Annabelle Berryman (42) and Sarah Henry (34) co-founded architectural studio, StudioFour, in 2010. The pair joined forces to design a coastal Victoria home which features in Urbis issue 81. We chatted to the architects, who both studied at the University of Melbourne, about StudioFour and its holistic approach to design.
Urbis: How you get into architecture?
Annabelle Berryman: I was lucky enough to have grown up within a family that loved to develop and build houses. My uncle was professionally trained as an architect and my parents and grandparents loved to create, so my love of design and building was ingrained from an early stage.
Sarah Henry: From an early age, I was interested in the creation of things and how elements came together. While I was still in primary school, my aunt and uncle used an architect for their new home in the bush and it was my first experience of how the built environment could be influenced by the genius loci of a place. Since then, I have wanted to play a part in creating buildings that are responsive to both their location and their inhabitants.
U: How did Studiofour come to be?
AB: Sarah and I met while both working at Carr Design. I was the director of interiors at the time, and Sarah joined as a project architect. We worked closely on resort, hospitality and residential projects, both in Melbourne and interstate. After several years, Sarah moved to O’Connor and Houle to focus on residential projects, while I started a private practice. Collaborating on a few small projects together during this time, it became apparent that we both held a shared vision for a practice that blended the disciplines of art, architecture, landscape and interiors. In 2010 we formalised our partnership to create StudioFour.
U: Tell us about your project in Urbis issue 81.
SH: During the briefing process, it became clear that the clients had a desire to separate the public and private zones of the house. This need drove the building’s form as the private zones of the building occur on the first floor and the more public zones of the house occur on the ground floor. Additionally we sought to create a quality of space that provides a sense of sanctuary, enclosure and comfort.
AB: A key element within the design brief was to challenge the typical response of neighbouring houses which attempted to cancel out the steep slope by creating a podium level at which the outdoor areas sit exposed, high above ground level. One of the reasons our clients chose to relocate to this coastal site was to experience the landscape. This was an important driver for our design and lead to a built form that promotes varying levels of interaction and connection with the landscape.
SH: As one of our first projects as StudioFour, it cemented our approach to design and realised our philosophy for a holistic approach. Having the one collaborative team carry through the architecture, interiors, landscape and artwork strengthened the project into a single vision. There is no discipline competing over the others, each element of the site and building is in balance. This house is an example of the absence of what is not necessary, in both building form and detail. The spatial quality is derived from the sense of visual comfort.
U: Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
SH: Typically we have two or three projects on-site at one time, a couple of projects in town planning, one in documentation and two or three in the early design phases. We have recently completed renovations to a home in Prahran, Melbourne, and renovations to a large farm house in Strath Creek. We have a new house in Glen Iris beginning construction, as well as an addition to another home in Fitzroy, Melbourne. In the design phase, we are working on a new beach house at St Andrews Beach, a farm house in Terip Terip, and additions to a courtyard house in Malvern, Melbourne.
AB: Although we predominantly work on residential projects, variation in our work is provided by the mix of city, coastal and country locations. We always aim to have a balance between projects in the design phases, in documentation and on site.
U: What inspires your designs?
SH: A certain honesty drives all aspects of our design. I would like to think our buildings are simplistic and possess total clarity. They are honest, from spatial planning to the way they fit together tectonically; a simplicity of detail is of utmost importance to us. We believe this strength will lead to the buildings’ longevity from a design perspective.
AB: StudioFour strives to design and build homes that positively add to our level of health and vitality. In Australia, the Building Code and various other rating schemes generally focus on the design and construction of buildings that are structurally sound, fire resistant and energy efficient. As we spend about 90 per cent of our time in buildings, it seems to make sense that designing enclosures that are a healthy place to live in mind, body and spirit is equally, if not more important. We strive to create homes that leave the inhabitants healthier from living within them.