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I’m not interested in being the brooch. I’d prefer to be kind of woven in amongst everything else. And that’s not to mean that I don’t want our buildings to be special or identifiable or interesting. It’s just that I like them to learn from the buildings they butt up against and understand that relationship intimately.

Episode 11

How to engage positively with the community, understanding what good density means in a covid 19 world and how to achieve design excellence.

Adam Haddow | Director | SJB

Adam is a director at SJB, one of Australia’s leading architectural firms. Adam Haddow is an architect and urban designer. A Churchill Fellow, Adam travelled the world investigating alternatives to conventional models of urban design. The sabbatical resulted in a research project entitled ‘Shall We Dense’ an examination into the state of modern density living in Australia. Adam’s diverse experience and creative expertise is recognised by numerous architectural accolades, including international awards for Casba, winner of the 2015 World Architecture Festival for mixed-use completed buildings; and Cleveland Rooftop winner of the 2018 Architizer A+ Award, residential apartment. In 2014, he was creative director of the Australian National Architecture Conference. In this episode Adam tells us how to engage positively with the community, understanding what good density means in a covid 19 world and how to achieve design excellence. Enjoy.

Transcript

Anthony Denman:
Adam, welcome to the Property Marketing Podcast.

Adam Haddow:
Hello, hello, how are you Anthony?

Anthony Denman:
Very well. Thank you. I saw a video from Lord Norman Foster. And he’s talking about when he was a child that he was fascinated with trains and cars. And I was just wondering, because I was reading your bio growing up in Ararat, in Regional Victoria, could you remember as a child, was there something that kind of piqued your interest and led you on this, or that was really obvious in terms of … a recognizable moment where you realize you had this passion for pattern and shadow making and the built environment?

Adam Haddow:
I think because we lived up in the bush, you kind of had to make your own fun. There’s no one around. So, it was you and your brother and a few friends if they were lived close enough and we just made things. It was an environment of making, you would be with dad in the shed making something, or you’d be out in the paddock, you’d be in the bush, you’d go horse riding, you’d stop and make a cubby.

Adam Haddow:
So there was always that kind of environment of making stuff. And that probably was spurned a bit by dad. He was a consummate maker. He built a house, he was building our house when we moved in, it had no floor. It was a dirt floor when we first lived in the house when I was little.

Anthony Denman:
Was he a certified builder, or was it just good with his hands?

Adam Haddow:
No. He was a plumber originally. And then when I was born, he became a secondary school teacher. He was a trade teacher. So he used to teach welding and sheet metal and that kind of stuff. So he was always handy, has always been handy, making things or fixing things. My brother kind of went more into cars and pulling them apart and putting them back together.

Adam Haddow:
I was more into building things, making cubbies or working in the garden or being in the bush or whatever. I think that was kind of ingrained into us early. My mum was much more creative, so she was the creative side of it all. And dad was the kind of practical construction side of it all.

Anthony Denman:
I see that a lot. I see that a lot in developers, good developers, good architects. Is that kind of the taking the best from their mum and dad and had this really great balance in terms of being kind of a creative, but a very pragmatic way of thinking as well. So, you are lucky.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. I was pretty lucky. The environment I grew up was pretty idyllic. In a good way, there wasn’t much to do, so you kind of made everything up

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. No distractions, right?

Adam Haddow:
There was no distractions, which kind of sometimes you’re like, “Oh my God, I’d just to actually go down the street or see someone.” But most of the time you were quite happy. You’re quite happy just mucking around by yourself.

Anthony Denman:
How old were you when you realized you wanted to be an architect?

Adam Haddow:
I always want it to be one. So I remember I was drawing house drawings since I can remember. So I think I knew I wanted to be an architect before I knew what an architect was. I knew I wanted to be involved in designing buildings really super early. So yeah, there was never really a point when I didn’t want to be one. And my brother has always been quite pissed off with me in a way, because I knew what I wanted to be and he had to find what he wanted to be.

Adam Haddow:
So for some people, that’s an ongoing struggle to work out what is they want to do. For me it was just what I was going to do. It was never a question about what I wanted to do.

Anthony Denman:
And that’s so prevalent. There’s so many successful people who kind of, they’re just doing what they’ve always wanted to do and what they love doing. And it’s evident in the quality of their work and the genuine passion for it. I guess currently we’re early May and obviously this COVID-19 thing, were talking on that a little bit later on. But I guess that moment in that project, yeah, Saint Margaret when you were going through the approval process and having someone sort of spit on you. Imagine that today.

Adam Haddow:
It was pretty intense.

Anthony Denman:
How did it kind of shape your career?

Adam Haddow:
I think that as an architect, you’re taught a lot about what design is and how to see the world in a certain way. And you’re given quite an optimistic view of the world. You’re always thinking about what could be, how to make something better. I think you expect to a certain extent you come out of university, you expect that’s how the world thinks that making things is good.

Adam Haddow:
And when you then come across a high level of resistance that occurred then, it still occurs today. But the high level of resistance to change at all is quite confronting I think. So, trying to work out how to channel that energy in a positive way was quite a challenging thing for me, just to try and work out how to better engage with community, how to talk to people more about what they were scared about from development or building.

Adam Haddow:
And certainly isn’t necessarily development. Sometimes it’s just building, I think we’ve done projects where we’ve suggested there should be a park and people get angry at you because they live next door to the space that could be a park, and they’re going to be worried about people smoking in the park and being there after hours. And so, I think inherently, people are quite … they get quite concerned about change generally. And I’m doing a house for my parents at the moment in Ararat actually.

