Spotlight aims to promote recent student and graduate work in design. We recently caught up with Lauren Granek to chat about her recent career move to join Edition Office, and her M.Arch Design Thesis ‘The Death Matter’ supervised by Scott Woods and Alan Pert at the Melbourne School of Design.
Lauren is an experienced graduate of architecture at Edition Office, a Melbourne based architecture studio and winners of the 2019 Emerging Architects of the year and the 2019 National Gallery of Victoria Architecture Commission with their proposal “In Absence.”
Isabella Etna (IE): You graduated from the M.Arch at the MSD in 2019, how has life after graduation been and what have you been up to?
Lauren Granek (LG): During my time at university I was studying and working. I wanted to achieve the best in both of those worlds, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. It was certainly a balancing act. Since graduating I have been able to focus on my professional life but also have a social life too - it’s been refreshing achieving more balance. It’s also been great to focus on purely work-based projects rather than uni projects as well. I did really enjoy studying and the creative world of university, but to be able to enjoy what I’m doing at work without thinking about pending assignments has been nice.
IE: You worked at Wood Marsh as a student and Graduate for quite a while. Could you tell us about managing your time as a student and how you found working and studying at the same time?
LG: There were some periods where it was quite tough. Wood Marsh was super flexible when it came to the milestone points in the semester when my assignments were due. If I had more time I probably wouldn’t have been as productive. I found having those strict deadlines for both work and uni was a blessing in disguise although sometimes rather stressful if there was a simultaneous deadline. Despite this, I’m glad I did it because they both informed each other. I found the things I was learning at uni I could integrate into work projects, and vica versa. As I improved my software programs for uni, I was also able to build on those skills at work. It’s a shame that Australian universities no longer require practical hours (for architecture students) because they really inform one another. Another benefit was having the opportunity to talk to young graduates, who were one or two years out of uni, about my project concepts. I found that they were really receptive and eager to engage in commentary around my projects, because they had been in that mindset not too long ago. When I took the core construction subjects at uni, having the opportunity to talk through construction details with other architects in the office was also so helpful. They referred me to past projects and talked me through other options. Having people around me in those different worlds was so enriching.
IE: You recently joined Edition Office, the Melbourne based practice who won the 2019 Emerging Architect of the year and the NGV architecture commission in 2019 with their project titled “In Absence”. Can you elaborate on the differences in cultures between the offices you have gained experience in?
LG: When I was completing my thesis I developed an interest in the narrative of the site and letting that guide the start of a project. I found there was little emphasis on that aspect in the design process/ methodology in the medium size practices where I gained experience as a student. Wood Marsh was a great firm to learn the ropes, but I felt like there wasn’t an opportunity for me to create meaningful architecture grounded in contextual narrative of the projects I was assisting on while I was there. I had been following Edition Office for the past couple of years and a huge part of their design process is context analysis. The fact that they’ll go to the site multiple times, understand the context, user and the brief, was something that I wanted to be involved in. I wanted to have a more intimate role during the design process, and shift to working on smaller scale projects with a smaller team. There are eight people in the team at Edition Office, compared to roughly thirty at Wood Marsh, so it’s a much tighter knit office.
IE: How have you been finding it so far at Edition Office?
LG: I’ve quite enjoyed it. I’m on a range of projects and they have a lot of work coming in. At Wood Marsh I was working on the Construction Documentation and Admin of a residential project down the coast for the past year. It was great to get exposure to that side of a project where I was working on details, RFIs and liaising with the builder. Now at Edition Office it’s been quite refreshing working on a project from the beginning, with a focus on meeting clients and going to site. It’s been nice now that we can. I went to a site visit the other day, it was actually the first meeting with the client and the first time I met the directors in person. Watching the interaction between the two directors and the client, how they were analysing the site and discussing the different opportunities was a process that was really nice to be a part of. Often the client-architect relationship is reserved for the Director and client. Whereas being at the first meeting, I was already much more involved and up to speed, rather than having that information relayed afterwards. I would probably say to any students who are reading this that there is a disconnect between what architects do and what you learn at uni. We don’t spend three weeks on diagrams, form finding and looking at what users want. Bigger practices are heavily business driven. It’s a shame really. I don’t think it’s the case for all firms but maybe the bigger ones. When you jump into working life, especially at a bigger firm, you realise that it’s quite different from the project workflow that you’ve encountered at uni. Perhaps it’s taught this way because they believe it’s a better approach to design. I’ve found that Edition Office’s processes are quite similar to what’s taught at uni, architecture for a purpose, rather than architecture for financial gain.
IE: In 2018 we attended the Venice Biennale together as a part of the Venice Travelling Studio at the MSD. How did that experience impact you as a designer?
