Yeah, it was I was, I was completely focused on doing that. And, and I thought, I'll do some architectural work on the side, because I needed to, obviously make a living. And a friend approached me to do some work for them, and then a few other people. And before I knew it, I was just into it, like all of a sudden doing all this work. And I was really enjoying it in a way I hadn't before, I think because it was, I was doing it in a way that made sense to me, and meant something to me.

Aaron Kyle 6:20
So it was a bit more purpose, I guess.

Emily Armstrong 6:23
Yeah, I think I think the thing that's interesting about a creative profession or design profession is that need to be able to express yourself as a as someone creating something. So when you are young, like a graduate in someone else's company, you obviously have to earn your stripes, so you don't get to do that as early on. So for me, it was just this really great way that I got to express who I was creatively. And it became really exciting. And then all of a sudden, I thought off, yeah, no, this is what I've worked hard to do. This is what I studied for. So I should just give it a go. And so I just decided to keep going. And I still go. Yeah, so and I've loved I've really loved the business side of architecture. I find it fascinating running a business. And a part of the whole architecture profession that I've fallen into and really clicked with.

Aaron Kyle 7:31
When you said that you're wanting to get into sort of food was from a chef's perspective, or was it from something else a restaurant?

Emily Armstrong 7:39
No, it was from, I wanted to create products cost actually going into breakfast cereals. And I was looking at creating ones for just cereal alternatives of people who had like eating intolerances and allergies. Because around that time I found out I had some, and there wasn't really much on the market. And so I thought this is a bit of a niche that hasn't been explored yet. And I kind of wanted to get into that spent a lot of time creating different practice aerials, and I had all my packaging ready to go. And, and I just, yeah, I just shelved it, because I would I just became too busy with the architectural side of things. So yes, I'm known in my family is the mute as the measly person I used to use to make me leave my family and test it out on them. So that's really interesting. Yeah, it's really it's quite quite a departure from architecture, but I guess it's was creative in its own way.

Aaron Kyle 8:51
So I guess, producing food or so how's that economical element as well, you know, like, just like a chef or, or a restaurant owner or someone who's interested in anything, you producing a product, there's that economical element that needs to stack up as well. So the fundamentals are still the same?

Emily Armstrong 9:10
Yeah, it was, it was exciting to think that you could create something, and, you know, and sell it and it sort of was quicker, you know, architecture is such a long process. You know, a lot of my clients, I have with me for working with me for two or three years on residential projects. It was just, yeah, this realisation to that I could do something that was quick, that, you know, was tangible and, and reach rewards quite quickly. So something that kind of made me want to venture out to a different sort of business.

Aaron Kyle 9:50
You mentioned about that relationship. How does a typical brief start because it doesn't take five minutes to come, you know, from an initial inquiry can be like He said two or three years before, the project's actually built, in some cases,

Emily Armstrong 10:05
It's an interesting one. And because you do formulate a brief, but really you you design over a long time with your clients, whether they realise it, that that's what you're doing or not, because they start to get their confidence in the process and start to realise what they do and don't want. So it's the brief almost, you know, you start with the very practical, we want four bedrooms, one bathroom type of thing, and we really like colour and where these kinds of people sort of thing. But then, and that's, that kind of is a fundamental to get you started. But then as you go back and forth and work together, all these things come out, and you almost just refine everything as you go along. And it takes months and months and months. So but the one of the biggest things that I always ask my clients to do is put together images, because I find most people find it very hard to express themselves when it comes to how they live and like what they want their space to look like. So yeah, I work a lot with with my clients in imagery. So they usually they build a book for me or they share things on Pinterest. And it's, it really helps the dialogue and it helps you not ash exactly what they want, what they weren't when sometimes they just don't have the words.

Aaron Kyle 11:33
Yeah, definitely COVID Several years ago now and I guess going into 2023, is there like a particular trend or or pattern that's emerging with with architecture? Or is it more purpose sort of driven?

Emily Armstrong 11:47
No, I find it more purpose driven. And maybe that's because most of my projects, really, particularly in the last few years, private residences, people almost come to me present me with all the problems of their current space and sort of how can you make our home this amazing place that we want it to be? I will say that I do find I am finding with clients, they are a little bit bolder, which is really exciting. So I don't know where that comes from whether COVID just allowed people to be in their spaces more and kind of really understand their homes. But I'm finding my clients are a little bit more confident and they're a little bit more willing to do things are a bit different, which is great for me. Yeah, that's probably one big thing that I've noticed over the last few years.

Aaron Kyle 12:42
One of the great things I guess you're well known for as well as the interior side of the business as well. So is that something that you equally love doing more than architecture or is it kind of hand in hand?