Anthony Denman:
You are? That’s great.

Adam Haddow:
And they

Anthony Denman:
Who’s building it?

Adam Haddow:
Just a local builder, Craig, an old mate. Was quite easy. And we’re doing it all via facetime because, I wouldn’t call it. But even my parents get concerned about change, like what is it going to be like? And am I really going to like that? So, I suppose since St Margaret’s, I’ve been interested in how we better engage with community.

Adam Haddow:
Like how do we talk to the general public more about what design is and what the benefits of design are, at the same time recognize that not all design is good design, there is bad design and how do we try to not deliver bad design? And we try to deliver good design and things that will generally make a positive difference. In the end, you can’t solve everyone’s problems, you can’t solve the world’s problems in a single project.

Adam Haddow:
So how do you focus on the things that make the biggest difference and the most positive impact and try to limit the things that have negative impact and I suppose get rid of the weeds, I suppose. How do you kind of focus on kind of cultivating the right environment and get rid of all the stuff around it to try and make it simpler?

Anthony Denman:
Is that something that they helped you with at uni, or is that when you came out of uni, was that kind of the cold, hard reality of what it’s like ?

Adam Haddow:
The cold, hard reality. I don’t think

Anthony Denman:
Kind of like, “Hey, I can tell you one day, someone’s going to do that to you because they’re not going to be happy with your project.”

Adam Haddow:
No, no, no. There was no level of engagement in university about what planning approval process is or a community engagement process is. And I’m sure it’s different now. I’m sure there are discussions about it. I’ve run master classes at one of the universities here in Sydney with a colleague and that was the kind of the focus of the project. The project was, how do you better engage with community? What’s the difference between consultation and information?

Adam Haddow:
How do you kind of respectfully take people’s opinions and then grow from that and try to collect people in a discussion rather than alienate them? Really now, that’s one of the most important parts of my job. We’re doing a project up in Newcastle where I had a couple of … about two years ago, I did 57 community consultation meetings, one after another, over about a month.

Anthony Denman:
57.

Adam Haddow:
And it was crazy. It’s crazy. It’s a lot of talk, but interestingly you get 90% of the people who are engaged and interested and quite proactive. They want to engage in a proactive way and you get 10% of the people who don’t want to listen. Just want to cause problems and they don’t really care about anything actually. They just care about being heard and having their whinge, I suppose, which equally is fine.

Adam Haddow:
That’s part of your job is to be there, to listen to people who just need to vent. But in the end, the challenge for us is to collect people together and start to build a shared vision about what something could be or should be. And that’s both in public and private projects. So we’re doing some schools at the moment, some school infrastructure in New South Wales.

Adam Haddow:
And that’s quite a challenging project to get a huge diverse group of people from primary school aged kids through to their parents and the principals and just general public interested or interested into a space where you can proactively lead a project. Now, if the government comes in and says, they’re going to spend money on your school, you would think that everyone gets excited about that. But again, people generally don’t like change.

Adam Haddow:
They’re generally quite wary of anybody coming in. But as a person coming in, you have the opportunity of seeing things slightly differently to when you live there. And like, I even know that from growing up in a small town, it’s really only when you move away from it, that you can look back on it and appreciate the qualities in it, the time where you live, it’s quite hard to appreciate the quality. So I love doing the clinical application project.

Anthony Denman:
I was going to ask you that. It’s a long way from shadow making.

Adam Haddow:
It is. We do the shadow making in the process of making a building. That’s the outcome, not the process. It’s like, where’s the joy, that’s a bit of joy, but the joy is also in talking to people and building common trust and forging a project

Anthony Denman:
I can see you now convincing your brother to build a billy cart in a particular way.

Adam Haddow:
Totally.

Anthony Denman:
Getting him onboard.

Adam Haddow:
Totally.

Anthony Denman:
How did you find out about the Churchill Fellowship?

Adam Haddow:
I had decided that I needed to take a break from working. I needed a bit of space to, I suppose I’d gone straight from high school to university to work and had been working in SJB and become a partner and I just needed a bit of space. So I took six months off.

Anthony Denman:
How did you find out about that?

Adam Haddow:
I think I just was Googling to be quite honest. I just was thinking about what I could do.

Anthony Denman:
I never heard of it till I started doing the research.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s fantastic. It’s a fantastic foundation, a fantastic opportunity. And it’s really devoted to encouraging people who are at a certain time in their career to learn from overseas examples. So it’s kind of saying you get to a certain point in your career and really the only way to forge or change a mindset or investigate something else is to travel overseas and to engage with professionals.

Adam Haddow:
I suppose it’s a more technical practical version of a rhode scholarship. So it’s going to meet with people on the ground, not going to a university. To give you a bit of background, the Churchill Foundation was set up after Winston Churchill died and the Australian public gave the money to the foundation to set it up. And that amount of money was invested and that amount of money now is given back to quite a lot of Australians every year to go and do research overseas.

Anthony Denman:
So they pay for everything. They pay for your travel, your accommodation?

Adam Haddow:
Yep. You get a stipend and it depends on what you want to do and where you want to go and how long you want to go for. There are limits around that obviously. You can also travel with your partner, if you have one, you can travel alone. So, I ended up having three months travel. I kind of doubled it to make it six months and took six months away from work and looked at that time, I was interested in the idea of densification and how we could better talk to communities about what density meant.

Adam Haddow:
And at the same time, investigate different models globally about how density was being achieved, everyone in the world is doing the same mass urbanization issue. So we’re moving from a kind of agricultural society to a highly dense urban society. And when you’re bringing that many people into a city, how do you balance the challenges, the density? You need to confront with density, which is about how do you get more people living in less space and at the same time, allow them to enjoy that living experience?

