Tonkin Zulaikha Greer has a special interest in public spaces, public buildings and “edge” architecture, often providing buildings with roles and uses outside their traditional functions. The crossover between art and architecture is a springing point for a design philosophy, which takes each project as a new challenge, without reliance on established precedents. Constant reinvention of our architecture brings a surprising diversity to the completed projects, with an on-going sense of exploration and discovery. The work is consistently and thoughtfully grounded by appropriateness and sustainability.
Much of the work of the practice is based on public use, as either a dominant or secondary aspect of each project. The civic nature of architecture is explored through buildings with a significant public use, or with a positive relationship to the public domain of the city. Even commissions with a brief related to the individual are considered in the wider context of the urban realm and the environment.
Cultural buildings have been one focus of the practice since 1990. Projects range from significant performing and visual art multi-use centres incorporating high-quality galleries for permanent and temporary exhibition, museums of many kinds, performing art venues from traditional proscenium-stage theatres to large-scale flexible experimental venues, cinemas and educational facilities. Each progresses the nature of performance and display, the conservation of the object and the facilitation of production. Each celebrates the human delight in the collective and individual experience of excellence, challenging but welcoming.
Disused industrial buildings have often formed a viable foundation for innovative and successful adaptive reuse projects. The patina of the past is joined to the infrastructure required for complex contemporary uses, the junction producing an exciting and unique architecture. This work is joined by a body of more traditional conservation projects, uniting a strict and reasoned approach to the preservation of significant fabric with the needs of contemporary users.
The continuity of the relationship between art and architecture has underlain many of the completed and experimental projects undertaken. A series of prominent memorials have been completed in collaboration with leading Australian artists, whilst many of our cultural and private projects incorporate specially commissioned and integrated artworks. Members of the practice have individually and collectively completed installation and sculptural work for curated events.
On a broader scale, TZG has maintained an interest in urban scale interventions, ranging from precinct studies and urban design work focussed on the recreation of the city, to the design of new city spaces and broad terrains of parkland.
Residential projects ranging from the individual house to high-rise inner-city apartment buildings have been another major aspect to the work of TZG. Liveability, light and privacy are the foundations for functional and delightful spaces for people, in buildings which contribute positively to their surroundings. Low-energy use and a durability of design and construction give each project a sustainable basis.
Architecture dwells in “the other” – it is created and has its existence in the spaces beyond and between those of mere pragmatism. The primary importance to the users, and to TZG as designers, is a well-built functional object. This is, however, nothing more than the means to the architect’s desired end: a work of architecture. Here, the carefully nurtured ‘other’ is manifest, creating an awareness of the life beyond a simple physical existence. The enduring presence and significance of this architectural creation speaks to the mind and the spirit. This may be called the art of architecture; without it we are merely building.
In making this “other”, the additions to the functional program of a building are often beyond what is briefed. To preserve the professionalism and ethical position of the architect, such architectural concerns must have no negative impact on the brief requirements or on the wider social issues of building: not increasing the budget or reducing the functionality of the work. Further, they must not be patronisingly intellectual or beyond the comprehension of the users, they must relate to the building’s place and time.
For TZG, the art of architecture, this sense of the “other”, is achieved through meaning and metaphor, sculpture and light; through controlled sequences of spaces, the sparing use of iconography, the recalling of memory and the embodiment of ideas. The practice’s buildings, wide in range, divergent in aims, are developed in many ways; each related to the site, the brief, the city, the users and the current passion of the designers.
The relationship between Brian Zulaikha and Peter Tonkin was cemented when both contributed to the 1988 restructuring of the whole of Sydney's Circular Quay, a multiple-award winning project that saw the public waterfront of the city opened for the first time to the people and furnished with unifying architecture and landscape of the highest quality. TZG's first major building, the challenging design of a complex production library for the Royal Blind Society, won the practice its first RAIA award, and set a standard of innovation, exploration and achievement that has been continued with each new job.