Emily Armstrong 12:54
I'm probably starting to love it a bit more than architecture, I don't get me wrong, I love love, generally designing just anything really, but But yeah, I like the finer detail that that you can get into with interiors. So I do a lot of custom cabinetry and random stuff, like I've created lighting for clients, when we couldn't quite find something that was right, and, you know, mixed my own paint colours. And you know, I just love that whole idea that you can really change the space and really customise it to kind of suit what you've done with the general structure. And, and just working with different suppliers, it's kind of the interiors industry is, is kind of fun, you know, like this, the reps are really great, and really enthusiastic. And, you know, you get into colour and texture and all that sort of stuff in a different way. So there's that element to that I really enjoy.

Aaron Kyle 14:02
I think also too, like you said, we were talking earlier about being bold, and clients are probably a bit more informed these days, and they know what they want. So it's kind of like you bring home that finishing touches and you know, always love like, do you find it fascinating when a client comes to you with a brief and they think they know what they want, but then you kind of not manipulate because it's the wrong word. But you can kind of massage this this extra element that they hadn't perhaps thought of before.

Emily Armstrong 14:37
Yeah, absolutely, and it takes a certain client to get on board with that. But yeah, I absolutely agree with that. And I think that's a part of, of the job that I think I really like that you can give people options like you just direct them to something they haven't thought of before and it's so nice when they I love it. And you know, and they get on board. And then when they see it at the end of the project, it gives you such a nice feeling like, I'm so glad that we, you know, we did that, and they're so glad that they got on board with that type of thing. I think you really need to get into the process of designing your home, before your brain kicks into that mode and starts to make you realise what you really do need and want in a space.

Aaron Kyle 15:25
Yeah, look, I love it. You know, it's that purposeful design. I mean, people that are lucky enough to have an architect design their space or, or an interior design, it allows one to appreciate the actual true purpose and the little things that some people don't necessarily see every day because they're, they're not actually living and functioning their life in inside that particular space.

Emily Armstrong 15:51
Hmm, yeah, it's, it's so true. I think it's the whole idea that someone can encourage you to see something from a different perspective, but also translate that sort of finish look that someone's looking, like really wanting to achieve but don't know how to, and then you get to kind of put all the nuts and bolts together for them like it's it. Yeah, I think it's a really special process. Actually, it's probably one of the reasons that I like, I like what I do so much, and maybe why I've leaned into doing private residences, because it's so personal and so emotional, which can make it quite challenging sometimes. But the same token, there's nothing better than when someone walks into a space that you've designed with them. And they just sort of, they're just really happy with it. And they think it feels really good. And they still don't really know why, but, but it's all those little tiny little finicky details and things that you get to think about on their behalf. And then you put it all together. And it's yeah, it's a really, really nice, very fulfilling thing to experience.

Aaron Kyle 17:09
Speaking of fulfilling experiences, you're well known for your grey street residents in East Melbourne. Fascinating project. So for people listening to this, tell us a little bit about that project.

Emily Armstrong 17:21
The grey street project was a renovation to heritage, our Victorian terrace in East Melbourne. And it had undergone quite a nasty renovation and sort of the 90s. So if you can imagine this beautiful old building with all its original features, and then it's just had this 90s Rhino stuck on the back of it, it was just, it was always awful, it was sort of low ceilings, and, you know, we cabinets, to kind of conceal pipes, put in weird spaces. And, you know, my, my client would just sort of said, every time we walk into this space, we just feel so sad that someone kind of did this to the house. So it was the old the heritage part of the house. So it was beautiful. And it kind of needed someone to come in and give it a new life, but also redo that renovate that sort of addition out the back almost just to make it sort of seamlessly complement the older part of the house. So it was really, I don't know, it was special, because that was a particularly special client, they were really excited about the whole process. And the wife of the couple, particularly was quite involved, which was really nice. Like she sort of wanted to be part of sourcing things and learning all about it. And she has great style. So that was kind of handy, too. So there was that, but they were really open to what I wanted to do in there. They really just gave me it was it was almost carte blanche.

Aaron Kyle 19:03
They trusted you.

Emily Armstrong 19:05
Yeah, they did. Yeah. And I think which is big because, you know, it's your home. And even though even though people engage architects and interior designers and designers to do their homes, it's still there's so it's very hard for people to to give that control over but this couple were amazing like that. So I just enjoyed it so much because I because they've given me that trust. I think I almost I was so motivated to make it like the best version of what they wanted ever and put so much probably so much time into doing things a bit differently.

Aaron Kyle 19:48
So it was like for the whole house?

