Eight architects and landscape architects/designers explore how their shared design language pushes the relationship between nature and the built form.

This feature first appeared inside est magazine issue 49: ‘Force of Nature’.

Shaun Lockyer Architects x Conlon Group

Landscape Architect Marc Conlon

Conlon Group

What was the first project you worked on with architect Shaun Lockyer?

Amaroo residence on Sunshine Beach. It was an existing landscape on the beachfront and was more about stripping back the built form and reconnecting with the dune. Our response was to reclaim and become part of the dune, reinstating the landscape up to the house with native dunal species. It was the start of our blurring of the lines – a real architectural collaboration.

What makes your collaboration with Shaun Lockyer Architects so effective?

Passion and enthusiasm; a different way of thinking rather than for the sake of; not directly challenging but asking the question and simplifying the process. There is synergy in how we both present to clients and our lasting personal connections with them.

When you’re working with like-minded people, there starts to be a sense of fluidity in how you work – an opportunity to excel. We know that the little things we do and have developed over the years come together to benefit both. We now know what we are capable of, and it’s exciting to push these possibilities.

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Amaroo Residence by Shaun Lockyer Architects and Conlon Group; photographed by Christopher Frederick Jones.

Typically, how do you respond to the architecture to ensure your design is intuitive to the established design language and there is harmony between the built environment and surrounding landscape?

Our deep understanding of a project’s natural environment allows us to capture a sense of place and integrate the living surroundings with architecture.

It’s those hard-thought-out decisions that appear simple in the end and have us all wondering why it wasn’t done like that before that are the real special design moments.

What do you admire most about Shaun Lockyer Architects’ work?

They are a pleasure to work with and have the highest level of procedure and delivery control that we have seen. They elevate our potential, and their work speaks for itself. We are excited about the projects to come.

Architect Shaun Lockyer

Shaun Lockyer Architects

Describe the synergy between your architecture studio and landscape architect Mark Conlon.

Landscape is integral to our work, not an addition to it, so consideration for how the architecture and landscape interact is required from the concept stage. Conlon Group have been a part of many of our most well-known projects. Their understanding of the delicate balance between our disciplines is key to the cohesive outcomes in our projects.

Architecture is about finding ways to provide sanctuary from the world while offering heightened engagement with the natural environment. Sharing these values allows us to prioritise the natural over the man-made, which we feel is a core principle in our work.

How does working so closely with a landscape designer or architect like Conlon Group enrich your work as an architect?

Knowing what we value, how we work, and what we do and don’t know, along with tried and tested outcomes and past knowledge and experience, allows us to start each project from a higher base.

Design is a complex process, sometimes with emotion, passion and aspiration eclipsing functional priorities. Working with people who you know and trust allows this process to be richer – with less ego. With experience and subsequent knowledge-building comes better, more diverse and sustainable outcomes.

Closer collaboration dissolves the sense of “them and us” in the design process.

How does it contribute to a more impactful project outcome?

I love the idea that we don’t think in two dimensions when it comes to architecture or the landscape. I love that with the appropriate design consideration, we can find ways to holistically integrate the natural and built environments. The idea that a roof can become a garden, that a balcony can be a breathing lung rather than a vacuous tiled area, excites me.

The progressive dominance of the natural over the built is appealing to me and, ultimately, a much more harmonious and romantic aspiration than a big building without a connection to the landscape, which is all too often the case. Not being limited to plants in the natural ground has opened up design to so many more diverse opportunities, which we hope is increasingly a defining characteristic of our work.

What do you admire most about Conlon Group’s work?

Conlon Group’s attention to detail not only aligns with ours but pushes the limits of quality, clarity and execution. We feel excited about every project we see through with them. We are better for being a part of their work, as are the collective outcomes of our efforts.

“Landscape is integral to our work, not an addition to it, so consideration for how the architecture and landscape interact is required from the concept stage.”

 

– Architect Shaun Lockyer

Kennedy Nolan x Amanda Oliver Gardens

Landscape Designer Amanda Oliver

Amanda Oliver Gardens

What was the first project you worked on with Kennedy Nolan?

Deepdene House in 2014. Kennedy Nolan’s name kept popping up as they had recommended me to various people, and then Rachel Nolan rang me and asked me to meet to discuss a project. Deepdene was a great introduction to their work; it exemplified their originality in design and connection to the garden and landscape so well.

What makes your collaboration with Kennedy Nolan so effective?

