Interview with the Directors of studiofour

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    Co-directors of studiofour Annabelle Berryman and Sarah Henry share their insight on designing mindfully, creating a highly collaborative practice and where they admire great design. 

    Melbourne-based architecture, interiors and landscape design practice studiofour know what it means to design well – in every sense of the word. By definition, designing well captures co-directors Annabelle and Sarah’s thorough, skilful and ‘healthy’ approach, leading a united front of architects, designers and creatives. 

    First meeting at highly-acclaimed local firm Carr Design, Sarah and Annabelle realised their design alignment ran far deeper. Four years on from the launch of their own practice in 2010, studiofour made their debut on est with their Albert Street project, sparking our long-held admiration for the studio’s ability to bring the outside in.

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    Annabelle Berryman and Sarah Henry

    In 2019, we walked through their Hygge-inspired Centralpark Residence, reiterating the importance of innovative rework over demolition, while their Mayfield Avenue project highlighted how a central garden can inform the entire design of a home. est magazine issue #30 cover star Davies Street also shared this imperative, while asserting studiofour’s consideration for the wellbeing of a home’s occupants. 

    We caught up with Annabelle and Sarah to chat through how they began working together, developing a holistic studio and their largest learnings to date. Annabelle and Sarah also throw light on the influence of architecture on our health, and how they’re leading the way on the importance of landscape in how we live; design leadership that’s more pressing than ever.

    Sarah and Annabelle, what sparked your interest in design and how did your career begin?

    Annabelle Berryman:  I’m lucky to have grown up within a family that loved to design and build. My uncle was professionally trained as an architect and my parents and grandparents loved to create, so my love of design and building was engrained from an early age. I was fortunate to have a mother and grandmother who worked as artists, so my life was continually nurtured creatively.

    Sarah Henry: From an early age, I was interested in the creation of things and how elements came together. While I was still in primary school, my aunt and uncle used an architect for their new home in the bush and it was my first experience of how the built environment could be influenced by the genius loci of a place. Since then, I have wanted to create buildings that are responsive to both their location and their inhabitants.

    “studiofour’s approach to the built environment is to constantly strive for a unity with nature. Our designs reflect a strong emphasis on our relationship with nature.”

    – Annabelle Berryman

    How did you come to working together?

    Annabelle Berryman: Sarah and I met while both working at Carr Design. I was a director at the time and Sarah joined as a project architect. We worked closely on resort, hospitality and residential projects, both in Melbourne and interstate. After several years, Sarah moved to  O’Connor and Houle to focus on residential projects, while I started a private practice.

    Collaborating on a few small projects together during this time, it became apparent that we both held a shared vision for a practice that blended the disciplines of art, architecture, landscape and interiors. In 2010 we formalised our partnership to create studiofour.

    Your practice offers a holistic service through architecture, interiors and landscaping, which is the foundation for your overall design philosophy. How do you ensure consistency between all of these touch points in a project?

    Annabelle Berryman: Our methodology is to involve all team members in the creation of our initial design response and this collaborative process allows each team member to take ownership of the projects vision as it takes hold. 

    Paramount to our holistic approach is breaking down the boundaries between disciplines to allow each to bleed into another, to create a cohesive and highly considered outcome. There is no single discipline competing or taking precedence over another, each element of our vision achieves a strength and clarity not achievable by a segmented team or an independent working environment.  

    Continuous rigorous workshopping strengthens our ideas into a single holistic vision and this approach ensures each design response is bespoke and highly innovative.

    Sarah Henry: Our team comprises of staff with experience in architecture, interiors, landscape, art and fashion.  The studio environment allows each individual to bring to the table their unique skills and perspective. 

    Each project begins with an extended workshop where computers and rulers are absent.  Instead, a collective of artists and designers use different media to explore the client’s brief and the site’s particulars over a number of days.  What comes forth at the end of these sessions may be a charcoal line drawing that captures the essence and vision for the project. This artistic methodology is continued in various capacities through all stages of design, through to the built realisation of each project. 

    Our studio environment nurtures creativity and rewards innovative thinking. We consciously work hard to provide a rich environment where exploration and discussion provide the basis and springboard for all ideas. 

    What do you find has been the largest influence on your work?

    Annabelle Berryman: studiofour place great importance on the role of architecture in our health. We believe that to truly enhance human well-being, building design needs to move beyond optimising single parameters such as temperature and humidity, to more holistic approaches that take their cues in health-supporting human behaviours, responses and outcomes.

    Sarah Henry: About ten years ago we worked hand in hand with a building biologist to create a home that would help ensure the optimal health for our clients. They had previously lived in a house ridden with black mould and were convinced their families health had suffered. Around this time we also delved deeply into the work of Nicole Bijlsma, author of Healthy Home Healthy Family.

    Since the release of this book some 15 years ago, the impact of the built environment on our genetics and our biochemistry has never been more relevant.

    The learnings of this project, and the due diligence completed for it, have informed studiofour’s approach to all of our projects. More than ever we realise the home is the most important financial and health investment our clients will ever make and we are driven by our responsibility as architects to deliver a built environment that plays a critical role in ensuring our clients health and wellbeing.

    Annabelle Berryman: The Building Code and various other rating schemes generally focus on the design and construction of buildings that are structurally sound, fire resistant and energy-efficient.

    As we spend about 90 per cent of our time in buildings, it seems to make sense that designing enclosures that are a healthy place to live in mind, body and spirit is equally, if not more important. We strive to create homes that leave our clients healthier from living within them.

    What do you find most exciting and challenging about the Melbourne design landscape?

    Sarah Henry: There is an ever growing enthusiasm toward good design in Australia, perhaps it has been neglected for too long, but it is really inspiring to be part of this expanding awareness. This year we were among a couple of Melbourne design firms shortlisted by DEZEEN for the worldwide Emerging Practice category, along with a couple of firms invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennale 2020.