Emily Armstrong 19:52
Yeah, yeah. So ace Melbourne is pretty tricky, particularly with the in terms of They're town planning. So we couldn't sort of just add space to make it function better because it really didn't function a function like an old Victorian not like it, like the house, a house needs to function now. So there was a great challenge in having very little space, very little scope to make more space. So I just sort of, we just got in there and tweaked everything and kind of manipulated, what was there? And yeah, and it was it, the brief was almost, what do you think, like, what do you think we need to do? And I just went in there and just sort of told them what I thought and they said, Okay, great. And it turned out to be just basically gutting the whole house and, and starting again, so it was, I mean, apart from the heritage, keeping all the heritage features, but um, but yeah, it was, it was quite a big project to not, not sort of bigger than I expected.

Aaron Kyle 21:00
How long does it project like that we're dealing with the local council with with heritage impacts and stuff like that, like, how long does that add to, to to a project like this one?

Emily Armstrong 21:11
It's so interesting, we were very lucky with counsel on that one, because we decided or I decided not to push the boundaries too much. Just out of respect for the fact that it has everything in East Melbourne is quite tightly built. So you know, you've got your neighbours very close by and you've just got to consider all those sorts of things. So we didn't, I didn't push the boundaries. So we probably got through counselling about three months, which is, which is pretty great.

Aaron Kyle 21:43
Yeah, that's pretty quick for that kind of work. Yeah.

Emily Armstrong 21:46
I mean, I usually say it's minimum is six months, even if it's something tiny. So that was that was not as big a deal on that job, which was nice. And then I think from start to finish, we kind of got to building from the initial design stage, we were building within maybe a year, it moves quite well, considering some of my clients are with me for two to three years. So if you say yeah, yeah.

Aaron Kyle 22:17
Now what about builders listening to this and, and hearing your story and what some of the standouts of this year, you know, being 2023, like, we've obviously gone through a boom over the last couple of years, and we're heading in a somewhat different direction a little bit. It's hard to tell what what it'll be like over the next 12 months or so. But like, what's your sort of insight into the construction industry from from an architect's perspective?

Emily Armstrong 22:45
I think the the biggest thing is being that costs have increased dramatically. And it was, I hadn't tended a lot of jobs in sort of the last few years, I was in design stages and drafting. So I didn't really become so apparent to me until I renovated my own house, which I did quite recently. And I couldn't believe it, just how inflation had affected the industry so much, but also to how busy the industry is. I mean, I've I've always had the experience that builders in the building companies that I work for, that I work with, sorry, are always seem consistently busy. And I'm always mindful of, you know, asking them to tender quite well in advance and that sort of thing, just so they're available. And there's always been the odd side where, excuse me a trade, you know, can't come because there's, they're so busy and all this sort of stuff, but it just seems like that's amped up again, and that the there just aren't that many available. Contractors and tradespeople and it just. Yeah. And I think the most recent tender that I did that was they were the two things just the seeing that the cost of things and just the timing of things just blows my mind. But I guess that yeah, for me, they're the the two standouts, I haven't experienced a lot of delays with materials and things like that. I've been quite lucky. And suppliers are still being pretty efficient.

Aaron Kyle 24:21
So it's very process driven. So I always say this all the time that leaders will lead and, you know, the way the industry has changed and the the impacts and, and you know, whether it's materials or labour, it's very much about we just need to make it happen. There's no, there's no, you know, dressing it up or dressing it down or blaming people or delivery drivers. It's just just making it happen.

Emily Armstrong 24:46
It's yeah. Yeah. And it's been interesting to work. I mean, I work with amazing builders. I have to say it's taken a lot of years to kind of work out who to work. recycle who I work with? Well, and I have to say that the the builders that I work with now they're, yeah, they're great. They're in all respects, even more. So in the, during the pandemic. And now going forward from that time, you are very aware of the people that are super efficient and can just get stuff done. You know, like it, there are obviously issues that have still coming out of COVID. But they're just the builders and tradespeople that just really switched on, have sort of become more of a standout now to me. And they, you know, and even some of the suppliers that I work with their ability just to, to get it done, like you said, is amazing. And some will use the excuse, and some will just, yeah, they'll get it done. Or they're just, they'll just communicate really well. So that, you know, you can then communicate well to your clients. And there isn't that issue of, you know, we're one day out from leaving something, it hasn't arrived on site, or, you know, the builds gonna go over by three months, and no one's prepared. Like I think a lot of particularly with builders that I work with, have their communication on that front is, is fantastic. And makes it all manageable.

Aaron Kyle 26:29
Really. Certainly, when Emily Armstrong is not busy working on some really cool projects around Melbourne. What does What does Emily like to do outside of work?

