The voice of experience

Late last month, Kuching in Sarawak played host to the Good Design Week Symposium, where the focus was on how design should be improving liveability and affordability while still observing the needs and requirements of culture and tradition.

A joint enterprise by Perth’s Curtin University and Swinburne University in Malaysia, the event included keynote speeches from two of Hames Sharley’s Directors: National Design Forum Leader Derek Hays, and Western Australian Studio Leader Brook McGowan.

“It’s a continuation of our growing relationship with Curtin,” says Derek. “And not just from an academic point of view. It was giving students a taste of how we do what we do, in regard to good design.”

“We are both Curtin alumni and it’s about giving a bit back to yours,” adds Brook.

“I remember when I was coming through Curtin as a student it was always great when practitioners came in to talk to us about projects, and show us how they went about things,” Derek continues. “Some of them were quite controversial about the way they presented, and you realise now they probably didn’t even really believe what they were saying, but it prompted a conversation, and that sticks in your mind. I really enjoyed listening to them.”

Triggering conversations is a key aspect of Derek’s work with Hames Sharley’s National Design Forum, and taking the opportunity to address university students at the symposium also dovetailed with the practice’s significant presence as a leader in the tertiary, education, science and research sectors.

“What we do, we believe we do well,” says Derek, “so this was about communicating with the students how we go about what we do and what they need to think about beyond just what they are learning academically.

“I see a lot of differences between what we went through at Curtin and what they are experiencing now. I agree with Curtin’s Associate Professor Khoa Do, who invited us to this whole gig in the first place, that university is not functioning in the way it should. There’s a big disconnect between what they’re doing at university and what we aspire to do in our own studio.”

Brook agrees. “We had a lot of industry participation in the courses we were doing. I think the teaching methodology was very similar when we both went through, but people who were actually on the tools would come in and tell us what it was really like. So we came up with a bigger appreciation of what we were getting into, rather than it just being academic, and if Derek and I can put any influence on the uni to assist Khoa and his team to improve the teaching, we will do what we can.”

The symposium highlighted the contrast between university learning and studio culture still further in that it resulted in two Curtin students being selected to spend time at Hames Sharley in Perth and getting to know the practice more closely.

“Part of the reason we’ve taken it upon ourselves to build better relationships with Curtin, UWA and several other universities throughout the country is that we can see the students that we think would make a good fit for Hames Sharley and be the future of what we are doing,” Derek explains. And for the two students who were chosen – Daniel Colley and Amy Tamati – it’s been an eye-opening experience.

“I think my university experience was quite isolated,” says Daniel. “We didn’t get much outside information and it was very much just your lecturer and maybe three or four other tutors in a room. Because of the amount of students, maybe you’re getting 15 to 20 minutes feedback in a whole day, and it’s not really an incentive to stay at the university. You’re just there for class and then you leave to go and do things on your own. And that’s not what happens here at Hames Sharley.”

“For third-year bachelors, or any bachelors, there’s no work placement,” says Amy. “I think that’s why what Khoa was doing is quite good because these keynotes are tailored to our learning, so we are growing with the semester and it’s linking us to industry knowledge. In Kuching, one of the topics was educating on good design so I guess it circles around that and depends on the teachers for the next generation.”

“I don’t think people should just come out of university, and we plug them in and off they go,” says Brook. “That’s never going to happen because you just don’t learn that. You learn how to document and how to build on the job, you don’t do it sitting in the classroom.”

“I think all creative pursuits benefit from industry involvement and placement within the industry while studying, to get an understanding of how it actually works day to day,” adds Derek, “which is why Amy and Daniel are with us. You want students coming out who have been taught to how to think, how to find information and then how to ask the right questions at the right time.”

But if Derek and Brook’s involvement as keynote speakers at the symposium has had an effect on educating the next generation of architects, it’s also been good for them as experienced practitioners.

“The other overlay on this is that it helps you crystallise your beliefs in your own mind,” says Derek, “because you have to present exactly what it is that we are about, and what we believe and stand for. So it was a good learning process for us as well.”

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