Entering the architectural world takes guts; the guts to believe in your creative concepts and the ability to champion them. From his early days at Wood Marsh Architecture, architect Dominic Pandolfini learned the vital confidence to carry ideas through to completion, and out of this knowledge stemmed the birth of his eponymous studio in 2012.
Dominic Pandolini is quick to point out that any clever creative is also a clever businessperson, because behind every ‘decent build’ is a good business. Make no mistake, behind this business of robust re-dos and reinvention is a design-forward approach to the modern Australian lifestyle.
When we first met Dominic, it was through featuring his own family home in Port Melbourne. Fit for his family of four and their big pooch, the home is a welcome blend of durable materials and designer details. But it wasn’t until sitting down with Dominic Pandolfini that we found out how much he enjoys the excitement of experimenting with something untried – because it’s no fun redoing what you’ve already done. We took our continual appetite for the studio’s work to delve into Dominic’s local favourite spaces and finds – naturally including an ideal spot for a ‘drink and a bowl of pasta’ – be ready to take note.
You completed your studies at RMIT University before working for Wood Marsh Architecture. What did working for this renowned firm teach you?
Dominic Pandolfini: Roger Wood and Randal Marsh of Wood Marsh taught me everything I know about architecture and – having started working with them as a 21 year old – more than a few things about life. Their passion and knowledge of the arts provides them with an abundance of inspiration and a wide range of references that aren’t other buildings, which is really valuable.
They taught me importance of having a strong idea and the confidence to carry it through to completion. There are so many factors during the design and delivery stages that can water down a concept. So if it’s not strong to begin with, or you don’t champion its cause, there won’t be much left by the time the project is complete.
They continue to be influential and mentors to me.
What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learnt since starting your own studio?
Dominic Pandolfini: Being a good architect (or thinking you are) doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good business, which is essential if you are going to get anything decent built. I now have the utmost respect for anyone who has started a successful business and am aware that most successful designers and artists are also very clever business people.
Both your Argyle Street apartments and Port Melbourne Home involve reinventing an existing structure. What is your best approach to strict heritage and planning controls?
Dominic Pandolfini: With both of these projects, we created a clear delineation between the old and new structures. You need to respect the original building, give it some breathing space and then be able to insert something that is both complementary to the original building, but also new and exciting. There is a lot of opportunity where the new and old intersect and both of these projects exploit this.
How are your projects indicative of the modern Australian family?
Dominic Pandolfini: We strive to make our projects timeless and not necessarily designed for today. There is nothing better than walking into a building that was designed and constructed 50 years ago to find that it is still relevant and looking as good as it did the day it was built.
Last year, we were lucky to take a look inside your family home on est. Can you describe what it was like to design your own home – what insight did it give you into a client’s perspective?
Dominic Pandolfini: The terrifying cost of building! It’s easy to get desensitised to the huge numbers involved with construction but it’s a reality check when it’s coming out of your own pocket.
Having lived in the house for two years (with two small kids and a large dog) I have a renewed focus on using strong, simple, hardwearing materials. A house should be lived in and never be so precious that it can’t be enjoyed.
What material do you use most throughout your work and why?
Dominic Pandolfini: We don’t start new projects with any preconceived ideas. To paraphrase another architect, it’s no fun to visit one of your building sites where you’re redoing the same materials and ideas you’ve already used. You want to be arriving to site with that mix of excitement and fear that comes with doing something new and untried.
That being said, we do like to use strong, simple materials. We have just completed a restoration of a large sandstone house on the Mornington Peninsula and have used large amounts of travertine and stainless steel. The juxtaposition between the organic travertine, with all its inconsistencies and warmth, and the clinically consistent stainless steel worked really well.
As a local designer, what do you see for the future of Melbourne architecture and design?
Dominic Pandolfini: Melbourne has such a strong design community and an output that is world class. It’s also a friendly, inclusive environment which is great to be a part of. I have just got back from Shanghai for a new project we’re working on and it is evident that there is a real appetite for the type of work that we (Australians) can produce.
Finally, what do we have to look forward to from Pandolfini Architects in 2018?
Dominic Pandolfini: Our first apartment project, a restoration and addition to a beautiful 1930s building on the bay in Elwood, will start construction. The original building, affectionately known as Woy Woy, was designed by Roy Grounds (National Gallery of Victoria) and was one of Australia’s first Modernist apartment buildings. We are restoring the original building and constructing a four-level addition at the rear of the property to provide for five luxury apartments.
We also have a few new houses under construction on the Mornington Peninsula, a prefabricated apartment project about to be dropped into place in South Yarra and a new residential project about to start in Paddington, Sydney.
Your quick insider guide:
Favourite local designers or studios?
Obviously Wood Marsh Architecture – they are a continuing inspiration. Projects of Imagination’s work is refreshingly different and has become a real part of the cultural fabric of Melbourne. Sean Godsell’s style continues to evolve. We’re very lucky to have some significant work in our city.
Favourite design stores?
Dutton Garage; not your traditional design store but full of incredible, inspirational pieces in a great environment. I would be very happy to have any of their cars in my loungeroom. I also head to Made in Japan, South Melbourne for their beautiful Japanese ceramics and eclectic mix of furniture and lighting. It’s a great space and always full of good music.
Favourite galleries and spaces?
Where do you go to look at great design?