Interview with Architect Hannah Tribe

  • House in Queens Park by Tribe Studio

    We catch up with founder and principal of Tribe Studio Hannah Tribe, to learn more about sustainability-soaked design and the influence of art and culture on her practice. 

    Hannah Tribe established her architecture practice Tribe Studio nearly 20 years ago. While her father was an architect, it wasn’t a profession Hannah immediately took to, finding her way to architecture and design as an artist. Hannah’s definitive approach reflects her artistic influence, in what she terms ‘architecture as portraiture’ –  sincerely expressing the client through design.

    Tribe Studio are known for their empathetic, anti-trend and ambitious residential design that reveals constant experimentation with materials. Hannah believes that at the core of the buildings we love is sustainability; permeating all of her designs along with a deep understanding of the broader site context. We spoke to Hannah about designing abroad, the value in collaboration, the rewarding legacy of creating something permanent and how she anticipates the future of design to be shaped by a revolution in how we live and work.

    Your father was an architect. When did you first want to follow in his footsteps and consider a career in architecture?

    Hannah Tribe: As a child, I loved drawing and building things and my parents were incredibly encouraging. But I didn’t consider architecture until I had tried other things. From the outside, dad’s office didn’t look very exciting. Solving difficult and complex problems is such an engaging and rewarding thing to do, but it’s not exactly a spectator sport.

    Could you please tell us about the influence art has had on your career?

    Hannah Tribe: When I fancied myself as an artist, I found the act of painting supported the less linear side of architectural creativity. Now I have more control over the process and can see that there is an intuitive element that must come first that then gets reviewed, analysed, theorised and refined.

    Engagement with contemporary art and culture is key to our practice. We are all in the business of cultural output. The things we make create the conversation that describes who we are, what we value, what we believe in and what we’re challenged by. Architecture is the most lasting medium in this conversation, and also the most cumbersome. We are inspired by the agility and autonomy of our artist friends.

    Hannah Tribe x Brickworks

    Darlinghurst Apartment by Tribe Studio

    “At its core, sustainable architecture is the creation of buildings that people love. People love buildings that perform efficiently, that are not onerous or expensive to run, buildings that last, buildings that make you feel good and buildings that inspire joy.”


    – Hannah Tribe, director of Tribe Studio

    Hannah Tribe x Brickworks

    Darlinghurst Apartment by Tribe Studio

    You consider your architecture as portraiture. Could you please talk to this idea and how it informs your approach?

    Hannah Tribe: About 50 per cent of our work is homes. We love doing homes because we get to collaborate so closely with the client, who is also the end-user of the building. Early on in my career, one of our clients said, “Tribe helped us express ourselves through design,” and this has informed how we treat houses. They are so unique to a particular person, or family. They describe their interests, priorities and preconceptions and reflect their personalities. Lucien Freud famously said, “Everything is portraiture. Everything is autobiography.”

    Why do you consistently lean on the material of brick in your work?

    Hannah Tribe: It’s so funny you should say that. About 16 years ago, we completed a flat-roofed project in render and for about 10 years, we only got calls about clients wanting white boxes.

    Five or six years ago, we finished some brick projects with a gabled roof and now we are brick barn people. We are experimental with our use of materials. We are doing projects clad in timber, stone, tile, brick, concrete, steel, glass. We return to brick in Federation areas of Sydney quite a lot when brick and tile are the material DNA of the place.

    What is the role of and value in collaboration at Tribe Studio?

    Hannah Tribe: Collaboration is at the heart of architecture. Within our team, we work really closely in the creative process in a true studio format. We extend the collaborative ethos to our consultants, allied designers, craftspeople, builders and of course collaboration with the client is key. Ultimately, architects harness the ideas of the client, give them form, coordinate a unified whole and then drive it to reality.

    Could you please tell us about the work your studio has completed outside of Australia?

    Hannah Tribe: We have completed a couple of projects on beautiful old listed houses in the UK for private clients. We collaborated with Alexander and Co on the Sean’s at the Dubai Opera, which is a 350 seat restaurant on the top floor of the new opera house, and we’ve just finished a beautiful family home in Venice Beach, California.

    How do sustainability and a sense of community permeate your work?

    Hannah Tribe: Permeate is a great word. We treat sustainability as a principle that is soaked right into the fibres of each project, from our internal office practices to passive design, to active systems and material selections.

    At its core, sustainable architecture is the creation of buildings that people love. People love buildings that perform efficiently, that are not onerous or expensive to run, buildings that last, buildings that make you feel good and buildings that inspire joy. If people love a building, if it is carefully considered and designed on all these levels, then people will look after that building and it will eventually pay off its embodied energy debts.

    Crappy buildings become waste, landfill and released carbon. My current sustainability bee in the bonnet is waste on building sites and the packaging of building materials.

    Hannah Tribe x Brickworks

    House Au Yeung by Tribe Studio

    What do you find most rewarding about what you do?

    Hannah Tribe: The feeling of creating something permanent and lasting out of the collective imaginations of our team and our clients. When I get to spend a day drawing pictures, all is well in the world.

    What do you see for the future of Australian residential architecture and design?

    Hannah Tribe: Oh wow – this is a big question at the moment. I think COVID-19 has demolished the formality of the home-work-school divide and it will have a lasting impact on how we work. People seem to be enjoying the increase in family time, cooking, family dinners and slowness. At the same time, this is facilitated by the ability to blitz the commute and rely on increased work technology in the home. I think we are at the beginning of a home-work revolution of sorts that will be characterised in architecture by a simultaneous uptick in tech and craftiness.

    Design insider’s guide:

    Favourite local designers and studios?

    Hannah Tribe: Shout out to the sister architects. What a great moment for female architects and designers: Polly Harbison, Eva-Marie Prineas, Chris Major, Nadine Alwill, Lee Hillam, Penny Fuller, Penny Collins, Camilla Block, Rachel Neeson, Virginia Kerridge, Alison Nobbs, Felicity Stewart, Mel Bright, Clare Cousins, Amy Muir, Karen Alcock, Rachel Nolan, Jo Best – and I bet I’ve forgotten some.

    Favourite design stores?

    Hannah Tribe: The Architects’ Book Shop and The Standard Store.

    Hannah Tribe x Brickworks

    House Maher by Tribe Studio

    Favourite galleries or spaces?

    Hannah Tribe: For contemporary Australian art: Sarah Cottier Gallery, Roslyn Oxley 9 and The Commercial and Station Gallery. Art institutions; AGNSW – so excited about Sydney Modern, MCA, NGV and National Gallery of Australia.

    Where do you go to look at great design?

    Hannah Tribe: Increasingly I am going away from the speed, ease and gloss of the internet and back to my library of architecture books and The Architect’s Bookshop.

    Hannah Tribe | Brickworks

    Hannah Tribe

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