Talk on a Practice: Formworks

Kelly Rattigan and team from Formworks gave a great Talk on a Practice for MERGE- here is a summary.

After meeting in the Formworks offices, in a blended old/new building on a back lane in North Fremantle, the talk proceeded at nearby Mojo's, the slide show given a slight crazed edge by being projected onto an artwork of a slavering naked man holding a rose. Kelly Rattigan presented, but invited all her staff, from students through to senior project architects to present their responses to questions she had asked them earlier in the day - a nice touch which included the practice as a group, not just Kelly Rattigan and Co.

Anyway, Kelly began with the origins of the firm, as a small residential practice (Kelly Rattigan Architects) which grew from an initial residential commission (which displayed some great use of blockwork) to become a small firm of 4-5 people with close teaching links to UWA. She described the breakthrough project for the firm moving to large scale architecture proper after some small commercial works; a speculative university studio project, St Bart's Lime Street, which captured the imagination of Allanah MacTiernan and went on to become reality with land and money grants from the government. The practice then merged with the practice of a retiring architect to become Formworks, a larger proposition focusing on commercial work, with a strong regional bent.

Some key ideas:

Moving from residential to commercial: This is the key moment for most growing practices, and Kelly described it as something necessary for the long-term sustainability of the business, and something that the practice must push itself to do. The process was fraught; despite encouragement to do so from the client, Formworks did not partner with a larger commercial architecture firm to deliver St Bart's, as it was felt that the design would have been compromised. This was a large and difficult learning project for the practice, but despite the difficulty of the process, Kelly expressed little regret.

Technical mastery: Formworks, as is apparent from their website, is very keen on BIM (and Kelly has been working with the (R)AIA on the BIM sub-committee. She did not frame it as a headlong dive; there are still reservations, but it a very useful tool for visualising the design and documenting - especially working the engineering subconsultants, because the integration of documents is much higher (when all are working in 3D using Revit), and it better facilitates the accurate fabrication and construction of complex structures - particularly useful for regional projects, where steel framed construction is prevalent, and prefabrication and transport must be carefully managed.

Kelly ended this part on a sobering note: if architects do not take control of BIM, engineers will, and will use this mastery to dictate ever greater swathes of the design process and outcome, and architects will continue a slide toward marginalised aesthetes.

Co-operation with Contractors: The staff of Formworks have a variety of backgrounds - there were American, Indian and British accents mixed in, and one of the staff members (who was not there, but had his criticisms and jokes read for him by a young member of staff) was very critical of the Perth construction industry, as compared to the one in the UK - higher levels of documentation (many more 'technicians' rather than architects employed by firms), better craft, better detailing (esp. waterproofing - not the same reliance of "bubblegum & mastic"), and architectural staff better at administering contracts, rather than letting contractors inflate progress claims, time extensions and variation costs. Kelly highlighted that all the BIM in the world cannot make up for our combative blame based relationships with builders - it is virtually routine in the UK for contractors to be involved from a sketch design stage. 

Business case: Flicking through some spreadsheets and reports, Kelly showed how business cases can be used as the basis for convincing the client to invest more capital in a quality building up front. This seemed confined to parts which can be given dollar value - e.g sustainable measures cutting building running costs.

Architecture: Kelly is interested in materiality, sensible sustainability (there was some gentle criticism of the oddities and expense of GreenStar hoops), light, and internal spaces - building not, primarily, objects in the landscape.

Thanks to Merge (esp.Yen Nee Goh and Janine) for organising the event, and Formworks being so generous with their time and collegial spirit.


Post a Comment