The foundation for the firm's expertise in conservation and museum work was laid with the restoration of the 1817 Hyde Park Barracks as a museum for the Historic Houses Trust. The Museum opened in October 1991 and has received State and National RAIA awards for conservation, a national award for 'Museum of the Year', and has maintained its relevance and design quality over its 17 year lifespan. The rigorous but challenging approach to the conservation and interpretation of the building's fragile but significant fabric broke new ground in 1991, and set an Australia-wide standard for a contemporary approach to the past.
Subsequent work which has combined conservation and new cultural uses has been varied and exciting, spanning from the major refurbishment of the historic Customs House at Circular Quay for the Sydney City Council as a multi-use cultural focus at the gateway of the city, opened for the 2000 Games, to the CarriageWorks Contemporary Performing Arts Centre in the 1880s Eveleigh Carriageworks, opened for the Sydney Festival in 2007 and the adaptation of a listed 1950s power station as a regional art centre at the Casula Powerhouse.
Other projects have focused on heritage buildings of a more robust nature, or redundant industrial sheds. Projects such as the Verona and Norton Street Cinema complexes are both conversions from disused industrial buildings, whilst the Rocks Square developed a civic square and retail centre from a collection of redundant buildings including an underground carpark. The Newtown Silos was the redevelopment of a group of wheat silos into a successful, award-winning apartment complex.
The progress to large new buildings for public and private uses has again been steady, and is marked by our new Glasshouse: Hastings Cultural Centre at Port Macquarie, opened in 2009, with a 620 seat proscenium theatre and major Regional Gallery, and the landmark redevelopment of the Scots Church at Wynyard as an apartment building.
Urban scale work includes strategic initiatives for the National Capital Authority addressing placemaking and wayfinding in the ceremonial heart of Canberra, the Arts/Law campus of the Parliamentary Triangle and the competition winning design for the 240 Ha Canberra International Arboretum and Gardens, to open in 2008. At Sydney's Olympic site, Tonkin Zulaikha Greer were responsible, with specialist sub-consultants, for the design of the paving, lighting, street furniture and signage for the entire Olympic site. A focal part of this work was a series of 19 Plaza Pylons - 35m tall, solar powered lighting and amenity towers for the 1.6 km Olympic Plaza. In 2009 TZG completed work on the multi-award winning Paddington Reservoir Gardens, a new urban public space for the City of Sydney.
The practice has maintained a focus on the visual arts, with collaborations on built works, commissioned artworks and collaborative installation pieces. Leading examples include the iconic Vietnam Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, in Canberra, and most recently The Australian War Memorial in London.TZG's young and energetic team of architects has worked together since the late 1980's on a wide range of public and private projects. They have developed efficient procedures for navigating the design though the construction period, all the time maximising the potential in the process. TZG embraces the future with confidence in technology, fascination for history and enthusiasm for the sense of place to be found within the site for any new project.
The TZG Office: Atmosphere and Urbanity
It's strange that they call it "the office", this studio workplace. It just doesn't seem like an office. From Surry Hills rag-trade days a bold deco(-ish) facade muscles its presence between the quiet Metropolitan Electroplaters and the loud Numero Uno cafe. Enter a contemporary reception area, the friendly space an eerie contrast with a wall of Rosemary Laing's "Brownwork", a giant photograph inside the belly of a cargo plane. Beyond is the conference room where collaborations and contracts are created and contested. The space is bathed in light and the lyrical gestures of Brian Blanchflower's "Orcadian Light". Next is a transitional space, a suite of small rooms strewn with models, magazines, the office library, more artworks, the TZG directors and many notes and sketches for colleagues. Here is where Peter, Brian and Tim share space and imaginaries.
From here the office explodes into a dramatic zone that is part factory, studio and performance space. There are many desks with big computers, and chunks of stone and steel, models, prototypes and specimens. It's like a museum of ambiguous objects. There is also a kitchen with many usable things, and wonderful smells of use. An outdoor area has a gigantic table that would seat all staff and guests with gusto. And it frequently does. A handwritten sign warns that it's obligatory to have communal teas in this office, and there are embarrassing penalties for non-compliance. Such is the desire for the sharing of private and public pleasures at TZG.
