Acknowledging the Past Before Designing for the Future | Feature InterviewCremorne, VIC, Australia
In our fast-paced technologically advanced era, we are continually looking forward towards the future, no matter how much can also be gleaned from the past.
Historically, carefully considered spaces, quality craftsmanship, and enduring design were the fundamental elements of architecture and interior design. It is these enduring principles that Conrad Architects base their ethos, and while their work is contemporary in expression, each project is underpinned by classic design elements which create distinctively timeless spaces.
Director Paul Conrad says the practice is driven to ‘create spaces and buildings with an infinite appeal. We believe in the power of design to enhance our lives and the cities in which we live.”
Conrad specialises in bespoke residential projects, from single residences to boutique apartments and townhouse projects. Beyond understanding how clients interact within their home, Conrad takes a holistic approach when they begin their design process.
“The client’s needs, as well as the individual site characteristics, have the most influence over the design direction”, says Paul.
Site location, orientation, topography and landscape are all critical in their design process. Naturally, site characteristics are also integrally tied to town planning and/or DA constraints. Rather than fighting against the site’s character and location, each project is carefully considered to develop a deep understanding of the space and how best it will serve the homeowner. When a problem area is identified, particular focus is given in order to subtly shift the quality of the space to a warmer and more inviting environment.
“As architects, we have the primary task of providing shelter, but we also have the ability to transcend the physical – to connect with people emotionally’’, Paul comments.
Conrad was founded on the approach of a minimalist design aesthetic. Then a richness is created through the combination of materials, forms, and textures and the way that light plays upon them, creating sophisticated, inviting and emotive spaces.
After completing an architectural degree in Adelaide, Paul spent his early career working in firms in Adelaide and Melbourne. He went on to London, working for the well-established practice HOK. In London, Paul was fortunate enough to be mentored by several influential architects who presented the possibility of overlaying a minimalist aesthetic with the richness of classical design. After returning to Melbourne, Paul worked for several years with recognised firm, Hassell before forming his own practice.
Part of Conrad’s design philosophy is about unification. There is a strong connection between the exterior and interior, as well as the historical aspects of the site and its location, creating a seamless integration between time and space. Nothing is compromised.
The aspects of materiality, light and space are at the heart of this philosophy. “Rather than trying to seek out the latest trend in finishes or fittings, we are much more likely to give deep consideration to the selection and how they work with our entire approach and what we want to achieve”, Paul tells “Unfortunately, this is so often forgotten in the rush to replicate what is currently considered on trend.”
When selecting materials, sustainability and longevity are crucial. Often the answer is within natural materials that are ethically sourced and will improve with age. These offer a neutral palette and convey a sense of calm, emphasising a minimalist expression.
“The criticism often levelled at minimalism is one of creating cold and emotion-less interiors, but when you are careful in the selection of materials and how they are used within a space you can easily combat this – and in fact, produce interiors that are full of emotion.”
The control of natural light is also at the forefront of Conrad’s design decisions. The way light plays in a space has immense power to generate emotion and facilitate well-being. Its direction, colour, intensity, movement and reflection all impact on the way buildings are experienced and materials are viewed.
“Often the discussion about natural light is limited to how it can be maximised” says Paul, “but it should be about how it can be controlled – some spaces should be filled with natural light, while others require a managed degree of filtered light, and some spaces with a controlled lack of light can also generate deep emotion.”
Often overlooked in design, is the power of restraint. Conrad view restraint as integral to creating cohesive design. “Our media-driven society constantly bombards us with the latest ideas and inspirations, many of which are unsuitable for our own spaces or lifestyle” Paul explains. “Unfortunately, so many projects simply become a conflicting combination of these ideas and lose any coherence or substance.”
While stylistically the final result is different in each of their projects, the ideas behind their approach remain the same: the powerful use of restraint, the importance of light, form, material and proportions. Each project, however, can be described as elegant and refined, yet unpretentious. Conrad has perfected the fusion of rich classic architecture with a contemporary minimalist aesthetic.
Ten years on Conrad is going from strength to strength. “We have a couple of exciting projects coming up. We are also developing several custom furniture and lighting pieces. Success for us comes not from the number of projects we have, but from working with like-minded clients and collaborators to create beautiful lasting architecture and interior spaces.”