Productive Uncertainty – Hannah Tribe of Tribe Studio Architects

Words by Millie Thwaites
Photography by Toby Burrows

Architect Hannah Tribe refers to herself as “a harnesser of doubt”. This idea propels her in her work as Principal of Tribe Studio Architects, energising as opposed to paralysing and informing her creative approach. For Hannah, to question is to move forward; she is not afraid to query and has allowed the unknown to fuel her growing portfolio of work for the past two decades.

“Architecture as a profession is so varied,” Hannah muses. “There’s always a need to be adapting quickly and to be light on your feet, which suits me.” Despite this natural fit, her love of architecture was a slow burn. “There’s a lot of mythology around young people having callings – for example, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother was making him build things when he was four,” Hannah muses. “That wasn’t the case for me. I wasn’t a prolific Lego builder or anything like that,” she jokes, adding that she was not convinced she was on the right path until five years into starting her own practice. “Then it really fell with a clunk – just like falling in love – it was fantastic.”

“At the bespoke end of residential design, we’ve got this incredible opportunity to get close to a client who has the means to really express themselves through their dwelling. That’s a huge artistic and creative privilege,” Hannah says.

Principal of Tribe Studio Architects Hannah Tribe is driven by an interest in domestic spaces, and her growing portfolio spans the hospitality, education and public sectors, too.

Driven by a continual interest in domestic spaces and how they are occupied, Tribe Studio’s focus has traditionally laid in the residential sphere. Hannah likens residential projects to “sociological experiments” for their intricacies and strong links to human experience on a micro level. The privilege of designing spaces that are significant and highly personal is not lost on her. “At the bespoke end of residential design, we’ve got this incredible opportunity to get close to a client who has the means to really express themselves through their dwelling. That’s a huge artistic and creative privilege,” she says, adding that “it becomes a very rich and poetic relationship, and you’d hope the outcome would be the same – with a richness, a specificity and a beauty to it.”

The domestic will always sit firmly at the centre of Tribe Studio’s portfolio – it occupies roughly 50 per cent of the team’s current work – however, Hannah is evening the score with a growing stable of commercial projects spanning the hospitality, education and public sectors. “I have a restless mind and like the idea that we can do a lot of projects at once and skip across them,” she offers. As such, ideas dance between projects but an overarching philosophy guides the studio’s approach, with the ingrained aptitude for private residential spaces enhancing projects of a commercial nature. “I think our concentration on the domestic really enriches the other things because it has a tactility and human scale that we’re now taking to much larger projects – projects where we can have an impact on people’s lives and the city on a greater scale.”

Hannah Tribe Of Tribe Studio Architects Issue 09 Feature The Local Project Image (26)
Hannah has an innate curtiosity for the unexplored, and she allows this to fuel her work. Always searching for meaning in her projects, the result is architecture that is at once surprising and purposeful.

There is a distinct energy to Tribe Studio’s work; colour and spirit are embraced with measured elegance, and behind every decision, there is always intent. “I’m constantly searching for purpose,” Hannah says. “Otherwise, it’s just meaningless skulduggery. So, sometimes when we go really fruity, it’s in response to something the client is interested in or it arises out of the condition of the house.” Glebe House – a Victorian-era home in Sydney – encapsulates this sentiment with bright powder-coated conduits running electricity from the floor to the ceiling. These vivid pipes in mint green, violet and tangerine – colours drawn from the client’s favourite Francis Bacon painting – appear as sculptural objects but are in fact imbued with function and utility. The clever design minimises impact to the 100-year-old house whilst adding contemporary interest and curiosity – an extent to which few would go to for a building.

Yet, finding these types of solutions is unequivocal for Hannah. Her curiosity for the unexplored goes hand-in-hand with her deep respect for the existing. She is humbled by the work of her predecessors, an attitude no doubt influenced by her architect father who occasionally works in the studio. “He has skill from another age,” Hannah says. “He can do these to-scale, peeled away, construction axonometric drawings by hand – it’s pretty amazing.” This appreciation for the longevity of knowledge and respect for craft brings an unrivalled quality and depth to the studio’s work on both heritage and contemporary projects.

Fast and cheap have no place here; rather, Hannah is concerned with championing honest and lasting architecture. It takes time to land on the right idea, and she has no qualms with that. “Everybody in our team has that ability to scrunch up, move on, scrunch up, move on, which is great because design is ultimately a numbers game – you have to test a thousand ideas before you hit on the good one.” True to form, Hannah thrives in these moments of ambiguity and possibility, finding a lesson in each of them and playing to her strengths. As she says, “circumstances change radically, and that seems to be the great lesson of productive uncertainty and doubt.”