The office is flooded with raw outside light and frequently with raucous inside laughter. This place has atmosphere! Baudrillard, that architect of imaginary word worlds, describes the qualities of 'atmosphere' as play, calculation, substance and abstraction. This is a fine description of the TZG workspace. People working with proverbial blood, sweat and tears, and with practical phone, computer and paper. More often it's with each other, consulting, critiquing, collaborating. There is a quality of calm, even casual in this atmosphere. This is the space for creative energy and flow. Experience, trust, friendship, knowledge and know-how. These are personal qualities but they translate into professional practice, and into projects.
And what remarkable projects. Today in the office Julie negotiates a sea of iron columns to accommodate a contemporary performance artspace in the Eveleigh railway carriageworks. Kon and Bettina adjust the geometry of apartments inside Newtown concrete silos. Paul and Wolfgang fine tune construction details for more apartments towering above a Sydney city church. John models another CBD apartment complex, tracing a fine line between private development managers and the public domain. Liz steps apartments down a hillside in Queenstown snow country while Ruth positions new houses on Manly harbour headlands. Trina is working on new theatres and galleries next to a crowded Port Macquarie shopping mall while Roger and Julie tease them into the cavernous Casula Powerhouse. Neil, Heidi and Kon traverse 18 kilometres of soundwalls along the Craigieburn freeway while Heidi is absorbed in a meticulous adaptation of the monumental marble Reserve Bank. This extraordinary mix of projects, people, programs, sites and spaces, concepts, craft and materials is an ordinary day at the office. The atmosphere of this office, like architecture, is in the mix.
Is it possible that the spirit of the people who conceive imaginary spaces is infused into them, into their atmosphere, substance and being? Office into architecture? What becomes of the warmth exuded by the TZG office for instance? It's not that cheery sort of warmth, but a rich, resonant and enduring warmth. Like wood has warmth. Wood draws its substance from the earth, it lives and breathes and labours. It has latent warmth because it burns from within. It has being. Where does such passion go? Sometimes heat wants quenching with an atmosphere of cool. Like glass is cool, with innate qualities of abstraction. Glass is both material used and ideal imagined: transparency and transcendence. Wood and glass, warm and cool, passion and abstraction, atmosphere and architecture.
Memorable and enduring places, whether apartments, artspaces, theatres, towers, homes or cities, are created through intimate encounter with site and story, material and memory, others and otherness, as well as steel and glass and wood. This is the materiality of the imagination, the substance of dreams, the breathing present. This is more than city building, or urban design, it's urbanity, a palpable feeling of urban pleasures.
Urban pleasures are very serious for the practice of architects like TZG. A mindfulness about the touch of stone on skin as much as its look, or texture or structural substance; the glare of glass on eyes as much as cool reflections in photographs, the warmth of wood and weathering. An architecture of stains, shadows and moods as much as material substance. These too are the qualities of "atmosphere" that pervade the TZG office and transfer into their architecture. One informs the other, flows into each other, an architecture of atmosphere and urbanity.
Peter Emmett, August 2004
"The TZG Office: Atmosphere and Urbanity" by Peter Emmett was first published in Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects, 2005, published by Pesaro Publishing.
Architecture and ‘The Other’
Architecture and the CityWhilst most of the work of the practice has been in the greater Sydney area, the qualities of this place have informed work undertaken elsewhere in the globe. Sydney's zeitgeist seems to require architecture of strength and weight. Its wondrous rich landscape overpowers the delicate work that sits so well in the tropical north, and resists the emphasis on form and surface that pervades Melbourne architecture. Here the light and the landform need sculptural forms and unfinished materials. Recent Sydney architecture adopts either an early Modernist denial of materiality in favour of pure form and colour, as exemplified by many recent Minimalists, or recalls European high-tech or neo-Brutalist work, a continuation of the Sydney School of the 1960s and 70s - a softer and more naturalistic Brutalism. A third identifiable Sydney school is the architectural shed or light open pavilion, often a sophisticated Miesian development of the simple vernacular form. In much of this recent Sydney work, the concerns of material fall between Melbourne's abstraction and Brisbane's expressiveness, and the informing ideas are purely architectural rather than semiotic or tectonic. TZG has resisted Minimalism, in favour of the tectonic celebration of the built artefact - 'maximilism'? - in a contemporary urbanised translation of the arcadian Sydney School. Another aspect to the city- its brassy commercialism - makes Sydney the country's 'great whore'. This opportunism can allow the architect a level of experiment with the creation of constructed 'special effects' which may be ephemeral, as well as suggesting a degree of playful image-making in the public realm.
