“… the work refers back upon itself … it investigates itself … betters itself … looking at the last project I can see the beginning ...” Tom Kovac
Our view is that the interconnected and complex globalised world in which we live holds special challenges for an architectural profession that has traditionally understood itself solely as responsible for the design of buildings.
We suggest that a more effective approach is to use our specific spatial ability to think and act spatially by firstly asking questions of the spatial contexts within which we work. These questions are asked through a rigorous research process that starts with the first client contact and continues until after the project has ended. The rigour with which we ask these questions is where our value lies, to our clients and to the broader society.
In asking questions about the spatial potential of any situation, we are questioning the relationships in place and thus making propositions about those relations and how they may be reorganised. A building – to us - is therefore not simply an “object” but is the after effect of the network of relations that formed it. Beyond building, our questioning of relations has resulted in projects where strategic advice is called for by larger clients and Governments about the reorganisation of city precincts or even entire cities. In each case – from single building to whole city - we question and then reorganise the relations in play to respond to the needs of contemporary society.
The Contextual Surface
These questions are asked via a rigorous research process which commences every new project. Specific research generates a body of knowledge that in turn becomes the theoretical engine for every project.
Architects often choose not to ask many questions about a project and to try and solve it in the simplest means - with a banal single image “concept” such as a wave, piece of coral, or cloud. Yet buildings can be many things at once to many people and need to be discussed in more layered ways.
TERROIR considers itself a constantly "emergent" practice in that each new task results in a series of questions and decisions that change both our practice and the project. Each project develops its own set of a rules, a system we have come to call the contextual surface. The contextual surface is constructed anew for each project and provides a mechanism for making the various prioritizations and negotiations particular to that project - where the project itself is understood as a constellation of coincident interests (developer, end user, public). Each project develops a contextual surface unique to it, such that attempts to discern enduring ethical foundations across projects are thwarted by the very fact that each project challenges our own positions and to some extent re-forges how we see the world.
Trained in the late 80s and early 90s enabled a ringside seat in the return of program as a critical force in architectural production. However, this was a program not limited to a list of functional requirements but as a statement of critical intent. The operative potential of a diagram was understood favourably when compared to the limitations of the conceptual sketch.
For TERROIR, the manipulation of program within critical and ethical frameworks relocates the client brief in a productive space. Many projects manipulate program to create spaces essential to meet client aims - often spaces not mentioned in the brief.
Curation and Control
Dealing with an expanding office - which carries with it new project types, sites and clients – has enabled reflection on our role as curators and directors of the practice. We now understand each project as a film of sorts, and thus the structure and mode of operation of the team parallels the production of cinema – with Directors who harbour the vision and a team selected for their ability to flesh out and deliver this vision each with their own speciality and focus. This use of the film industry as a framework has enabled us to transition from our early understanding of TERROIR authorship as having resulted from 3 pairs of hands to now include 25.
A generous office climate ensures that the utmost authority is vested with project architects, enabling an open design collaboration spirit extended to include modes of representation that often reflected the inherent skills of individuals on particular projects. The client is also included and understood as part of the design team, making their contribution as a co-author of sorts.
The complexity of the resulting design environment leads to our understanding of the need to “take control” at key moments – not as a domineering management approach but to assist the project in clarifying and moving forward. This tight management of the process is a form of insurance which guarantees the consistent quality output people have come to expect from the practice. This is also the client’s guarantee that there is not 1st string and 2st string TERROIR.
We have described here a design process not as a production line process or as the activities within a ‘design studio’ – a term currently overused by corporate practice which is the last place one would expect to find true understanding of what it means.
Rather, TERROIR projects evolve from a very clear and focused view of the world and a process we have developed to ensure that view permeates the work that we do. We have not so much a design process but work within a design climate - and it is this climate that provides the consistency seen in projects with diverse programs, conditions and budgets.