Melbourne-based practice Studio Bright take a future-focused and holistic approach to architecture, working across residential, multi-residential, civic and educational sectors to design buildings that respond to individual needs, public needs and the environment. We had the pleasure of sitting down with the studio’s founder, Mel Bright, to discuss addressing big ideas in small-scale projects, making our cities work harder for us and her fundamental belief that good design is about doing more with less.

Outside of your own architecture practice, how does design have an influence on you?

Mel Bright: In many ways ‘design thinking’ is just about applying creative thought to solve contemporary problems. This works across all aspects of life so I feel like my design training is so embedded in how I think. 

Like all architects, I also love travelling and experiencing new cities and architecture. My husband is also an architect so our family holidays are often planned around looking at buildings. We have dragged the kids on Le Corbusier tours and to the Venice Biennale often. Seeing things that others may not notice can be a blessing and a curse when travelling!

“Balancing rigour with joy” is a cornerstone of your studio’s approach. How does this manifest in your work?

Mel Bright: Our ambition is to create architecture that works hard and exceeds the needs of our clients. But we also aim to make buildings that are delightful to look at, touch and experience. This philosophy also applies to the way we work; we work hard to design good architecture, but we also think that design should be fun.

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Ruckers Hill House by Studio Bright

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Ruckers Hill House by Studio Bright

You’ve worked on a diverse range of projects, from residential to civic, multi-residential and educational. Is there a common thread across these projects that, in your opinion, defines success?

Mel Bright: We hope our projects work across multiple facets rather than just being a singular idea. For us, there are many layers to a successful project. For example, we hope our buildings balance the needs of the public domain while responding to the individual needs of our clients.

We have always thought of our houses as having civic ambitions. In many ways, they are small-scale experiments that might challenge bigger ideas or simply be a lesson on materiality – private projects with public opportunities. 

While our cities and buildings get bigger, I don’t believe the scale of engaging with them has changed – we still work at the scale of the house and, most importantly, the scale of people.

Studio Bright has been certified Carbon Neutral since December 2020. Could you explain the implications of this and its significance in a broader environmental context?

Mel Bright: Becoming carbon neutral is our small contribution to this important global problem. The next step is for our business operations to become carbon-positive, and we are hoping to see all of our buildings become carbon-neutral in the near future. For a long time, we have been looking at the efficiency of our buildings, but we also need to consider the embodied energy and cost to the environment.

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Ruckers Hill House by Studio Bright

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Ruckers Hill House by Studio Bright

Your work places particular emphasis on landscaped spaces – ‘8 Yard House’ and ‘Autumn House’ being prime examples. Could you touch on the importance of establishing a connection between buildings and their natural environment?

Mel Bright: For us, good architecture does not stop at the edge of a building. Design needs to include the landscape, the whole site, and even the street and city beyond.

We hope our buildings connect with and care for the natural environment. The health and wellbeing benefits of fresh air, natural light and green space are well known. Increasingly, as we work towards densifying our cities, we aim to enhance all urban green space opportunities. We value these spaces and the relief they provide for our cities and future.

We are aware that to respond to density, we have to be inventive about what form that greenery might take – tree rooms, garden towers, living curtains, vertical backyards, urban agriculture, a building as an arbour, or even the landscape itself.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to?

Mel Bright: Last year was such a big year for the studio and so this year we are hoping to consolidate and just keep plugging away at projects we love! 

We have a couple of larger community and educational projects that are already under construction or about to begin on-site. We are really excited to see these realised and hope to see them become well-loved contributions to their local communities. We have also been working on a number of social housing projects that we can’t wait to see develop and evolve. 

Alongside community and housing projects, we continue to enjoy private residential projects. We have some really lovely houses finishing up that we are excited to share soon.

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Garden Tower House by Studio Bright

Design Dissected:

Where we get designers’ takes on broader topics, themes or events currently surfacing in the design world.

As an Australian architect, how do you view your role in shaping the social fabric of our cities?

Mel Bright: As architects, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the potential of good design and craftsmanship as a way to transform the built environment. For our cities to become more sustainable, they need to work harder for us. In the coming years, we would like to see increased density, but not at the cost of good design. Private projects must be considered with public interests – balancing individual and communal needs.

We don’t see increased density as a negative. Instead, we wonder how we might live closer together and get more out of it. It would be great to see our cities working hard to support increased density without compromising amenity and green space. More amenity in less space.

Rapid Fire:

Somewhere that inspires you? Dense Asian and European cities and the Australian landscape.

Someone that inspires you? Kerstin Thompson

Favourite three materials to work with? Brick, timber, plants

Something you want to see more of in design? Generosity and care for people, places and buildings that are built to last.

Something you want to see less of in design? Low-quality, unsustainable materials

As architects, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the potential of good design and craftsmanship as a way to transform the built environment.”

 

– Mel Bright

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