Material and FormThe practice's continued obsession with the universality of meaning in architectural language manifests in developed hierarchies of material and form. Whether consciously or not, an architect determines the materials of a potential building almost as soon as it is conceived - so innate is the materiality to the architecture. Materials are the vehicle of architecture - the way it is made physically extent and enduring, comprehensible and useable. Architecture is created at the union of built function and built idea, and material is the manifestation of both of these intentions. TZG has always preferred buildings to be made of materials which are unfinished and direct. Natural materials such as stone and timber, now becoming luxuries, are strategically related to areas of high occupancy. Brick and concrete are used as a thick or solid matrix which holds the building together. Steel, with its demanding grammar of connection and exciting delicacy, is celebrated for its sculptural richness. Thin cladding is used only where necessary, preferably in unfinished durable metal - copper, stainless steel, zinc. The articulation of these materials, in contrast to the formless whiteness of the early Moderns, produces the depth and delight of the building. Set against and interweaving with the 'positive' of the building's material - floor, walls and roof - is the 'negative' of the spaces which this physicality produces, inside and out. It is this interweaving and balancing of solid and void, space and material that becomes the reality of architecture. To direct and organise the spaces and forms of a building, formal gesture is used in many of TZG's projects as a basis for design. Whilst founded on an understanding of social and architectural history, this is in no sense historicist, rather using the continuum of our culture to place gestures related to the concerns of the present. The risk of formalism is avoided by a pragmatic approach to planning and function, and a delight in complexity.
Space and MovementIf material is the physical presence of architecture, then its spaces are its life. In a time when the Modernist 'espace libre' has become ubiquitous, the modulation and articulation of space becomes a necessity, creating controlled and ordered sequences of movement and occupation, where the life of a building is nurtured. The physical progression through space requires a movement between states of memory and anticipation, the evolving comprehension of an environment. Spaces are linked both by paths and by sight: views from one space to another become key linkages in the continuum of the work, the whole is revealed by a series of views and long vistas. The openings that reveal these connections are developed as layered devices of joining and separation, places where construction and function are elaborated. The act of moving through the building - across and especially up and down - is celebrated to produce a defining experience of light and architecture. Stairs and escalators, lifts and ramps, these are the elements of dynamism, related to the experience of the vertical and the changing quality of space. In our work they are central architectural elements, never hidden, never fully enclosed. In small buildings the stair becomes a major focus, in large works systems of vertical transport are the heart of the architecture.
Activity and LightSpaces without occupation become meaningless. The uses of space in TZG's buildings are carefully controlled so that major parts of the public realm are enlivened by activity, and this activity is drawn through space into the fabric of the work. In commercial and cultural buildings there is a progression from open busy spaces at the core of the building outwards to more enclosed private 'rooms'. In houses, the living spaces relate to the circulation, the sequence of entry and the external environment. Living becomes both a theatre of movement and a stage of repose. To demarcate the places of activity, light is a continuing obsession. Daylight, controlled by screens and other built elements, becomes both functional and dynamic, a crucial element in the occupation of an interior. Artificial light supplements natural light and dramatises the architecture, highlighting selected surfaces and forms, whilst providing task-specific requirements. A continuous ambience is avoided. Externally, both day and night lighting brings the forms and surfaces of a building into life. This chiaroscuro, changing with location, climate and aspect, has always been a fundamental part of architecture. Its interaction with comfort and with the drama of architectural form make daylight a major determinant in design. Night image, especially in relation to the spaces of the city, gives the designer a chance to work an alchemic transformation, dissolving the material and altering the three-dimensional perception of forms. In many projects TZG have created, with careful management, night-time landmarks where light and surface become one.