Adam Haddow:
So how do we make that better? How do we stop people getting in a car, having to go to the supermarket, for example? Super simple. But there are structures that enable it, having structures that disallow that. My fellowship went to South America, the US, Asia, and Europe. And I had chosen groups of people around the world who I thought were doing interesting things.

Adam Haddow:
So I visited the Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosahe at the time, he was doing some absolutely groundbreaking stuff around public transport and formalizing the favelas in formal settlements, the slums in Bogota in particular. So I met with him. I met with a group of people who are pursuing this thing called or an idea called the new urbanism, which is predominantly comes out of Florida in the US, which is how do you learn from the history of city making?

Adam Haddow:
So obviously the modernist period came through and bulldozed buildings and put in freeways and built the high rises, which is predominantly after World War Two. And the center of that really was in the US and that was pretty aggressive and kind of destroyed a lot of downtown American cities. And so, the new urbanists are trying to understand or trying to reinstate a more human approach to making cities.

Adam Haddow:
So something that was learned from the mistakes, I suppose, of modernism and reinvested in the idea of people centric places. So did a little bit of work with them in Florida. I then ended up going to Europe and I visited a few towns based on that. So Poundbury in the South of England is a city or town that Prince Charles has been investing in or is a principal investor and building.

Adam Haddow:
And it’s a new urbanist city. There’s lots of negatives about it from a purely architectural point of view about it being stylistically regressive. I would suppose you’d say, it tries to make buildings look old, as opposed to just taking the principles of what old cities are, and then investing new architectural responses to those. But at the same time, it’s pretty hard to go to somewhere like New Poundbury and say, it’s bad.

Adam Haddow:
It’s pretty great little town to walk through, even though it looks it’s 200 years old and it’s probably less than 20 years old. We spent a lot of time in mainland Europe and they’re doing similar things, but using contemporary architectural expression. So the new, at this stage, this is in 2000s. It was looking at the Malmo, which was the European housing expo city of 2000, which didn’t actually open till 2001.

Adam Haddow:
But it looked at a new section in the City of Malmo which is just across from Denmark in Sweden. And it essentially gave certain plots of land to different countries. And every country in Europe was to build a part of this town and kind of, I suppose, in a slightly competitive way build their best bit of city. So it was really interesting, really kind of quite inspiring to see.

Adam Haddow:
And then other places like there’s a lot of work happening in the Netherlands, in France, looking at different ways of densification.

Anthony Denman:
Wow. How long did this go for?

Adam Haddow:
Six months, six months. And I ended up in Japan and Japan is the place in the planet where we’re kind of density is supercharged. But somewhere in Japan. Japan, they’ve learnt how government agencies can interact. So the rail interacts with the education, interacts with the health, interact with social housing. Whereas Australia we’re like, “Oh my gosh, if anyone from health had to speak to anyone from transport, it would be the world would break.”

Adam Haddow:
So in Japan you have primary schools underneath high rise towers, for example. And just trying to make that work in Australia would be like nuclear fusion really, it’s almost impossible.

Anthony Denman:
This passion for density, is it too early for you to have an opinion on, no one saw this COVID-19 thing coming. Is it too early for you to have an opinion on how this pandemic, is it too early for you to have an opinion on how you feel about density?

Adam Haddow:
No, no, I think there’s good and there’s bad density. A bad density is about not providing enough private open space. Having single uses, not providing enough public parks, not being connected to public transport, not having easy walkable access to public infrastructure like supermarkets and hospitals. Good density is about a good mix of uses from residential, retail, commercial, public, institutional, those kinds of things.

Adam Haddow:
And really overlapping them to get that walkable environment, but still have the … you know like, we did a project, I did a project for myself, an apartment for myself, which really about trying to look at how you invest a higher level of amenity to apartment living. And it was all about proper balcony sizes and outdoor gardens and getting those up into buildings.

Adam Haddow:
So not relying just on the ground plane to that outcome, but looking at how you kind of invest in that throughout a building. So to me, I think the COVID thing is just showing us what is important in life. And that’s about this kind of access to light, access to ventilation, ability to have a level of privacy in our lives, not feel we’re living on top of each other.

Adam Haddow:
And I personally think that’s probably done better in shorter buildings than taller buildings. I don’t push skyscrapers. It’s not my kind of thing. I much prefer kind of up to 10 stories, that kind of thing. But I also like the idea of gardens and balconies kind of going up throughout the building rather than just being at the ground plain or at the rooftop, how do we kind of integrate them all?

Adam Haddow:
So, yeah, I think there’ll be definite changes. I think the most interesting thing that will happen out of the COVID is public will be looking for difference in when they buy a dwelling or an apartment, they’ll be looking for different things. I think one of the other things that’s happened out of this is people have spent more time in their neighborhood.

Adam Haddow:
And they now kind of recognize what is good or bad about their neighbouurhood. The fact, if you can walk to get food, or you can walk to the supermarket, or the takeaway place around the corner, a coffee shop over the road, people value that. I think people have to get in the car to do that all the time probably can see that as well.

Anthony Denman:
That’s a great insight. Thanks for that. Talking about travel. I know you’re an avid traveler. So it’d be well beyond just what you did with the Churchill Fellowship and a very good client of both of ours associate Michael Grant. Michael Grant’s got this thing about fenestration, which-

Adam Haddow:
He loves the travel.

Anthony Denman:
He does. He loves travel. You guys do the traveling together. He tells me.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah, we do.

