Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards 2018: Q&A with Meaghan Dwyer of John Wardle Architects

Laurence DragomirJune 24, 20180 min read

The second in's Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards series in the lead up to the awards dinner which take place on 29 June and recognises the achievements of architects' contributions to our built environment.

John Wardle Architects is one of the most recognised practices in this year’s 2018 Victorian Architecture Awards, shortlisted for 7 awards ranging from residential architecture, urban design, interior architecture and educational architecture. took the opportunity to speak to Meaghan Dwyer, Principal at John Wardle Architects, about how to respond to the many changes faced by the built environment. Meaghan also discusses some of the projects the practice has been shortlisted for.

Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards 2018: Q&A with Meaghan Dwyer of John Wardle Architects
John Wardle Architects' Caulfield Library shortlisted in these year's awards. Image: Dianna Snape The way we work, live and play continues to constantly evolve. As an architect, how do you design buildings and spaces that will stand the test of time?

Meaghan Dwyer: Firstly, designing for change requires us to drop past assumptions and explore new potentials. We employ a number of strategies to create buildings and spaces that will stand the test of time.

We begin by firmly anchoring our design response in place. We do this through forming a deep understanding of the context within which we design and we respond to this in a nuanced way. We create flexible buildings that can respond to change. We apply the principles of good design – orientation, natural daylight, accessibility, and the like.

We select enduring materials and detail our buildings to last.

U: Tell us about some of the projects you’ve been working on that have been shortlisted in the 2018 Victorian Architecture Awards

MD: We have been fortunate to be the architects for two buildings for Monash University as part of their $750 million spend to upgrade their educational infrastructure. The Learning and Teaching Building and the refurbishment of the Caulfield Library are both shortlisted in the educational and interiors categories.

The transport interchange that formed part of our commission at the Clayton Campus is also shortlisted in the urban design category. These projects all follow the university’s aspiration to create vibrant settings for university life.

In addition, our Main Ridge House is shortlisted in the residential alterations and additions category. This is an existing house that has been completely reimagined as part of a larger plan for the rural site where it is located.

Road to the Victorian Architecture Awards 2018: Q&A with Meaghan Dwyer of John Wardle Architects
The Learning and Teaching Building at Monash Clayton also shortlisted. Image: Trevor Mein

U: With the student experience being at the centre of your approach to educational architecture, how do you design for millennials and cater to the university of tomorrow?

MD: One thing for certain is that the higher education sector continues to experience rapid change. Just this week we have seen the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia announce that they are considering the merits of a merger.

Consequently, there is much speculation as to what the future university will look like. We understand that while every university is unique, they are all tackling the challenges of increased student numbers and the introduction of online learning.

This requires an intimate understanding of the organisational strategy, pedagogical approach and the characteristics of the student body. We certainly appreciate that millennials engage with technology in a very intuitive way.

They appreciate the flexibility to work anywhere they like, and are used to accessing all kinds of information and services at any time they like. They also tend to be very connected with their peers.

For these reasons the university campus needs to be a vibrant and activated place that supports peer to peer learning in any location. This impacts both the classroom setting, and also the spaces and places around the campus that support university life.

U: When approaching public projects, how important is it to design spaces that mean many things to many people?

MD: We believe that the public realm is experienced by all and so should be responsive to a broad range of aspirations and requirements. In our view it is highly desirable that every project display civic generosity, or make a positive contribution to the public realm, rather than reflect the interests of one stakeholder, or another.

U: In your opinion, do you think the education sector is leading the way in dealing with the design challenges presented by our changing environment (e.g. population growth, technology etc)?

MD: Universities have been subject to rapid growth in student numbers for many years now. They have also been grappling with the impacts of technology on learning and teaching. As there are a relatively large number of universities in Australia, and while each of them has invested substantial funds, there has been a constant iteration of responses to these circumstances.

Other public institutions that build less often have been slower to respond to the challenges resented by rapid population growth and technology. Our recent work with the justice system suggests that the courts are beginning to tackle these challenges. Likewise, our recent work in the cultural sector suggests the same.

In some ways, these organisations have a lot to learn from the higher education system.

U: Do you think architects need to play an increasingly collaborative role with clients to ensure their vision aligns with creating spaces that are future-proofed?

MD: We certainly pride ourselves on our ability to work with a client to understand their strategic requirements. We also appreciate that many clients are navigating change in the way that their organisations are offering services.

We believe that there is a place for spatial problem solving and we feel very able to join with our clients to align their strategy with their built environment. We also believe that their objectives can be supported by good design.

U: How important is it to engender communities through the built environment and how can this be achieved?

MD: We are firm believers that a good public realm is essential for the public life of a city. A good public realm is achieved through creating civic generosity, that is a built environment that responds to a broad range of aspirations and requirements, rather than responding to the interests of one stakeholder, or another.

This approach underpins all our project work, be it in the education sector, commercial, or any other sector.

U: Why do John Wardle Architects work on such a diverse portfolio of projects?

MD: We often describe ourselves as fabulous generalists. Our ability to move across project types comes from our curiosity to explore unrealised potential, rather than rest on past assumptions. Our ability to problem solve and design at all scales stands us in good stead, and nothing delights us more than a fresh challenge.

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.
Victorian Architecture Awards 2018
John Wardle Architects
Meaghan Dwyer
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