Durability and Conscience
Increasingly, architects have become the conscience of the building industry, adopting sustainable design principles in advance of and beyond legal requirements. TZG has embraced ESD as a philosophy to be integrally celebrated in the architecture, not to be hidden or added on. In many instances, the whole expression of the work is based on the sustainable system adopted, the required forms and technology being fundamental to the way the building is shaped and detailed.A major and often overlooked component of ESD is the life-time durability of the building. Much of the energy consumed by buildings is lost in repeated refitting, repair and alteration - or in premature demolition. A durable artefact will be usable long into the future, the embodied energy of its initial construction being 'amortised' over many years, the economy of its sound energy performance providing continual benefits to many users and owners. More active environmental systems tend to be both more experimental and more initially costly. They must be used with care and in well-considered combination with more durable passive design principles.
Practice and PragmaticsTZG is a practice which has developed a very high level of collaboration between its staff members. A single team will take each project through from inception to completion. Each project, the responsibility of one or more of the directors, is 'owned' by those who work on it, there is no separate design and production office, and expertise at construction is shared across the range of projects. This enables details to be developed at pre and post construction stages to reinforce the initial design ideals. It also enables the inevitable changes to the design resulting from client and authority input - and from the accidents of on-site construction - to be integrated into the design, strengthening it rather than undermining it, reinforcing the design intent of the entire project. The approach and methods of the practice allow the generative potential of each project to evolve by responding to the specifics of the place, the client and the creators. This developing life force becomes the informing basis of each design, ensuring that each retains its individuality, each responds in its unique way. There is no consistent, limiting 'house style': work has great depth, achieving a wide diversity of detail and approach. The project team commit to working single-mindedly to achieve in the completed work the power of the sketch In many projects TZG have worked with selected artists from the initial concept stage, so that there is no division between the art and the architecture. The formal and metaphysical concerns of the artist are integrated with the architecture, each informing and enriching the other. Built work such as memorials and galleries are based on a high level of collaboration, and the successful public project is highly rewarding. Theoretical projects, installations and gallery work are further from the constraints of function and durability, allowing more polemic explorations of form and content.
Scale and AppropriatenessConsistently, a sense of the broader responsibility of the architect has underpinned the work of the practice. This has two aspects - one relates to the consideration of the building's context and the other to the design of the building itself. With both, scale is a decisive element, relating the size of spaces and built forms to the individual and to the context. A consideration of the surroundings does not imply a purely contextualist basis for architecture - rather a symbiotic relationship of place and building; with the making of a landmark an appropriate action in the correct circumstance. However, for many projects there is no appropriate genesis for the extraordinary, and thus buildings are part of a greater whole, suiting either the importance of a historic neighbourhood or the anonymous program of the building itself. Context also defines the fixed parameters of a site - aspect, sunlight, privacy and air movement, which control the fundamental design of a building. This sense of appropriateness also pervades the approach to the design of the building as an object. It is sensible to put effort, equalling cost in either design time or construction, where it will be of most benefit. It is unrealistic to expect elaborate monumentality from a simple commercial building, and the client must be in sympathy with the architectural intentions of any house. Conversely, a major public building or monument demands an architecture responsive to the highest aspirations of the society which commissions it. The old expression - 'you must cut your coat to suit your cloth' - sums up a pragmatic approach which ensures that effort is rewarded.
The Power of CreationArchitects have a unique ability to experiment with one-off creations which are actually used in everyday life. This power to build, to create real objects, underlies the fascination of the work, and exposes its danger: to avoid self-indulgence on one side and subservience on the other. This however is the path the designer must follow. Tonkin Zulaikha Greer's work is ongoing, developing its exploration of the possibilities of architectural practice, building on the pragmatic to create realised manifestations of a powerful 'other'.
Peter Tonkin, 2005
"Architecture and 'The Other': An Architectural Manifesto" by Peter Tonkin was first published in Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects, 2005, published by Pesaro Publishing.