Anthony Denman:
I came across this fenestration issue so often like architect seeing buildings from the outside and not appreciating what it feels from the inside. Do you have a point of view on that?

Adam Haddow:
I quite enjoy buildings where there is a sense of threshold and there is a sense of frame and I’m not a big kind of all glass building kind of person. I like a wall. I like rooms. I don’t necessarily … I all open plan. I like a corridor. So, to a certain extent, I think what Michael and I like seeing when we travel is learning from history, looking at buildings we think had done exceptionally well and working out how collectively we can reinterpret that in a contemporary context.

Adam Haddow:
So we’re doing a big project at the moment. It’s in Darlinghurst, which is adaptive reuse of an old church. When we first started talking about the project, I was like, “My gosh, if we’re going to do this project, it’s super important, it’s super critical we get this right for the community, but also for our own sense of self-worth. Let’s go and see who’s done it the best.”

Adam Haddow:
So we went and visited a whole lot of Carlo Scarpa buildings in Italy in particular. And just going to be able to see those buildings and see how Scarpa orchestrated events and distance and views and experiences through the building was just breathtaking. And as much as I love his detailing and the way in which he talks about different materials together and how they interact with each other, for me, that’s the secondary experience.

Adam Haddow:
The primary experience for me is about this sense of experience and the way light falls and the way he reveals something to you when you enter a space. And there’s a sense of drama, a sense of intrigued, there’s a sense of joy in that process. So that’s something that Michael and I as a client and architect were able to travel to go and experience together. And then when we come back to work on the project together, we can kind of work out what it is that we want to borrow from that kind of experience. But yeah, that’s pretty special to have to come to that for the client.

Anthony Denman:
Absolutely. It’s pretty rare. In terms of I think I read somewhere that you talked about the ground plain and you prefer it to be more a glove as opposed to a piece of jewelry.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. How do you feel comfortable in it? It’s like your favorite leather jacket or a great chair, your favorite armchair, how does a public space or an outdoor space feel that good and feel that comfortable and feel that protected and give you that level of nourishment? And it’s little things like it faces the right direction and it gets good sunlight.

Adam Haddow:
It has a set of stairs, which always enable you to sit somewhere in the sun and watch what’s going on. People watching. There’s a whole lot of things that are quite simple. And my biggest not issue, I suppose. My biggest ambition is to not create object buildings, but create fabric buildings. I want to make a building that is part of the fabric of the city, not a building which is the jewelry buttons to the jacket.

Adam Haddow:
I’m not interested in being the brooch. I’d prefer to be kind of woven in amongst everything else. And that’s not to mean that I don’t want our buildings to be special or identifiable or interesting. It’s just that I like them to learn from the buildings they butt up against and understand that relationship intimately. I’d like people to feel that the buildings we create are as much part of the history of that place as the buildings that they either replaced or the piece of land they’ve been built on.

Adam Haddow:
So there is a kind of a sense of custodianship over that as an idea rather than ownership. So it’s not necessarily our building, it’s just a building we’ve been involved in working on, and we’re kind of contributing to a place or a space. And in the end, somebody else takes over that custodial relationship when they take over the building and they hopefully love it as much as we’ve loved it in the process of making it or building it. And they then take over it and look after it for however long they’re engaged with that building.

Anthony Denman:
When you worked on the project Loftus Lane, was that the first time that you were … was that the first experience of yours as an executive architect?

Adam Haddow:
No, it wasn’t. It was the second. So the first one is a project we’re doing in Newcastle.

Anthony Denman:
East End, right?

Adam Haddow:
East End. Yep. Which is that’s the one I did 57 community consultation, which was fun. But that was a project where-

Anthony Denman:
It was fun, right?

Adam Haddow:
Fun. It was actually fun because it was a great community, got in contact with them. But that’s a project that’s a quite a big site. It’s a whole city block and it’s too much for a single architectural firm to do as every building I think. I think just, it would be wrong to do that. You need to have a kind of certain amount of humility to say, “Actually, let’s engage other people in this discussion between buildings.” That’s kind of where the interest happens.

Adam Haddow:
So in that building, we did the master plan and were the executive architect across the site and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer and Durbach Block Jaggers are doing two buildings and we’re doing a building edge and we’re doing a building.

Anthony Denman:
How does that work? It sounds like that was your initiative to begin with.

Adam Haddow:
So it was a bit of our initiative, a bit of the government architect’s initiative in terms of there was a requirement for design excellence in Newcastle. And that means a lot of different things to a lot of different local government authorities. But in this case, we chatted to the government architect and believed that given the complexity of the site and given the nature of the size of the size of it, rather than it have a competition, it would be better served through our collaboration.

Adam Haddow:
So rather than pit three architects against each other to do all of the site, you’re better off getting three architects to do a little bit of the site each.

Anthony Denman:
So who selected the other architects? It that something you did.

Adam Haddow:
That was a joint discussion between ourselves, the government architect, and the client. Obviously the client played a big role in deciding who would be on that team. So, the other architects, we kind of chose or asked to participate because they had experienced worked on heritage buildings. They knew how to do multiunit residential. They had a proven track record of delivering excellence in buildings. So it was pretty easy decision actually.

Adam Haddow:
And we had a master plan already approved, so there was already building envelopes and locations and quantums. And so then it was about briefing the individual architects. There’s a common basement, there’s common services. So that’s kind of where our executive role was to make sure that we could balance out the needs of the individual building versus the collective needs of the site and the public domain.

