The NEXus of research and design

As designers of the built environment, it is essential that we keep learning and developing our understanding of society’s evolving needs. National Exchange (NEX) is Hames Sharley’s fortnightly webinar series that provides our architects and designers with direct access to speakers at the forefront of architectural research and thought leadership, empowering them to integrate new ideas and techniques into their practice.

These opportunities enable our team members to be proactive in their personal development and professional performance and capabilities, while nurturing a culture of curiosity, innovation, and continuous learning that is vital to our industry.

An exchange of knowledge

NEX was conceived as a new forum for collaborative learning, connecting Hames Sharley’s people and studios with experts across selected topics, building a community of practice with design partners. It provides both practitioners and academia with a respectful space for exchanging ideas on complex social and global challenges and headwinds for our industry.

The opportunity to learn from critical voices at the cutting edge of their respective academic fields provides valuable insights for our designers who can then apply theory to industry practice.

NEX is formatted as a fortnightly gathering of all our studios across Australia, resulting in two sessions per month. The first session is a keynote address from a primary presenter, and the second is a follow-up panel conversation that expands on the same topic.

Each quarter features an overarching theme that our topics are centred around. Some of our previous topics include:

  • Architecture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
  • Doctors as Architects, Countrywomen as Clients
  • The Unseen City – Bringing Diverse Communities into Every Project
  • Our Spatial Histories and Spatial Intelligence
  • Brutalism Transformed – A Surprising Green Story
  • Researching Design and Places for Research
  • What Does Good Look Like
  • Walking Together – A Home in East Newman
  • Unconscious Bias in Design
  • A Toolbox for Architecture Research
  • Reconciliation Action Plan
  • Timber!

Screenshot of Dr. Daniel Ryan (The University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design, and Planning) presenting “Doctors as Architects, Countrywomen as Clients”

It’s all about ‘people’

Upon reviewing the first half of this year’s NEX sessions, we found recurring themes of ‘People’, ‘Community’, and ‘Engagement’. These central themes reflect Hames Sharley’s values of approaching design that is transformative, place-making, and connected to the wider community. They also drive our learning and research opportunities and align with our practice of Research of ‘People, Place, and Process’.

Participation in NEX presents an opportunity to build on a culture of innovation and creative thought, encouraging designers to think deeply and critically. This is particularly important in an era where AI and automation are transforming design processes.

There is an underlying emphasis on the importance of maintaining a human-centric approach to design, which is crucial to meeting society’s evolving needs.

Screenshot of Sonja Duric (Hames Sharley, The Working Brain) presenting "Designing for Sensory Wellbeing"

The partnership between research and design

With society increasingly looking to the built environment for solutions to complex issues, it is through intelligent and considered discussions and debates at NEX that disciplinarians and academics can align thinking and gaps with research and industry deliberation.

This alignment is a crucial feedback loop in producing a quality design industry ecosystem that benefits both commercial and non-commercial sectors, enhancing capacity, networks, reputation, and best practices. It allows for broader discourse that goes beyond narrow commercial objectives, promoting inclusivity and scholarly-level rigour in architectural research.

Hames Sharley can be a valuable source to academia on how theoretical research can be applied to industry practice. We are in the position to make critical evaluations on the efficiencies and practicalities of different design approaches with consideration for each unique context. This is particularly important for gaining client confidence and demonstrating the value of design as an investment, not just a service, especially in contrast to other fields.

Some of the research methodologies undertaken in our studios include:

  • consultation with stakeholders and end users of a project;
  • design reviews (Yellow Book) throughout the design process of a project;
  • environmental impact studies;
  • post-occupancy evaluations;
  • collaborative NEX sessions with industry experts;
  • scoping reviews on design topics across academic databases;
  • conducting participatory, evidence-based studies; and
  • publishing peer-reviewed academic research papers and articles.

An opportunity to grow

NEX provides both designers and academics with opportunities for professional development and networking. It allows them to build relationships with peers, researchers, and industry leaders, apply theory to practice, and make connections between different research alignments. Ultimately, it encourages a community of practice that supports continuous learning and collaboration.

Engaging in continuous learning has many valuable outcomes, including:
Supporting the growth of knowledge enables us to be a research-led community. Evidence-based research is essential in architecture – it is a cyclic driver of practice and innovation. It develops knowledge that informs the design of a project, from concept to execution to evaluation, and that evaluation can then contribute to the concept of the next design project.

  • increasing knowledge skills and retention;
  • improving communication skills;
  • developing the ability to consider different perspectives;
  • developing problem-solving skills;
  • staying informed on current (and future) areas of interest and methodologies; and
  • developing the ability to identify knowledge gaps and how to approach them.
Screenshot of Emeritus Professor Leon van Schaik AO (RMIT University) presenting "Our Spatial Histories: Our spatial histories govern our living and our designing, for the better if we are aware of them, for the worse if we are not"

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