Interview: Architects EAT

  • The first words that spring to mind when speaking with Architects EAT are down-to-earth. Established by Albert Mo and Eid Go, Architects EAT encompasses a team of 25 designers based locally in Melbourne. While the scale and scope of their projects is often large, they are a honest and humble in going about their work – perhaps because their tip-top designs simply speak for themselves.

    Out of a successful collaboration, Albert and Eid have built a practice on principle not profit. Learning life lessons by getting their hands dirty, they know the value in tactility, in feeling and experiencing a design on the ground, firsthand. Albert and Eid focus on coordinating teams to a single vision, finding unity in consensus. They know the essential ingredient to any design is humanity; creating for people and their purpose as a way of connecting people with their environment and each other.

    We were lucky to speak with the founding fathers – Albert Mo and Eid Go – on progress and their infectious passion for their work. Driven by a belief in enriching people’s lives, Albert and Eid compare architecture as a process not dissimilar to building rockets – and in 2018, this firm is certainly continuing to aim for the stars.

    PHOTOGRAPHY James Coombe and Derek Swalwell

     Albert, you established an office in South Yarra in 2000 with Eid, after graduating from the University of Melbourne. How did you both come to working together?

    Albert: Straight after graduating, a family friend had asked us to design a golf driving range in Hawthorn. Although the project did not eventuate, we picked up a couple of small projects to ensure that the EAT dream was kept alive. The first three years in particular were difficult, and we relied a lot on contract works for other architects to make a living. The support that we received was amazing. Progressively the influx of projects began to mature and stabilise and we began to recruit a bunch of fantastic young architects whilst we were based in South Yarra in the early days. We were fortunate to have a few of our projects published in prominent design magazines and the rest is history.

    How do you collaborate, and how have your roles evolved over the years?

    Albert: Ha! Great question! In the early days, both of us did whatever that came in the office, depending on workloads and who had signed on the job. Slowly I found out that I couldn’t work to the speed of hospitality projects, because I felt that I didn’t have enough time to think and refine my design. On the other hand, Eid could not stand the time and patience that it takes to do a house, from planning application to working with couples who argue in front of you. So after a while we found our niches, and started a very complimentary way to divide our projects.

    Eid: These days we have our own teams, however we have started mixing up a bit, and some new typology of works have really allowed the teams to work together.

    You have both tutored design studios and delivered lectures at the University of Melbourne. Why do you think this is important and what are the key learning lessons you pass on to architecture students?

    Albert: That’s a long time ago, we were not really good tutors to put it in short! We really admire someone’s ability to teach, teaching and doing are two really different fields. We were told that instead of teaching, we were simply doing – telling students what to do or designing for them, very similar to how we operate in our own studio.

    However, what we have passed on was I suppose what we believe in, in architecture and building, that the process of design comes from the hands. Hand and brain connect in a wondrous way. Drawing on a piece of paper using hands as opposed to a mouse or on the screen really lets you explore and think. We also encourage to feel and experience design from the hands, tactility is again a connection from the skin to the brain; an experiential journey, even if it’s just a proposal, you can still ‘feel’ it when you close your eyes and ‘touch’ it.

    You have expanded from a small operation to a team of 25. What do you attribute to this success?

    Albert: The process was quite organic when you spread it across 18 years!

    Eid: We always knew that we wanted a practice that is design focused, delivering good design outcomes that we believe in. We wanted all of our projects to be published and awarded; our ambition was high. We could have been filthy rich designing French Provincial and Neo-Georgian dwellings, fortunately, we declined all these potential clients and arrived to a sweet spot where we consider ourselves very privileged to be able to practice good architecture.

    What is your favourite material to work with?

    Albert: Concrete would be one of the favourite materials. Some of my favourite buildings in the world are built in concrete. It’s fascinating – a fluid material when wet. The art of using concrete to create architecture requires technology, engineering and craftsmanship to work together simultaneously. The limitations of concrete are vast and it can be unpredictable sometimes; that is the beauty of this material. It is timeless and robust – after all, this is what created the Roman Empire, definitely not the politics! Even though concrete is low on insulation values, it creates thermal mass and reduces indoor temperature fluctuation. When it’s thin it floats, when it’s thick it stays and when you can make it float when it’s thick, you have turned boring engineering to a fun process; this requires the architect to set the vision and the intent.

    Can you describe your design process when approaching large-scale projects?

    Eid: Large scale project requires a far more robust coordination system, both internally and externally. The biggest challenge for any practice is managing resources. In a small scale project, one person can finish a job from start to finish, whereas in large scale project, a team is required, and when a few people are involved, politics start!

    Albert: The above applies to both procurement and design process. Quite often, you can tell if a building is designed by a committee and consensus, or designed by a singular vision and that’s what makes the difference. Therefore at EAT we are trying really hard to establish that singular vision from the very beginning, guiding  the team as a beacon from ‘start to finish’.  This singular vision relates back to what we value: accessible, authentic, smart and precise.

    Eid: Most importantly, we love and enjoy the large scale projects!

    As a practice, how do you continue to innovate and avoid similar designs?

    Eid: Producing architecture and spaces is a bit like building rockets. Once it takes off the next question we ask ourselves is how big and how far will the next one be? There is no doubt great architecture requires money (within its geographical context) but more importantly it requires humanity. We are designing it for people and their purpose. When the outcomes exceed beyond expectations they inform, educate and inspire, and for me personally it connects. Architecture connects people with people, and people with the surroundings. This is why architecture exist because it enriches way of life. Architecture is just a vehicle and a form of communication to express and elevate mankind’s wellbeing. Hence, we must first evolve our mindset and create awareness in order for architecture to reciprocate its intended purpose.

    Finally, what are you most excited about this year?

    Eid: Our practice is currently working on new projects such as workplaces, a winery, food halls, a nightclub and entertainment, hotels, art gallery and studios. We are extending and expanding our expertise and beliefs on “living”, “playing” and “eating” into these new projects. More excitingly, we are also embarking on our biggest project: re-investigating Architects EAT’s brand presence.

    We are expecting 2018 to be a BIG year for EAT, with all of the above and new projects being built as we speak.

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