Pushing the Envelope – Fox Johnston
Surry Hills, NSW, Australia

Photography Ben Hosking, Brett Boardman, Anson Smart, John Madden, Justin Mackintosh, Design Files & Elin Bandmann
Architecture Fox Johnston
Words Bronwyn Marshall

Continually experimental, Fox Johnston is a Sydney-based studio practice that searches to push the envelope through innovation and testing the untried. Leading an expansive portfolio of varied work, directors Emilli Fox and Conrad Johnston speak to their process and inspirations.

Situated in Sydney’s inner Surry Hills, Fox Johnston draws on years of practice experience to continue to grow and nurture varying portfolios. With clients and projects spanning commercial, public buildings, urban design, education, adaptation of existing buildings, and medium to large scale residential platforms, the studio is able to have an influence on moulding both the micro and macro-built environs around them. At the core of Emili Fox and Conrad Johnston’s ethos is an understanding of space as an opportunity to explore and experiment, with both ideas and arrangements, all in the building toward the best resolve.

“We find inspiration in the human stories behind the work therefore creating an “empathetic approach” to the design process.”

Established 15 years ago, Fox Johnston brings together a melting pot of creative talent, curated over time to suit the studio’s client base and the projected direction. In describing the composition and process, Emili says, “amongst us we have experts in different fields such as interiors, ESD [environmentally sustainable design] principles, detailing etc., and each expert will come into the project at the necessary stage to make the outcome the best possible one. We always come together and have workshops during the design phase where, as a team, we sketch and give shape to our vision through drawings. We believe that problem solving is best done as a collaboration.” It is this basis of connection that underpins both their approach, Conrad adds – “almost all relationships in design are intrinsically connected.”

With such a large and varied span of projects, having a consistent core of inquisitive creative inquiry allows for a nuanced approach to each project that is flexible and able to adapt. Conrad says, “nature’s beauty will also always be an inspiration for us. There are so many different versions and ways of looking at Australian landscapes (for example) and how they can inspire architecture and design in so many ways with regard to spectrum of colours and textures. Natural raw beauty and how it stands the passing of time is also why we tend to lean towards materials that are robust and patina as the years go on.” It is then in the process that these testing of ideas then become a reality, Emili adds. “Our influences tend to stem from a particular site and the natural environment around u,” she says. “We then combine this with how to meet the needs of people or the client who will use the space. We find inspiration in the human stories behind the work therefore creating an “empathetic approach” to the design process.”

“A greater holistic approach to all design factors is becoming more prevalent in mainstream architecture – the key is to be flexible with what the future holds as the supply and demand in the market is constantly changing.”

This same ability to be agile and explore prospects innovatively leads into an opportunistic approach to what lies ahead. Emili explains that “in the future, the role of architects may be very different to how we recognise it today. We believe that sustainability for example will be at the forefront of all design and will hold the key to an environmentally positive future. Only by living more economically with our resources can we hope to protect our environment and climate and reduce our waste.” The combination of an environmentally conscious and responsible approach and finding that right balance is also part of the plan for Fox Johnston. Conrad adds, “a greater holistic approach to all design factors is becoming more prevalent in mainstream architecture – the key is to be flexible with what the future holds as the supply and demand in the market is constantly changing.”

It is this curious and experimental philosophy underpinning Fox Johnston that endows the studio with the tools to tackle whatever challenges and opportunities the future may hold.

Published 28 January, 2021
Photography  Ben Hosking, Brett Boardman, Anson Smart, John Madden, Justin Mackintosh, Design Files & Elin Bandmann
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