University friends turned business partners Aaron Roberts and Kim Bridgland are of the same mind when it comes to discussions around architecture in the Australian context. The pair launched their joint practice, Edition Office, in 2016 out of Melbourne and have since built an internationally-recognised portfolio of commercial and residential projects. The calibre of their projects is one thing, but their knowledge and respect for Australia’s landscapes and histories ultimately sets Edition Office apart. Aaron and Kim measure up to this reputation by shedding light on the incredible privilege and responsibility of living and practising where they do.
How did you two meet and how did Edition Office come into being?
Kim Bridgland: We met while completing our Master’s degrees at RMIT University. During those two years, and in the three or four years following when we both worked for another firm, a friendship and understanding grew between us that we hadn’t yet experienced with any other architect. It became clear that we shared many of the same concerns and values around architecture and, more specifically, architecture in the Australian context – so the idea of starting our practice came into being.
Could you please share one of your defining design moments since establishing Edition Office together?
Kim Bridgland: There are two that I would like to mention that occurred almost simultaneously. One was the pavilion we designed in 2019 in collaboration with Yhonnie Scarce for the National Gallery of Victoria, In Absence. Around the same time, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial was in Canberra. Both projects were a tremendous privilege to work on and had extraordinary meaning for the First Nations community.
Aaron Roberts: That same year, we were also recognised as Emerging Architect of the Year by the Deezen Awards. We definitely weren’t expecting that, especially considering we had only been practising for four years at the time. Being seen on a world platform next to peers that we revere was a real honour.
What architects and designers (past and present) do you draw inspiration from?
Aaron Roberts: The simple answer to your question is it’s always changing. For instance, right now, there are many young inspiring architects, designers and artists emerging, that are bringing new perspectives to the practice. This challenges set positions or typical responses and in turn asks more established practices to reconsider design intents and outcomes.
Kim Bridgland: There’s also a higher political engagement with these emerging architects, which is wonderful to see.
Aaron Roberts: I think it’s important for us to reference other things as well – there are films and books, for instance, that influence us equally as much as famous architects do.
From the Macedon Ranges to the Byron Hinterland, you are well versed in designing homes to suit Australia’s diverse terrain. What challenges does this terrain present as an architect?
Aaron Roberts: Any work of architecture, wherever it may be, should reframe or recalibrate our relationship with that place. When we’re talking about this in an Australian context, it’s important to consider factors such as terrain, topography and climate, but it’s equally important to acknowledge our history; particularly the kind of reckoning that needs to happen around our colonial impact.
Kim Bridgland: We see architecture as an element within the landscape, which critically includes the history of that landscape. We can’t change history, but we can change our client’s relationship with it.
Aaron Roberts: There’s a real romanticism around what designing in Australia is like, particularly when people see these vast bushlands and coastlines. What many seem to neglect, though, is our suburban landscapes and the unique challenges they present. We need to start curtailing some of our suburban sprawl into our outer landscapes.
On the other hand, what rewards or advantages does the Australian landscape offer?
Kim Bridgland: This question asks you to move on from the obvious, that being, that the Australian landscape is very new and therefore largely untouched. But this is an incredibly limiting point of view given Australia’s history.
It’s a real pleasure to be able to work on projects with clients who are willing to embrace a connection to place. An even bigger reward is being able to spark conversations around the history of that place in relation to First Nations people and increase our clients’ understanding of their role and responsibility in caring for Country.
What are some of your favourite sustainable materials to work with and why?
Kim Bridgland: Clay is something we’ve been working a lot with over the last couple of years. It’s an incredibly old material but also very diverse. An example is Kyneton House – that house could be demolished, and a new house could be built with those same clay bricks one hundred years later.
Could you please talk about the importance of opening up a cultural dialogue between designers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?
Aaron Roberts: Firstly, there’s an unceded land issue that we must take into consideration. When it comes to private residential projects, we can address this by incorporating initiatives such as ‘paying the rent’ into discussions with our clients.
Kim Bridgland: In Australia, the architecture we give weight to typically comes from a time when First Nations voices were entirely excluded. Because of how time works – because those buildings have now aged and gained respect – they have value. Our cities are loaded with visual reminders of colonialism. It’s therefore hugely important that First Nations’ voices are included in the conversation around design and urban development. Only then can we have buildings that represent the values and the needs of those communities, in all scenarios; not just housing, but also banking, education, healthcare, et cetera.
Aaron Roberts: By opening up a cultural dialogue between designers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we can begin to reshape our urban realms to signify an Indigenous culture rather than a colonial one.
What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
Aaron Roberts: At a commercial level, we were just shortlisted for the competition to design “Ngurra”, the new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct in Canberra, which we collaborated on with Hassell and Djinjama Collective.
Kim Bridgland: At a residential level, we’re currently working on a series of villas in Bali – our first overseas project. It’s been wonderful to gain exposure to a market where locally sourced and locally-made takes precedence.
“By opening up a cultural dialogue between designers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we can begin to re-shape our urban realms to signify an Indigenous culture rather than a colonial one.”