From the very start, Kennedy Nolan recognised the focus on plants in my garden designs. They were looking for someone who created gardens rather than ‘outdoor rooms’, whose emphasis was on the soft rather than hard-built aspects of contemporary landscape design. We both love a bold use of texture, colour and form. We also share a practicality that has an emphasis on beauty.

The Flinders House was one of our proudest collaborations. It’s been a tricky site for various reasons and as a project, it’s still a bit of a work in progress, but the bulk of the garden is really beginning to take shape. The extensive roof garden, predominantly planted in Coastal Tussock grass, Poa poiformis, ensures the landscape is read before the building. The ‘on structure’ rooftop planting is now merging with the surrounding natural soil garden plantings, and in time the built form will be largely obscured. The plantings are a mix of indigenous, native and exotic, creating what Patrick Kennedy describes as “idealised” nature.

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Flinders House by Kennedy Nolan and Amanda Oliver Gardens; photographed by Derek Swalwell.

Typically, how do you respond to the architecture to ensure your design is intuitive to the established design language and there is harmony between the built environment and surrounding landscape?

Understanding the architecture and how it is designed to function is important. Aspect plays a crucial role and ensuring the garden enhances and complements this. Responding to the seasonality of Melbourne’s climate – the pleasure of winter sun, the low autumn light, the extremes of a typical summer and the exuberance of spring. In the city, it’s about making the most of the borrowed landscape, framing or opening up views, screening or softening the ugly and creating a sense of enclosure. In the country, it’s about ensuring the garden sits well within the surrounding landscape and has a sense of place.

What do you admire most about Kennedy Nolan’s work?

What’s not to admire? Their strong working relationship and emphasis on landscape; the way they interweave gardens and garden spaces into all their designs; the originality and thoughtfulness that goes into each new project.

The use of colour and materiality on the exteriors of their buildings makes my job a lot easier. I love being able to pick up on those colours and textures when selecting my plant and material palette.

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Somers House by Kennedy Nolan and Amanda Oliver Gardens; photographed by Derek Swalwell.

“We both love a bold use of texture, colour and form. We also share a practicality that has an emphasis on beauty.”

 

– Landscape Designer Amanda Oliver

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Somers House by Kennedy Nolan and Amanda Oliver Gardens; photographed by Derek Swalwell.

Architects Patrick Kennedy & Rachel Nolan

Kennedy Nolan

Describe the synergy between your architecture studio and landscape designer Amanda Oliver.

About ten years ago, we came across a garden Amanda had made in North Fitzroy. We were immediately struck by her emphasis on horticulture, and were excited because we could sense a shared sensibility.

Amanda’s approach was exactly what we had been searching for, a designer who could deliver an intensely plant-focused landscape design, not in a botanical or taxonomic sense, but one imbued with narrative, curation and beauty. The synergy with our practice existed on many levels, certainly in a design intuition predicated on colour, texture, form and scent and in the emphasis on a story or narrative.

Amanda’s relationship continues with our clients long after we have exited because her gardens are ‘cared for’ by her – a term she prefers to ‘maintained’ and one which encompasses evolution and change.

How does working so closely with a landscape designer or architect like Amanda Oliver Gardens enrich your work as an architect?

We are delighted that increasingly our practices are seen as a package deal – to us, that is a testament to the symbiosis of our design approaches. There is a history of collaboration between architects and landscape designers from Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll and later Graeme Gunn with Ellis Stones, and from these relationships, a clear dialogue develops that amplifies the end result.

In residential projects, we are principally concerned with idealised domestic space, and for us, this encompasses architecture, interior design and the garden as a balanced whole. Amanda’s expertise and natural instinct enriches both the experience and the result, and over time and iteration we are learning from and influencing each other.

How does it contribute to a more impactful project outcome?

The climate emergency caused by global heating is the great moral and existential challenge of our time, and everything we do needs to be informed by this. We interrogate all aspects of our practice and pursue incremental change wherever we can, but a simple and beautiful way to do this is to make more gardens and to plant more intensively, but there are other important considerations. Plant diversity, supporting insect life, birds and fauna, eliminating environmental and noxious weeds, making linkages and corridors that connect the biosphere, growing food, managing water use, cooling the microclimate, banishing toxins and poisons in maintenance and preserving threatened species are just some of the ways we can incorporate biophilic design into our practice. Amanda is critical to this in our work.