    We really enjoy being part of Melbourne’s design industry and are constantly inspired by the energy and rigour of our peers. There is a great sense of camaraderie within Melbourne, and the support between practices and associated consultants is strong.

    Annabelle Berryman: Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in the Melbourne Design Landscape is our fast changing urban fabric and the increase of the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect’. It seems bigger and bigger dwellings are diminishing the size of the suburban backyard. As the suburbs lose vegetation and cover, urban areas start to act as heat sponges and heat is absorbed by hard surfaces and radiated back into the air. These shrinking suburban gardens are leading an increase in local temperature, as well as a disconnection from nature.

    Our challenge is to help our clients place as much importance on the landscape and the benefits that nature has been proven to deliver, in an effort to deter the emphasis placed on the size and potential soullessness of a house and how many bedrooms or bathrooms it has.

    Annabelle Berryman: At studiofour we believe we need to encourage green space around dwellings to; mitigate climate change and keep our suburbs cooler, absorb carbon dioxide and various other pollutants, improve physical and mental health, filter urban pollutants and reduce carbon emissions. We also believe we need to encourage green space around dwellings to regulate water flow and decrease storm water run-off, increase urban biodiversity, provide space for human interaction / entertainment and decrease windspeed. Trees significantly reduce windspeed up to a distance of 10 times their height.

    What has been your largest learning to date?

    Annabelle Berryman: As a practice we are forever evolving and searching for better initiatives. Over the years my experiences have taught me to never give up on an idea even if the challenges of its realisation seem insurmountable.

    Fight the good design fight as it only makes you stronger as an individual and as a practice. Have conviction in your ideas and know that behind them stands a framework of detailed due diligence and knowledge, but most importantly drive projects from the heart with a passion that ignites.

    Sarah Henry: Annabelle and I have both completed new homes for ourselves over the last couple of years. Having families of our own, both of differing ages, these projects have been important platforms for exploring new construction techniques and details, alternate finishes and planning strategies.

    It has enabled us to strengthen our offerings to clients, and has helped us test and further define the parameters of our design ethos.

    Could you please tell us about the importance of a connection between the inside and outside in your work?

    Sarah Henry: We are passionate about increasing the strength of our connection to nature though our architectural response, as research concludes that connection to the natural environment has been shown to make people happier and can improve human well-being and physical health.

    Annabelle Berryman: Additionally I believe our culture is currently experiencing ‘nature deficit disorder’, with all our time indoors in front of electronic devices we are suffering a disconnection from nature and its powers.

    studiofour’s approach to the built environment is to constantly strive for a unity with nature. Our designs reflect a strong emphasis on our relationship with nature. As architects we believe we have a responsibility to make sure our habitable structures fully explore opportunities to showcase the landscape. We believe this connection is a pathway to human health and happiness.

    Sarah Henry: Whilst our projects generally seek to create a quality of space that provides a sense of sanctuary, enclosure and comfort, emphasis is always placed upon a tangible connection with the building’s surrounds, both in topography and landscape.

    Annabelle Berryman: Varying levels of interaction and connection with the landscape, both real and perceived, drive all aspects of our design, from the channelled views of the horizon upon entry, through the direct and intimate connection provided by the immediate microenvironment.

    What do we have to look forward to from studiofour in the coming year?

    Sarah Henry: We are looking forward to the completion of a couple of our overseas projects, as well as some beautiful coastal and rural projects that have unique sites and briefs to match.

    We are also working towards our exhibit for next year’s Venice Biennale, so 2020 promises to be both an exciting and rewarding year for our studio.

    Design insider’s guide:

    Favourite local designers and studios?

    Firstly, Joost Bakker, who is always extending our thinking on greater issues at hand.  We admire his energy in pushing the boundaries of the capabilities of the built environment, while continuously creating beautiful installations throughout Melbourne. Secondly, Andy Moore of Studio Moore, also pushing design boundaries but through the art of making. Lastly, Shannon McGrath, who always manages to beautifully capture our architectural work and whose art series gives us another perspective of her amazing talents.

    Favourite design stores?

    Some favourites from our recent travels together include Merci in Paris, Kollekted By in Oslo, Frama in Copenhagen, and Illums Bolighus (also in Copenhagen); we could literally spend days in there. Locally, we always love to spend time browsing at the Hub General store.

    Favourite galleries or spaces?

    Annabelle Berryman: On our recent overseas trip, a clear favourite space was the Studio Oliver Gustav. Images don’t do the qualities of the space justice.

    Abroad, the Pompidou Centre is also another favourite.  Closer to home, we like to stop by Flinders Lane and peruse the local galleries, but equally important for us is finding new artists not yet represented formally by a gallery. We find Instagram and smaller pop up galleries and exhibitions a great resource for discovery. Over the years we have collaborated with many of these local artists to develop our project visions alongside their current artistic explorations.

    Where do you go to look at great design?

    Sarah Henry: Both obsessive about natural landscape, we tend to find our inspiration outdoors.  It always excites us how a particular or unique natural environment can trigger a design response.  For us, when we can, travelling to visit our favourite buildings and spaces is so fulfilling and good for our psyche.

    We have been fortunate over the past couple of years to have projects underway overseas, so each site visit presents the opportunity to divert somewhere to experience the local culture and its architecture. On a recent site visit, I was able to detour to Germany to visit Peter Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, which provides a sensory experience that cannot be done justice on page.

    Annabelle Berryman: Additionally we are both avid readers. At any one time I have a novel but also a theory text beside my bed to challenge my mind and to continually evolve and deepen our design understanding. I am currently reading The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton.

    est living bourne residence interview directors studiofour 1

    Bourne Road Residence

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