Adam Haddow:
And then once we’d kind of given the parameters of the project and the brief to the architects, they ran off and designed their own building. And what we did was work collectively to ensure there was some common language that we were all responding to. Because if I’m doing a building in a street and it’s a single building, I learned from the buildings around me as to how I’m going to respond to those.

Adam Haddow:
When you are blocking the person next to your building and your building and the other person on the right building at the same time, you’ve kind of got no context to build against or bounce off. So we were like, “Well, what are the things we want to collectively engage in a discussion with?” And they were ideas that were quite specific to Newcastle about materiality, about light, about scale of buildings, about street edges. And it was a really rewarding process.

Anthony Denman:
What were the dynamics like – did you guys get along okay?

Adam Haddow:
Amazing. I find actually good architects are really humble, mostly. And they’re quite happy to take on good ideas from anybody. There’s no competition. It’s much more about camaraderie and thinking about what’s the best for the project. And there’d be bits where it’d be like, “Oh, look, actually we need a bit more space.” And I’d be like, “Actually we can design ours a little bit easier. So let’s just give you a bit of space. We’ll take …”

Adam Haddow:
There’s an easy backwards and forwards, there was never any conflict. So then off the back of that, we also look at working on Young and Loftus, which was us in an executive role across the site doing one building and then four other architects doing buildings, which was a degree of turn it up, degree of complexity. Because it’s a smaller site, higher density, more architects right in Circular Quay.

Adam Haddow:
If you get it wrong, you’re really going to get it wrong – in Circular Quay. And that was amazing experience because we had Sylvester Fuller working and Mel Bright from Bright Studio, Sean Carter, Ed Lippmann, ourselves and Aspect Studios for landscape and Aspect Studio did landscape in Newcastle as well. So again, it was the same kind of process about what are the things that we collectively believe we should try to address on the site?

Adam Haddow:
And some of the most super practical about disabled access across the steep site. So how do you sculpt the ground plane so you don’t have to have ramps everywhere and there can be still equitable access? And then other things which are much more subjective about how do we want light to fall and what is the type of lane way experience we want to create at the center of the site.

Adam Haddow:
And that was, again, really, it’s quite life-affirming actually. Because you have a really nice relationship with the architects in terms of discussing things with them and trying things out. And it becomes quite competitive but in a positive, competitive way. It’s competitive in a way of saying, “We want to do our best work.” It’s not competitive in the way of saying, “We want to beat you into submission.” We want to make sure that it’s a proactive competition engaged and-

Anthony Denman:
Yes, no. I’ve been hearing a bit. I had Justin Brown on recently and it’s funny because he’s talking about the proliferation of high density sites and the requirement for various, not only various architecture, but various developers to work together on individual sites. But also touched on the value of the collective and one plus one can equal three if done correctly and you check your ego at the door, which doesn’t sound you guys have got any problem at all doing that, you get a much better result.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. Absolutely. It’s much more fun too. It’s quite rewarding. And you get to work with people who you admire and as we kind of moving forward as a practice, these are the types of jobs that I like personally working on. We try to find projects where we get to invite people who we think are exceptional at what they do to collaborate with. We’re doing one in Canberra, the Canberra Brick Works.

Adam Haddow:
And I think we’ve got nine different architectural practices on that project. And that was super, super fun because the client was really open to whoever we wanted to talk to and invite, and we just chose nine people who we can do exceptional work and some of them are really small business practices and some of them are quite large practices, but yeah, super fun.

Anthony Denman:
That’s so cool. Can I ask so much like every brochure I opened up nowadays is a picture of you dressed in your finest attire.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. My same blue jacket. I’m sure.

Anthony Denman:
How do you feel about participating in … sorry, just to be clear. Talking about being featured in marketing collateral for projects as a bit of kind of iconic architect that people can aspire to and for the marketplace to feel as though they’ve had their homes designed by the very best and then kind of put up on a pedestal and featured in that regard. I’m just wondering you seem to be squirming a bit now. Right?

Adam Haddow:
Well, I don’t love it to be honest. I also don’t think it’s actually necessarily 100% correct. I’m lucky to work in an office of 85 people. So every one of those 85 people contribute to the outcome of the projects we work on. But the challenge is-

Anthony Denman:
They make you do it?

Adam Haddow:
Well now the public and the media like things to be simple and simplicity is about having a person or maybe two who’s the head.

Anthony Denman:
A face, right?

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. A face. And I get that as well. I kind of understand that. So partly that’s my role. My role is to participate in that as the kind of representative of the group of people, it’s like being on a football team, there’s people who do different things on a football team and play different roles. And that’s one of the things as part of my role.

Adam Haddow:
It’s quite confronting because you often are doing that before, or you’re always doing that before the building’s delivered. So there’s a lot of water to go under a bridge between the day you’re standing there having your photo taken for a marketing campaign and people moving in.

Anthony Denman:
don’t fuck it up right

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of rivers to cross between that day and the day people move in, and often you’re still not involved in the project towards the end. There can be a whole lot of reasons why you may or may not be involved. So I do find that a bit challenging. Honestly, I find that a bit challenging. In my introverted Adam, the introverted Adam doesn’t love it.

Anthony Denman:
Introverted Adam. It doesn’t look that way.

Adam Haddow:
Good. That’s good.

Anthony Denman:
Just on that. Do you think that the SJB brand does … Adam Haddow aside, does the SJB brand, do you think it adds value to a project? Sorry, I mean from the marketing perspective.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. From a marketing … We debate this a lot, actually, in the office, like what value is the brand? And from a purely development marketing perspective, is there value in our brand? I think there is. I often run into people at a display suite opening and they get kind of excited about seeing one of our projects or seeing one of our plans, but I don’t know to be honest.