What do you admire most about Amanda Oliver Gardens’ work?

There is so much we admire about Amanda’s work. She has an ability to ‘see’ how a garden will mature. She is unafraid to make mistakes in the pursuit of the best result. She is committed and strong and sure, but probably our favourite thing is that she is endlessly curious about plants and sees beauty in the smallest native orchid, understanding the interconnectedness of all parts of the living world.

Luigi Rosselli Architects x Dangar Barin Smith

Landscape Consultant Will Dangar

Dangar Barin Smith

What was the first project you worked on with architect Luigi Rosselli?

I first worked with Luigi on a very small penthouse development in Sydney’s CBD for a property developer called Zaro Elizov, who realised the value of a good landscape outcome. This was in the early 1990s. We have worked together ever since.

What makes your collaboration with Luigi Rosselli Architects so effective?

Luigi and I share the same views about how a landscape and building should interact. He likes his buildings to be feathered by the landscape, which suits my style. We want the building to feel like it has been inserted into an existing landscape.

Our relationship relies on both of us having an efficient way of working and an understanding that the projects will evolve during construction. We are also both completely comfortable with providing feedback. The collaboration is based on a shared knowledge of design, and a passion for great outcomes while providing practical solutions for our clients that respect sustainability and budget.

Typically, how do you respond to the architecture to ensure your design is intuitive to the established design language and there is harmony between the built environment and surrounding landscape?

When LRA sends us the concept design for a project, Luigi will have already done a sketch of the landscape around the building. We use this as the starting point for our design. We have a relationship that has formed over three decades of complete trust, which allows us to massage the outskirts of the building and the associated garden structures if we believe there are other ways to design these elements. This goes both ways in the event he feels strongly about any landscape elements.

What do you admire most about Luigi Rosselli Architects’ work?

Luigi and his team are prolific architects across multiple disciplines. However, what I admire most about him is his ability to transform existing structures. Architecture is a very difficult profession and adapting these buildings into beautiful, functional, generational family dwellings is the hardest of all areas to practice in.

Architect Luigi Rosselli

Luigi Rosselli Architects

Describe the synergy between your architecture studio and landscape consultant Will Dangar.

I’ve always thought that nature is an important component of architecture. First of all, because you build in nature, and second, if nature is absent in the urban environment, you try to recreate this in an environment where you can feel the fresh air, the seasons, and see birds, plants and life. With the privilege of cities like ours that aren’t too dense, we try to bring a garden feel into the most compact of sites.

We tend to give a choice to the client of landscape architects; it’s as important as choosing your architect. Clients favour Will Dangar for his communication and incredible experience; his portfolio is astounding.

Will has his own way of getting a brief out of a client, but we give him my original yellow trace sketches and communicate some of the concepts deliberated in this design. That way, he doesn’t go on a different tangent unrelated to a project. He understands the needs within the building.

How does working so closely with a landscape designer or architect like Will Dangar enrich your work as an architect?

It is fundamental – you can see in the final stage of a building site there’s a beautiful building, but there is something lacking – a harshness. Then the landscape is created in the final few weeks, and you immediately see the difference. It’s important the two things work together – we know that from the ongoing collaboration with Will Dangar.

A lot of elements in our projects hinge on the landscaping. Sometimes we build around a tree, integrate planting into the roof and a building’s facade or form a courtyard that needs a certain atmosphere; that’s the landscape architect’s work.

Will is knowledgeable about plants and always selects quality, substantial plants, which means six months later, the garden is quite established. He is also very good at mixing different origin plants. While other landscape planting can be quite desert-like with lots of mulch, pebbles and dryness, Will’s projects by contrast, are lush, succulent and full of life.

How does it contribute to a more impactful project outcome?

It is well known that living next to plants and gardens makes people feel more at ease, comfortable and less anxious. It’s an important psychological element.

It’s important to increase the effect of plants in absorbing CO2 and providing a healthier environment. That’s the goal in most of our designs – to maximise the amount of plants growing. If we can’t do it outside, we’ll do it inside.

What do you admire most about Dangar Barin Smith’s work?

Will is very creative; he consistently comes up with great ideas. He doesn’t follow the schemes and habits of everyone else. He’s always developing new concepts and methods of construction.

In the Sandcastle project, we had a very steep site. Other landscape architects would not have coped with the sloping site and demanded a retaining wall. We would have ended up with kilometres of retaining wall – a monster from the street. Will Dangar proposed a design that was able to creatively forgo this, and the garden is now fully established and working very well.