LG: That was probably the most pivotal experience I had at my time at uni. Being in a studio run by Scott Woods and Alan Pert, and the way they teach is much more theoretically grounded than what I had experienced before. Visiting the Biennale with their guidance and knowledge was huge in shaping a new way for me to see and approach the discourse. Their teaching is based in history, context of site. As a part of the studio project when we went to Venice I was assigned the Swiss pavilion in the Giardini and Aldo Rossi’s ‘teatro del mondo’, a temporary theatre that epitomised the power of architecture even when obsolete. I learnt about the value of context in the history of architecture, and how architecture can be a device to bring narratives back to life. That is something I continue to be interested in. By attending the Venice Biennale I also realised that architecture is also an artform. One example of this was Ogliati’s “Experience of Space” which spoke to the history of the Arsenale. It solidified the idea about using architecture as a device to speak to the narrative of a site even if expressed via installation or sculpture. This reciprocal relationship of history and architecture is a key design principle at Edition Office and was one of the reasons why I was interested in being a part of the firm as I think that’s important in how you achieve purposeful architecture.
IE: You mentioned Aldo Rossi’s ‘teatro del mondo’. Could you tell us more about your interest in his work?
LG: I continued my research into Rossi through to my thesis. I find his perspective incredibly interesting, architecture as a locus of history, memories and people that have moved through ‘site’. That was the first time in my architectural education that I aligned with theoretical work. I was looking at Rossi’s methodology and the way he drew from history through architectural geometries, material and placement. For example Rossi’s teatro del mondo was a concept for a ‘one night only’ floating theatre in the Venetian canal. In his narrative there would be a build up of excitement and theatrics and then the following morning the theatre would float off to Dubrovnik where it would be deconstructed and reconstructed again until the next journey took place. Realising that architecture doesn’t have to be solely a functional thing with considerations like “where are we going to put the toilets? Or how big is that bedroom going to be?,” but rather a celebration and representation of an instance of site/history was my greatest turning point and something that Rossi’s work contributed to.
IE: In 2019 you completed your thesis in the M.Arch at the MSD with Scott Woods and Alan Pert Titled “The Death Matter.” Could you tell us about your starting point, and where you ended up taking it?
LG: It derived from the Venice travelling studio and the idea of hidden narratives of site. I really wanted to do a project in Melbourne to be able to visit and experience the site. I had heard about the cemetery below Queen Victoria Market (QVM), which isn’t common knowledge. I was talking with my friend Boyd Hellier-Knox (Spotlight 01) before I had started my thesis, and we started talking about the QVM. That’s where the idea sprouted. I had an interest in death, and the rituals of death. In a contemporary city it’s a taboo topic, it’s a hidden fact of life that we ignore. I thought that given death is a taboo topic the sites that were once considered sacred have been eradicated from the city proper. It’s a bizarre scenario that there is something like eight thousand bodies under the carpark of the QVM. I thought it would be interesting to bring back the narrative and reimagine the mix of functions on the site; if a marketplace is also a crematorium, is also a burial grounds, we can reintroduce death back into contemporary thought in the urban landscape, creating a liminal space between the seemingly disjointed worlds. I wanted to neither celebrate nor condemn life or death.
IE: In the context of your thesis, you looked at Palladio’s Villa Rotonda and the Queen Victoria Market. What significance do you feel that these structures have for us today? Why did you select them as points of reference in your thesis?
LG: That came up when I was looking into rituals. For the first month of my thesis I was so lost. Scott (Woods) was pushing me into looking at how to create a ritual for death in my project. As a starting point I was looking into all these different cultures. I took a step back from ritual, and started looking at the intimacy of death in a city. The home is an intimate space, so I looked at the Villa Rotonda to examine the rituals of home. Villa Rotonda is a bizarre scenario because it doesn’t look like a domestic setting, but rather a commercial program within a home. I wanted to explore this juxtaposition; between the environment of a marketplace and the intimate spaces where the rituals of death occur.
IE: Looking back at your time at MSD, what advice would you give to your previous self / a current student would benefit from?
LG: Just keep going and try to use all the resources you have. There are great minds in that place. Try to be more selective with your studios. Don’t just select it based on it’s topic, but select based on the studio leader. It wasn’t until the Venice Biennale that I realised how much you can learn from the tutors. I didn’t enjoy Uni until my last year of my masters. I wish I had slowed down and taken my time instead of trying to quickly do a studio and get it over with. So in summary, slow down and be selective of who you can learn from.
IE: Your current project @lhg.studio exemplifies a love for arches, spheres and raw materials. Could you tell us about where this design sensibility came from and more about your current project @lhg.studio?
LG: It was born during covid, I needed to find an outlet to stop being consumed by the world outside. I’ve always had an interest in Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, and looking at object and space relationships. I like metaphysical art, illusionistic objects in space, and the power of material and texture. I was looking at D’Chirico and metaphysical art as a source of inspiration. I wanted to have some fun and I enjoy the ease of it. It’s not over-thought, just really simplified celebrations of geometry, light and shadow. I’ve always liked visualisation, and if you look at my thesis project you will see that the emphasis is on the architecture rather than entourage. I’ve always preferred that, rather than drawing attention to the chaos of people in an image. I just wanted the focus to be on form and architectural environment.
IE: What’s next for you?
LG: I’m leaving it open. Nothing’s planned yet, just wait and see how the year unravels.
The Death Matter by Lauren Granek. Melbourne School of Design
School: Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne
Year: Semester 1, 2019
Project images provided by Lauren Granek
Follow Lauren’s Instagram @lhg.studio for more updates