Adam Haddow:
I think that I don’t look that far ahead. We try to do projects we like doing with people who we like in sectors that we enjoy. And hopefully that level of interest that we have comes out in the project and that makes it a good project. And hopefully, that’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, like the next one becomes better than the last one. Hopefully that’s what happened.

Adam Haddow:
But I do think there is value in collecting your experience under a brand. So if we were to change our name every five minutes, you lose the ability to collect your experience to the outside world. Obviously to yourself, you’re not losing it, but to the outside world, the ability to communicate that is much harder. So I do think there is value in the brand.

Adam Haddow:
I don’t know whether it’s easily understood or captured as a value, as a financial value, but I think it’s understood by the consumer.

Anthony Denman:
Have you been asked to attend any brand creation marketing workshops?

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. Yeah. We often get asked about what is this building or what is this project or how is it come about or what are the factors that are going to make or encourage people to live here? And what’s special about this? Often we start projects thinking about that ourselves. We start thinking about, “Well, why would somebody want to live here in this location that we’re designing building for?

Adam Haddow:
And what is it about this location that could be special? How do we focus the special things, I suppose, design out the things that are less desirable?” So, we get asked a lot about that.

Anthony Denman:
Do you have an opinion on how architectural design translates to graphic design?

Adam Haddow:
Only in the sense that I think, look for me, graphic design is about condensing things into very simple realizable and understandable objects. So taking ..

Anthony Denman:
Simplifying Complexity, right?

Adam Haddow:
Simplifying. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like taking something incredibly complex and giving it a sign or giving it a label or giving it a icon. And so for me, the best buildings is to be able to do that. A building which have gone through the level of that simplification themselves. So there’s complexity and there’s complicated. And what we strive for is a level of complexity, but not complicated.

Adam Haddow:
Because if it’s complicated, it’s not going to be interesting to anybody. And no one’s going to understand it. But complexity is about layer and texture and interest. And so that people can kind of dig into the project, they can find a layer that they’re interested in in a project or an idea. So we want to have layers to a project, but we also want to be able to simplify it

Adam Haddow:
So, for me, the best buildings, it’s obvious saying, less is more. How do you distill something down so that it becomes more powerful than throwing everything at it?

Anthony Denman:
Do you think a good graphic design outcome follows a similar process?

Adam Haddow:
I think so. It’s like, how does people understand it? Graphic design is about trying to get people to understand things quite incredibly quickly with limited knowledge about what it is they’re looking at. So a good graphic designer is able to do that pretty succinctly. You can tell, you see something that’s been well-designed you’re like, “I know what that’s about.”

Anthony Denman:
There’s a bit of an attraction business have we touched on before.

Adam Haddow:
You love making me squirm.

Anthony Denman:
Sorry, man. Do you still have to go in design competitions?

Adam Haddow:
Oh yeah, yeah. All the time. Oh my God. So many of them.

Anthony Denman:
Do you get paid for them?

Adam Haddow:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, there’s lots of different types of design competitions. There’s open international competitions, which you go into, which you don’t get paid for. And you just do it. It’s like throwing your hat in the ring. There’s limited competitions where people ask for expressions of interest and you might get down selected to participate in it.

Adam Haddow:
So, the first stage might not be paid, but the second stage, if you dance like it does. And then there’s competitions, which are more the City of Sydney ones or local government ones where there’s four architects and you’re all paid a nominal amount to contribute to a competition. So I’m starting on Monday, for example, where it’s a four week intensity when the bags under my eyes will get twice as big. I’ll give part of my soul to the project.

Anthony Denman:
Do you enjoy that? Do you ever not win?

Adam Haddow:
Oh, all the time. I would like to win. We win more than we lose.

Anthony Denman:
How do you feel when you don’t win? Does it gutter you?

Adam Haddow:
It gutters you if you think that your scheme was better than the one that won. I’m not trying to sound arrogant.

Anthony Denman:
When do find that out? Do you have to wait until that kind of DA’s lodged to find that out?

Adam Haddow:
No. You find out quite quickly. And you’re really happy if someone wins who’s done a really good scheme. You’re completely happy to lose when a great scheme wins because in the end, what you want, I think the only thing we want is for the outcome to be a sensational outcome, whether it’s us or whether it’s somebody else. We want a great place that we can walk past and enjoy.

Adam Haddow:
The when it guts you is when you think you’ve done an amazing scheme and you lose it. And you think the scheme that won was probably not as layered probably, layered was fulfilled.

Anthony Denman:
We are similar. We go through a similar thing with our creative process.

Adam Haddow:
And politics gets in the way.

Anthony Denman:
Can I ask with all the projects you’ve done, is there one that you kind of, and obviously in regards to just how insightful you are, I’m sure you understand this. When I talk about like your most successful project, is there one that really stands out for you?

Adam Haddow:
You’re not meant to have favorite children, Anthony.

Anthony Denman:
You do.

Adam Haddow:
There’s probably a couple, and I think sometimes you can get burnt a little bit through the process. And so when it’s finished, you don’t love it so much because there’s a lot of other stuff going on that it’s not about the building and then you grow to love it afterwards. You kind of fall back in love with it. So I think probably my most favorite project is Casba, because I love going there.

Adam Haddow:
I live near there, so I’m always walking through it and I like watching people in it because people walking through the building or just discovering it is quite nice. I also love, we did a scheme. One of the first project we ever did was a project down on Glebe, foreshore in Glebe, which is a big

Anthony Denman:
Glebe Harbour

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. Your right on that. Yeah. And that was probably a project when it finished, I felt a bit bitter about it. I didn’t have a great experience with the clients on that project. So it was a bit hard to love it actually. But over the years, I’ve grown back to love it. And it’s now 20 something years old. And I think it feels good.

