Inspirationist exclusive: Interview with Andrew Maynard – director of Austin Maynard Architects

Founded by Andrew Maynard, Tasmanian-born and with a bachelor of Environmental Design and one of Architecture, Austin Maynard Architects are interested in life, happiness, fun, family and reward for effort. Mark Austin joined AMA in 2007 and in 2009 he became a director. He worked as a production designer for the English National Opera in London. He has a bachelor of Environmental Design from the University of Tasmania and a bachelor of Architecture from Melbourne University. He used to also be a rock star.

Austin Maynard Architects was established in 2002 following Andrew’s receipt of the grand prize in the Asia Pacific Design Awards for his Design Pod. The core principles in the establishment of AMA was a balance between built projects and broad polemical design studies. This is demonstrated in AMA’s highly crafted built work and socio-politically based concepts, both of which have been widely published and have garnered global recognition.

Austin Maynard Architects explores architecture of enthusiasm – AMA treats each project as a unique challenge, offering unique possibilities and prides itself in experimentation. All of AMA’s designs are concept rich, left of centre and sustainability conscious; styles and singular themes are avoided. AMA specialises in ideas rather than building type, whether the project be a house in Fitzroy, a library in Japan, a protest shelter in Tasmania, a plywood bicycle or a suburb eating robot.

We caught up with Andrew Maynard for a few insights into his background, his love of architecture and favourite part of the job:

© Peter Hyatt

Trying something new and being endlessly playful is a key part of our working process at AMA.

INSPIRATIONIST: Where are you from and where do you live now?

Andrew Maynard: I was born in Tasmania, and although I spent periods in other places, I spent the majority of the last millennia in Tassie. I’ve spent this millennia living and working in Melbourne. I have no plans for the next millennia.

© Austin Maynard Architects

I: What’s your background? 

A. M.: I’m the son of a hardware salesman and a full-time mum. My youth was typically suburban and often banal. As an antidote to my banal suburban existence I skateboarded a lot, I drew a lot, and I made a lot of things in my father’s well stocked workshop. Studying architecture at the University of Tasmania was an awakening for me. My gaze and engagement broadened radically. I am evidence of what a well-funded public education can do for youth in regional communities. I am evidence of why tertiary education should be free for all.

© Peter Bennetts

I: How did you fall in love with architecture and why? 

A. M.: I’ve always drawn and made, therefore I naturally gravitated towards the building industry from an early age. I suspect that due to the banality of the suburban spaces I encountered during my youth, whenever I came across space that was well considered (and by extension, architectural) it had a very strong effect on me by simple contrast alone. One early memory is of the Queensland art gallery. A building that I still think is wonderful, yet may not feature on many people’s list of favourite buildings. Compared to the suburban homes and shopping centres that I had encountered throughout my childhood, this gallery was a revelation to me when I first saw it.

© Tess Kelly

Like most jobs, being an architect is not fun. It can be very difficult, often frustrating and stressful. The fact that you are creating something, and more importantly something for someone to use everyday, is very rewarding. I simply love it when owners have finally moved in.

© Peter Bennetts

I: Where do you spend most of your time, and what does a typical day for you entail?

A. M.: Most people are surprised to hear that I am an introvert. My adventures with media and my willingness the speak at public events often leads people to assume that I am an extrovert. I am definitely not an extravert. I’m most happy at home, drawing, reading and thinking. I live above the AMA office and have everything I need in my small pocket of the world. I like to keep things simple. I like to keep my life small.

© Peter Bennetts

I: What is your favourite part of your job?

A. M.: Like most jobs, being an architect is not fun. It can be very difficult, often frustrating and stressful. The fact that you are creating something, and more importantly something for someone to use everyday, is very rewarding. I simply love it when owners have finally moved in. You can see the months of stress wash off them and they (typically) come to a realisation that their building is so much more than they had expected. The entire process of building or renovating is difficult for owners and our aim is to exceed expectations, in the end. It is not that owners don’t enjoy the process, however they often feel exposed and without control. We empathise greatly with our clients. For most of them this is the biggest investment that they will ever make, and for many they are going into significant debt. Seeing the joy on owners faces is wonderful. There are so many moments of doubt, understandably. It is wonderful when they see that it was worth it and that their patience paid off in the end.

© Peter Bennetts

I: Can you describe an evolution in your work from when you began until today?

A. M.: I thought that my work would substantially change over the years. When I started my office, at the age of 27, I’d assumed that my work would spiral off in directions unknown to me. On reflection, I do not think my approach has changed much. I feel that the valuable ideas have simply continued to be refined and we have put to bed other ideas that were not as successful. We continue to try out new ideas, and that will never change. Trying something new and being endlessly playful is a key part of our working process at AMA.

© Kevin Hui

I: If you had to choose one single architect who has provided a source of inspiration for you personally – who would it be and why?

A. M.: Since studying architecture at the University of Tasmania I have always been drawn to the work of Toyo Ito. Each of Ito’s projects has such a strong singular agenda that is beautifully articulated through simple materials, light and form. I attended a lecture where he spoke about his work and I was thoroughly disappointed by what I’d heard. It seems that he really had no idea why he was doing what he was doing. I felt annoyed that I could have given the same lecture, about his work, and been far more compelling about why his buildings were so successful. At first I tried to blame the language barrier, but then it began to dawn on me that perhaps his work is almost purely intuitive. Perhaps he feels his way through a project and is able let his subconscious lead the process. That’s an inspiring idea. I wish that I had that ability. I find design to be laborious and difficult rather than intuitive or inspired. It explains why almost every Ito building is outstanding. Regardless of whether his process is intuitive or deliberate, he is a genius.

© Peter Bennetts

I: Which is your favourite building?

This is very difficult to answer. The Sydney Opera House is the best building in the world, however it is not my favourite. Henty House in Launceston is right up there. It is a 70’s off-form concrete brutalist structure. It is completely indifferent to the opinion of the locals who loathe it simply because they do not understand it. Of Ito’s buildings I am most fond of the Brandenburg University of Technology Library, simply because it is one of the handful of Ito buildings that I enjoyed visiting the most.

© Tess Kelly

I: Which of your designs is your personal favourite and why? 

A. M.: The Styx Valley Protest Shelter is very important to me, however it’s impossible to pick a favourite. I am very proud of all of our work and I very pleased that we don’t have any projects that are hidden from view (yet?). This is quite rare for an architectural office. Typically there are quite a few bodies buried in the backyard.

© Tess Kelly

I: How do you unwind?

A. M.: Video games. Recklessly crashing things into walls or blowing things up is a wonderful way to unwind, especially when you do so with (or to) friends. I put a lot of hours into video games and quite a few of the people I regularly play with are architects. Every now and then we have a good, old fashioned LAN party at AMA. Everyone brings over their gaming PCs and we play video games, drink beer and eat pizza all night. The nerd level gets outrageously high. It’s great fun.

© Peter Bennetts

I: What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?

A. M.: Indie and brit pop are consistently present, however of late I have been revisiting my metal collection, with mixed success. Sabbath, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine are all getting a work out. It reeks of mid-life crisis, however I am thoroughly enjoying the nostalgia. My son is currently learning guitar and he has already learned For Who the Bell Tolls, Killing In The Name Of and Paranoid. So proud!

© Tess Kelly

I: What is your favourite colour?

A. M.: Mission brown. (Now there’s an answer that will lose some clients!)

© Peter Bennetts

 

© Kevin Hui

 

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