Interview with Tecture Director Ben Robertson

  • We chat with Melbourne-based architecture and interior design practice Tecture director Ben Robertson about his penchant for natural materials and how his team are designing environmentally-conscious homes for the future.

    Fascinated by art and graphic design from an early age, Ben Robertson founded Tecture in late 2015 with a decade of experience under his belt. Known for their modern Australian aesthetic, Tecture exemplifies quintessential Australian living through open plan living and an emphasis on unpretentious, quality and tactile natural materials like timber and brick.

    Ben has a portfolio of residential projects of varying typologies – from a heritage weatherboard alteration and addition to a modernised homestead, each typifying thoughtful and well-crafted design. Based in Melbourne, Ben and his team have also found a niche on the Bellarine and Victoria’s Surf Coast.

    We caught up with the face behind the name, speaking with Ben about his architectural influences, what he enjoys most about residential architecture and how the current climate and technology will influence design in the future.

    What inspired you to pursue a career in architecture? 

    Ben Robertson: I’ve always been fascinated by graphic design and the built form, but the psychology of spaces was probably the most influential driver in wanting to pursue architecture. I recall at a young age my family wanting to extend our home so that I could have my own bedroom, and proposing a grand plan where my bedroom was built over the existing pool. My dream didn’t occur – at that age, I had no understanding of budgets – so perhaps I reacted to that.

    On a more serious note though, I started pursuing art and graphic design on a personal level. I like the notion of limitation – budgets and statutory requirements provide these constraints, yet I am able to be artistic in a different manner.

    How would you best describe your work; what elements define the Tecture aesthetic?

    Ben Robertson: Refined, simplistic and minimal. We try to blend luxurious and cost-efficient materials to create a high-end aesthetic but with economics in mind. We approach every project with a strong sense of form and geometry and love the exploration of the psychology of the built form via expansion and compression to evoke a strong impact.

    Mr Hillside House by Tecture

    “We love exploring materials that have more of a human connection. Materials such as timber and brick that have a tangible sense of scale, warmth and texture give each project a personal element.”

    – Ben Robertson

    Glen Huntly House by Tecture

    Timber cladding is the material of choice for a lot of your projects’ exteriors. What makes this material favourable?

    Ben Robertson: We love exploring materials that have more of a human connection. Materials such as timber and brick that have a tangible sense of scale, warmth and texture give each project a personal element.

    We also enjoy using varying materials, as long as they have a connection to a place or imbue a strong design rationale. Naturally, we always ensure we explore materials that are reflective of the budget too.

    What do you enjoy most about residential architecture?

    Ben Robertson: The personal element of private residential architecture is what we find most enjoyable. All architecture projects are a long term relationship, but private residential work allows us to explore a more personal reflection of our clients, while also establishing a stronger bond throughout. Being a small team of four, private residential architecture is also logistically easier for our team to manage.

    Who or what has had the largest influence on your work?

    Ben Robertson: There are many designers whose work I admire but have not yet had the experience of seeing their spaces, but at the core I have a penchant for modernism and minimalist design, bringing it back to our core principle: refined, simplistic and minimal.

    I am genuinely excited by designers that have tapped into my emotive senses on such a powerful level and not just the details of architecture. Having visited buildings such as Ronchamp Chapel by Le Corbusier, Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright and Farnsworth House by Mies Van der Rohe, I experienced an overwhelming sense of architectural success; the arrival, approach, the architecture, the design and the connection.

    You’ve designed a number of homes in Geelong and on the Bellarine Peninsula. How does designing in this region differ from metro Melbourne?

    Ben Robertson: We have seen a large shift in Geelong architecture in recent times. With larger companies shifting to the Geelong CBD and an increase in Melbourne buyers, we do a lot of designs for former Melburnians. When designing in urban locations, we have noticed quite a strong sense of urban aesthetics much as we see in Melbourne.

    When designing for the Bellarine or in Surf Coast locations, we are often dealing with views and an abundance of land, so the limits of recoding are removed and we are able to explore designs that are more grounded, natural in material and more expressive in architectural form.

    What is the most significant project you’ve designed to date and why?

    Earlier this year we wrapped up a project in Albury – our first concrete house, where the client had complete faith in our design response and even pushed us at times. It created an amazing synergy between client and architect and the result speaks in volumes. We are yet to photograph this home, but we look forward to crossing the border in due course.

    How are you designing family homes for the future?

    Ben Robertson: In the current climate, we are starting to notice a shift in people’s perception of their homes as many of us have had to adapt to a different way of living and working. Spaces are required to be more flexible, open plan living is seeing a reduction, but most of all, we are starting to notice that people are being more serious about environmental factors. For quite a while, we were finding if clients were wanting to save money, they would happily cut out solar or water tanks.

    Since the bushfires of late 2019, and a pandemic, we are seeing and designing spaces that are not as large, have consideration for locally-manufactured materials and products and higher energy ratings. These were things we have always encouraged, however, our clientele are being more responsive due to the shift in global thinking and acknowledging a responsibility.

    Technology has and will continue to play a large role in our future designs, but this is a moving goal post. Many of our clients at one stage were requesting USB points in all power outlets, yet in a short time we have already evolved to wireless charging – it’s exciting to know where technology will lead us.

    Design Insider’s Guide:

    Favourite local designers and studios?

    Ben Roberston: We love supporting local designers such as Christopher Boots and Volker Haug for lighting and Daniel Poole and Adam Markowitz for furniture design –among many more. There is something quite special about bespoke architecture featuring local products to help the narrative of the design.

    In an architectural sense, we love the playfulness that local studio Kennedy Nolan exude, but in such a considered use of colour and form.  A little further afield, Smart Design Studio have been crafting phenomenal work in recent years.

    Favourite Galleries and Spaces? 

    Ben Robertson: Flinders Lane Gallery is a go-to for us. Their online tours in recent times have made it easy to continue to explore their collection. We also love to support local artists who are not represented by galleries.

    Vista Views Townhouses by Tecture

    Vista Views Townhouses by Tecture

    Favourite design stores? 

    Ben Robertson: We love supporting In Good Company and Fred International. Their service and friendliness ensure we continually approach them for furniture and accessories.

    Where do you go to look at great design? 

    Ben Robertson: This is definitely a tricky one to answer. With social media readily available in the palm of our hands we are continually presented with a plethora of inspiring design locally and internationally.

    Sometimes it’s nice to switch off and sit back with a magazine, such as Wallpaper, or local additions of Belle and Vogue to ensure we are also being inspired by the rationale of design decisions and not just a pretty picture. Naturally – and unprompted – online publications such as est living also fall into this category.

    The Cab Chair by Mario Bellini for Cassina in the Concrete House by Tecture

    Ben Robertson

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