Anthony Denman:
How good does it feel? Just driving across Anzac bridge, you look down there and it fits, doesn’t it?

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. And there’s always … you have battle wounds where you think, “Oh, that’s not what I wanted, but that happened because of something else.” But I think all in all, that project is really good. And probably the other one is Wylde Street in Potts Point.

Anthony Denman:
Oh yes, yes we did the CGI’s for that

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. And that was a really great project with an exceptionally fantastic client who-

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Didn’t they just …

Adam Haddow:
… let us do our job and were really supportive in us and kind of were part of the journey of designing it with us, but understood what their role was and understood what our role was. So, that was exceptionally fun. So, that’s for me Casba with Michael Grant and Wylde Street with Investec Bank, they were probably been to my most fantastic experience with clients in

Anthony Denman:
Maybe time I drive up Wylde Street. Look at that building, it doesn’t look a day older than it did before. And I suspect that’ll be the case in 100 years time, right?

Adam Haddow:
Hopefully. There’s joy in that building to me. I can see it. We agonized over lots of details and I can see the happiness in some of them.

Anthony Denman:
Is there one then that complete failure?

Adam Haddow:
We don’t talk about those Anthony.

Anthony Denman:
To there’s something that you learnt. Is there one that you kind of thought, “That was a really good lesson.”

Adam Haddow:
There’s a few streets you never drive down. Look, I think that what you learn is, suppose it’s diving at the Olympics. If you can only dive a two, don’t try to dive a 10, do a two and do it really well. Don’t try to do a 10 and belly flop. And that’s not only just about us, but it’s about the client, about the local council. It’s about, you’ve got to kind of understand the environment within which you’re designing a building.

Adam Haddow:
And for me to understand that environment and choose the degree of difficulty and the degree of complexity that you think you’re going to be able to still achieve a 10 outcome from an excellent point of view, because you can harm … all the best intentions don’t lead to a great building. A good friend once said that you can never achieve excellence unless there is the environment that will support excellence.

Adam Haddow:
You can design a great building, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to get it built. So you’ve got to cultivate that environment and cultivate that relationship. And sometimes they’re out of your control and that’s when it’s the most heartbreaking when there are other things going on that you either don’t know about, or you can’t see, or you can’t engage with, or the client removes you from.

Adam Haddow:
And there’s an inability then to help lubricate that situation, help make that situation be better than what it is that you’ve kind of entered into. So, that’s always challenging, always challenging.

Anthony Denman:
So you guys are doing your own CGI in house now, aren’t you?

Adam Haddow:
Yeah, we do. We do some, we do lots out of house as well. We have a bit of everything. I think we have five full time people who do CGIs, but mainly the CGIs tend to be more design tools rather than product outcomes. So a lot of it is about saying we have a big urban design team and a lot of their work is about communicating to communities and councils about what places could be and looking at virtual reality to see whether we can better communicate to people about what it could be.

Anthony Denman:
What about at a marketing level? I guess what I’m driving to is how do you feel about styling? Are you an interior designer as well as a-

Adam Haddow:
Of course. I’m an architect. I do everything. That’s the big problem. Actually it’s not.

Anthony Denman:
Best styling CGIs because it can be a bit of a sticking point.

Adam Haddow:
I don’t do it because I’m not good at it. I don’t have that level of finesse, I don’t suppose. But the people who run our interiors component or people who are more involved in this kind of styling into projects are much better than that. And that’s kind of about understanding my weaknesses and getting people like Victoria and Charlotte involved. And they’re amazing at that. They just change one thing. You’re like, “Oh my gosh. That’s amazing.”

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Yeah. It can make a big difference. Do architectural and design awards, you won many too many. Did they help you with in your business, you think, and the marketing of your brand?

Adam Haddow:
They definitely helped the business and I definitely encourage the collective. So the office gets very excited by them. I personally don’t. It’s very nice. It’s very nice to win an award, but usually by the time you’re winning an award for a project, if you win an award for a project, it’s a long time after the project. Your emotional commitment to the project was a long time ago.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. It’s not something that drives me as an individual. I don’t think, “Oh my gosh, we need to win awards for these.” In fact, it’s probably the opposite. It’s a lot more about thinking … The thing I like about awards is the process of going through putting applications together for them. Because they make you review and reconsider a project and understand what it was you were trying to do and whether you got there or not.

Adam Haddow:
And so it’s kind of a way of being quite honest with yourself about was the project successful or not.

Anthony Denman:
I never thought about it like an appraisal process.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. I’m a bit protective about what we put in for awards. Like there’s lots of things that I would just never put in for award. And it’s not because it’s not a good project, but you’ve got to understand what it’s going in for an award for, is it a design award? Is it a construction award? Is it a development award? Is it a styling award? Why are we doing this and what is it for?

Adam Haddow:
And sometimes a building can be a really successful project, but it maybe isn’t ever going to win a design award because it was all about background and simplicity and that’s probably not going to rock the design world’s boat, but it might rock the development world’s boat because it was about simplicity and timeliness.

Anthony Denman:
It’s a lot easier to win an award with a piece of jewelry than it is a glove. Right?

Adam Haddow:
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. That’s right actually.

Anthony Denman:
Hey with the marketing of your business and we’re almost done. I really appreciate all the time you’ve given me, us. The digital marketing landscape. Is that something that you like from an SJB perspective, did you give much thought to that or is that run by someone else?