Emily Armstrong 26:39
Ah, oh, God, I do work a lot. I'm very big into health and fitness. I still am very into food and love cooking, but I'm, I'm a runner and do a lot of yoghurt. And, and that keeps me you know, is a nice balance for all with the desk time. Otherwise, I travel when I can haven't travelled for a long time, which feels very strange. But yeah, I love absolutely love travel when I can when I can do it. That will kind of be Yeah, that would be it. They'd be the main things.

Aaron Kyle 27:15
I think for the people listening to this who want to reach out or or contact me and and have you involved in their, their amazing project? What's the best way to go about it?

Emily Armstrong 27:26
Email, I think, just shoot me an email. And then usually I will, from there, meet with a potential new client and have a face to face. Because I really think that you have to click because it's a big thing to build and renovate and you working together for a long time. Yeah.

Aaron Kyle 27:49
A lot of relationships I often say.

Emily Armstrong 27:54
Yeah absolutely. That's, yeah, that's very true. And just, yeah, you you very much have to get to know each other. Like you can't design a house for someone without without really understanding you about how they how they work. So quite personal. So you've got to get along.

Aaron Kyle 28:14
Definitely. What's on the cards moving forward. For Emily Armstrong Architects?

Emily Armstrong 28:20
It's a really interesting question, Aaron. because I'm about Yeah, I don't know, I think like I mentioned to you, the last project that I did was a bit more of an interiors project, which was out of the ordinary for me. And it was great because it was a little bit shorter, a project and kind of all the fun interior detail II stuff that I love. So I'm wondering if I might sort of steer a bit more in the interiors direction is

Aaron Kyle 28:50
easier or, or harder or like what's unique about the interior side of things.

Emily Armstrong 28:56
There's a few obstacles in terms of permits and approvals. And things when you're working with the interior of a space you don't really have to be. I mean, there are always exceptions, but most of the time, you're free to do your thing without having to go to council and without building permits being a massive thing to undertake. So there's a simplicity about it from that perspective, which is really nice because it means you you get things going quickly and you move through the process really quickly. So you're sort of you don't lose your your rhythm, which you kind of sometimes can on jobs that held up by pivot processes and things like that. So you tend to also have a really nice flow with the clients as well. Like this job just sort of, you know, went like bang bang, bang, bang just just flew along in a really nice way.

Aaron Kyle 29:48
Well, at least you can get stuck into it like like you said, you don't have to wait for town planning. Do you have like a favourite product or like a designer or style that you Just loving at the moment

Emily Armstrong 30:00
I do love Kelly whistlers stuff, the designer, interior designer in the US, she does some really outrageous Well, I say outrageous, but I'll say outrageous things and I, I like her, her boldness in terms of the work that she does

Aaron Kyle 30:18
Is that like style or, like products she does?

Emily Armstrong 30:22
Both so she does interiors, but she also and she sort of found her feet doing interiors in the hospitality sector. So in restaurants and hotels and things, but she does also design and, and sell her own products. So furniture and all those sorts of bits and pieces. So she's quite, she's got sort of a few fingers in different pies. And, and she's just got a great personal style, like the way she presents herself and all that sort of thing. It's like she's she really wears her brand. I read so much about new products and designers and I just I love keeping, keeping in touch with what's going on, you know, in particularly in different areas of different different parts of the world. Like just seeing how different designers do things is just is really interesting. And funnily enough, I feel like whether we realise it or not everything that we look at, even in our day to day, particularly if we're looking at a cool magazine or at a designer's work from somewhere else. It really does influence you in your own work. Yeah, it's hard to pinpoint one or two things, but I just like to sort of just keep on keep on track with what's happening, particularly with lab products. I've got a real thing about lighting. I think it's one of the most underestimated elements of a, of a project. And I think lighting just does incredible things. People don't realise so I'm constantly trying to find interesting new lighting. And I tend to gravitate towards the US for that a lot of the time. But yeah, so lighting is always a product that I'm pretty passionate about. Yeah, there's, there's so much to think about, you can actually, you know, I kind of lose time sometimes when I'm in a project like just, you know, you start thinking about everything from the, from the cladding on the exterior to, you know, the handles on the, on the doors and inside the house, and you can really get quite lost in it because it's there's just so much to think about it. And it's also important, you know, in terms of how the overall space feels.

Aaron Kyle 32:44
Emily Armstrong from Emily Armstrong Architects, thank you for coming on a Build Hatch, and sharing your story. I certainly encourage people to check out particularly your grey street residents. It's a beauty so well done to you.

Emily Armstrong 32:57
I thank you so much, Aaron. Thanks for having me.