“While a lot of other landscape planting can be quite desert-like with lots of mulch, pebbles and dryness, Will’s projects, by contrast, are lush, succulent and full of life.”

 

– Architect Luigi Rosselli

Bell Fisher Architects x Fiona Brockhoff Design

Landscape Designer Fiona Brockhoff

Fiona Brockhoff Design

What was the first project you worked on with Graham Fisher?

Our first project together was in 2015 in Portsea when we were approached to design a very special garden around a unique clifftop property overlooking Port Phillip Bay towards Melbourne.

What makes your collaboration with Bell Fisher Architects so effective?

Each landscape we create involves a collaborative approach with the client and architect, as well as the architecture and site. Since each situation presents a unique combination, it’s important that the way we design is flexible and adaptive while remaining true to our philosophy. Bell Fisher Architects and Fiona Brockhoff Design respect each other’s approach to design and we always seek to create a garden landscape that relates to the scale of their architecture and the home’s internal layout.

The two Mornington Peninsula seaside properties that are featured in this article would have to be my favourite collaborative projects. Although the sites are adjacent and have many similarities, the client’s brief was different. The architecture responds beautifully to this difference and, in turn, the landscape design does too.

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Portsea by Fiona Brockhoff Design and Bell Fisher Architects; photographed by Earl Carter.

Typically, how do you respond to the architecture to ensure your design is intuitive to the established design language and there is harmony between the built environment and surrounding landscape?

The landscape response we create comes after discussion with the client, architect and careful site analysis. It is important to understand the materiality of the architecture so, where needed, we can incorporate similarities or repetition in surface treatments and style in the language of the garden.

Unity between internal and external spaces is important to make spaces feel larger than they may be or homogeneous in style. Often views from the garden spaces provide the link to the landscape beyond the property and with nature itself, creating an overall sense of synergy between the architecture, garden and surrounding landscape. Therefore, the way these spaces are furnished needs to strengthen this relationship.

While we work in different fields, there is a deep understanding of creating an outcome that is both coherent and aligned with the client’s brief. A good example would be understanding how level changes within the architecture must be considered in the landscape realm.

What do you admire most about Bell Fisher Architects’ work?

I admire their unique response to each situation. They design houses that respect the client’s brief and site characteristics. Providing interesting, scale-appropriate spaces that feel good to live in underpins their successful practice.

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Portsea by Fiona Brockhoff Design and Bell Fisher Architects; photographed by Earl Carter.

“While we work in different fields, there is a deep understanding of creating an outcome that is both coherent and aligned with the client’s brief.”

 

– Landscape Designer Fiona Brockhoff

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Portsea by Fiona Brockhoff Design and Bell Fisher Architects; photographed by Earl Carter.

Architect Graham Fisher

Bell Fisher Architects

Describe the synergy between your architecture studio and landscape designer Fiona Brockhoff.

I think that the naturalistic, casual and site-responsive nature of Fiona’s work acts as an ideal foil for the formality, symmetry and order that is inherent in our work. This is particularly relevant to her coastal projects but also applies to the city-based sites that we have done with Fiona. The end result is completely harmonious.

How does working so closely with a landscape designer or architect like Fiona Brockhoff enrich your work as an architect?

It is massively important to the success of our projects that they are finished and surrounded by a beautiful landscape. It enhances the architecture itself, the enjoyment of the building for the client, and the satisfaction of the architect. It sets the owners on a total aesthetic path for the future.

How does it contribute to a more impactful project outcome?

One of Fiona’s great skills is in handling changes in levels around buildings and integrating them into a landscape design. The resolution of these and the harmony with the planting scheme invariably solves difficult interfaces between building and landscape, including areas of deep shade from the building that need specialised plant choices.

It is axiomatic to our practice that buildings provide views towards nature, gardens and plants. Large windows serve to provide a constant interaction between the building’s internal environment and the outside world, made all the more beautiful by the work of great plants people like Fiona.

What do you admire most about Fiona Brockhoff Design’s work?

Fiona’s work paradoxically produces a pared-back yet lush landscape that doesn’t overwhelm a building, with a great balance between openness and vegetation, light and shade. Her work is functional when it needs to be and always beautiful.

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Portsea by Fiona Brockhoff Design and Bell Fisher Architects; photographed by Earl Carter.

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