Adam Haddow:
So we have someone, Liz, who runs our comms section in the office. She spends a lot of time. We’re pretty simple people. We do a lot of Instagramming and we do some printed collateral and we get involved in things that we want to get involved in from a kind of brand perspective, but mostly it’s about Instagram. And then mostly it’s about celebrating things that we enjoy. I do a lot of Instagram for the bookshop that I run as well on the side.

Anthony Denman:
Hang on. A bookshop?

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
I didn’t know you run a bookshop.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. I own a bookshop. It’s just about to close down actually, but called The Architect’s Bookshop. It’s on Crown Street in Surry Hills.

Anthony Denman:
I didn’t know that mate. Sorry. How long have you had that for?

Adam Haddow:
Two years.

Anthony Denman:
Take it online.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah. Yeah, it is. Well, it is online, it’s online. But it just you get to a point where I completely loved the bookshop and the community that’s grown up around it and excellent fun. We do some really great things and it’s all about hobby. Like it’s not about job, but it takes a lot of effort. And I think in the end, you get to a point where like, “Actually I need to focus back on my real job and..

Anthony Denman:
It’s funny that hobby job, it’s like hobjob. Kind of live it anyway.

Adam Haddow:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s amazing. It’s been amazing having the bookshop. I’ve been able to connect to some really interesting people because in some ways, it’s better to be a bookshop owner than it is to be an architect. As a bookshop, I can ask any architect on the planet to do a talk and I’ll say, yes. Choose little people I like and then say, “How about you do a talk for us?”

Anthony Denman:
Finally. And this is for our listeners. This is the first podcast that I’ve done remotely actually.

Adam Haddow:
Oh really?

Anthony Denman:
Yes.

Adam Haddow:
God. After seven weeks, COVID feels like just the normal way of life now.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, totally. Right. How’s it going for you?

Adam Haddow:
I’m a introvert by nature. So I have to be an extrovert for work, but I’m an introvert by nature. So I quite like just being by myself to be honest. But the office has dealt with it really well. We’ve got 85 people working remotely. Today there’s probably nine associates that were walking past, we’ve got a few things going on, few tenders going up for some schools, have a few people in to just finish that off.

Adam Haddow:
But it’s been really great actually. Everyone’s found that pretty empowering. It’s been interesting to kind of switch focus as a kind of leader of a practice to proactively think about mental health and make sure that people aren’t feeling isolated. So it’s much easier to do that when you’re in one space or in one floor or you see people regularly.

Adam Haddow:
We have checkups once a day or once every two days now, but we’ve started off with once a day, just for five minutes with people who you’re not doing project work with. So it was just people from the office and we’d just catch up and see how everyone was and see how they were dealing with the uncertainty of the environment. Obviously at the start of the COVID, there was a lot of uncertainty about what it was and how aggressive it was going to be and how healthy people would be.

Adam Haddow:
It’s become a lot more known over the times. So, people have become a lot more calm, I suppose, but at the start it was a lot more frenetic and that’s a responsibility you have as a leader of the practice to make sure that everyone feels connected and as relaxed as they can be and able to kind of pursue excellence in their work. And part of that is also about making sure there’s work to keep people busy. Because often, people just need to focus on something and not think about the things they can’t control.

Anthony Denman:
Do you think that when this is all over, whenever that is, whatever that looks like, do you think it’ll allow more people to work remotely, or?

Adam Haddow:
So we already have a remote working policy. So we have a kind of fairly flexible work environment to enable people to work remotely. I think it will be interesting. In a COVID environment, we allow people to take desks and computers and screens and table, everything, chairs home. That makes it quite difficult to be flexible because you can’t just pick that all up and be back tomorrow.

Adam Haddow:
So I think we have to look at what the realities of providing that flexible workspace. I think working remotely works for some people, it doesn’t work for others. And sometimes it works for the person working remotely, but it doesn’t work for the rest of the people on the team who has to be involved in that project. So I think it’s just an ongoing discussion.

Adam Haddow:
I think the good thing has been with all through kind of a shotgun environment, we’ve had to deal with it through a period of time. So something that probably would have taken 10 years become understood has become understood in six weeks. But yeah, I think we offer flexible work environment for people given the right project, the right environment, the right role.

Adam Haddow:
And it’s just about continuing that ongoing discussion with people. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule for anybody. We need to kind of find different environments that suit different people. And that will change. I think the big thing about flexibility is it has to be flexible for the individual, but also has to be flexible for the business because there’ll be times as a business where you can support that flexible environment.

Adam Haddow:
There’s times when a business you can’t support them, or it’s not as easy to support it. So we’ve kind of got a … and we talk a lot about that in the office with everybody about trying to balance that environment, balance the commitment from us to be flexible and the commitment from people who work here to be flexible in return. That’s an ongoing discussion.

Anthony Denman:
Well, mate, thank you very much. I really-

Adam Haddow:
Thank you.

Anthony Denman:
… appreciate your time. It’s you’re such a thoughtful person. You can tell, you know what I mean? You live what you do, and it’s just been so enlightening to me. It’s funny I do these interviews and everything takes a while to really seep through and to understand. I’ll be thinking about stuff that you’ve said for weeks to come. So, really appreciate it.

Adam Haddow:
Anytime.

Anthony Denman:
If anyone wants to reach out and contact you, what’s the best way to do that?

Adam Haddow:
Just ahaddow@sjb.com.au

Anthony Denman:
Excellent. Good old fashioned email.

Adam Haddow:
Good old fashion email.

Anthony Denman:
Thanks again, mate. I really appreciate it.