Design & Decoration S01 ep1: John Wardle, Wardle Architect, [Melbourne]

Interview with John Wardle

I will often talk to my staff about how forgiving the building process is, because it is so slow. As long as you are on a site and looking creatively rather than looking for defects, you realise there is still an enormous potential even in the act of construction to further revise and develop some of your ideas.



I actually like talking about our work; I like talking to people who aren’t…
talking to people without salesmanship. At worst as architects we have to
constantly sell our ideas, the pressure of actually having to persuade people
about the world of our ideas is something that is mind numbingly… constant.

KM: What is John Wardle.

Our projects tell stories. They are about the client, the history of this site, the
specific issues that formulate an agenda that we do in the collective spirit of
this office and they tell the story about that architectural engagement with that,
the opportunity of that project.

Henry Dunay Jewellery

A lot of the best projects around Melbourne at the moment are all about one
thing, I think, repair of the city. Building big buildings within holes that have
been, where the city has been degraded, perhaps in a previous economic
cycle or over time. This project that we are involved in on Melbourne’s
Docklands is about repairing something that had been let go and hadn’t been
even considered as a sort of bona-fide edge to the city, and yet it is our
potentially our most glorious edge as it is the only water views that you get in
the city of Melbourne. The image that you will see of that building isn’t of
anything that is going to look like sailing ships or container ships or whatever
but there is suggestion there of a clutter of objects that you might have found
in a containerised wharf. And like most good stories the telling of it actually
invigorates the understanding ability, it is not obvious, it’s never. I don’t like
architecture. I think it is a very blunt instrument to tell stories with.

KM: Why did you become an architect?

Yeah I am sure we all can trace these things back to some form of experience.
Travelling at a young age we camped in the Bourge de Boulogne in 1968 we
you know travelled, …. Continent and that, constantly travelled.

KM: How old were you then?

Eleven. It’s a very powerful experience for a young mind. Nothing is the same
the means of education, the relationship to seeing the age of things. In
Melbourne it is such a young culture to actually be in a building that is six
hundred years old.

Henry Dunay Jewellery


KM: Ummm

Not eighty and considering that’s old.

In going through this process of doing my Masters I have learnt a lot about
myself. I am a poor creator of correct process or conventional process. Some
designers can go boom, come up with the idea and resolve it immediately.
The best ideas that I create as an architect require slow resolution over time.

One of my father’s great interests was sort of history, the elements of history
and in Geelong as they were busily ruining it and demolishing everything in the
60’s, one of the most interesting libraries of history was actually the demolition
yard and a good friend of my father was John’s main demolition contractor who
was steadfastly pulling down all the buildings but contained has his enormous
yards with great big sheds full of the bits of architecture, finial staircases, sash
windows, commemorative stones, bits of footing, beautiful corbels, all of the
bits, the stuff that makes up architecture, particularly the precious bits, the
hard bits, the bits that are highly sought after and hand made, but in this great
cavernous factory spaces and I would go and spend Saturday mornings and
just walk through up and down stairs to nowhere.

Henry Dunay Jewellery


I love the exactness of working through the elements of our process. I often
say good ideas are without scale. When we draw, we draw to no particular
scale we know we then have to transfer to the scale we have to drawn on.
Proportion and inter-relationship would be the two things that define that
moment of setting an idea and trying.

I don’t work on computer.

KM: Mhmm

But I actually, out on the computer, and work over computer drawings I love
they become a, it’s a great opportunity for actually interaction between the two
forms. Output from a computer and sketching over it.

I think the stages that an architect goes through creatively don’t necessarily
have a defined edge from conceptual face to the design and development face
to so on and onward into the documentation stages. Again I manage to work
in parallel to the whole string of production of our architecture and it still is
working and over working. It’s all about potential ideas and when does it stop.
The only time they actually stop is when it is absolutely complete.

I will often talk to my staff about how forgiving the building process is.
Because it is so slow. As long as you are on site and looking creatively rather
than looking for defects and just basic things you will realise there is still
enormous potential to be in the act of construction to further advise and
develop some of the very important ideas in building.

Henry Dunay Jewellery


Many of our best houses are out of fairly rudimentary materials, but they are
expensive houses because of the way that we have shifted around and played
with the structure, subverted the natural systems of the fabric and that is what
we draw out through conversation, our clients will say look really I'd like a
house that responds to the fact that I don't like to wear clothes in the house, I
want to go nude but I don't the neighbours to see me or I don't want the kids to
actually see me I just want to be in my bedroom nude, I want to be in

KM: You serious?
Yes, and so then ok we can actually then concoct a formula for this house that
actually allows that pattern of activity or ..... gee I tell you what, its crazy, I
know I am 45 but I want to play in a rock band, but I am embarrassed about it,
ok we can look at the acoustics of this issue.
KM: Have you had these sorts of requests?
Oh yes, I will draw them out and often early in the process I will have a pair of
clients that say Oh my God we have chosen the wrong architect.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: John Wardle, Wardle Architect, Melbourne