Kevin Low of Small Projects is a deep thinker and his work has been described as possessing “the quality of a search”. His contemplative talk explored the process of design and he put forward his honest opinion about the state of contemporary architectural design.

Kevin began his lecture commenting on the system of questions and the dialectic that he felt were missing in architectural discourse in professional circles.

“You can’t have an answer or a solution if you don’t have a question to start with,” explained Kevin before he launched into a critique of his own small projects and then on to the critique of larger iconic projects around the world.

He believed case studies were useful in describing his design thinking: “I find that precedent studies should not only be used to describe everything that’s done right, it should be equally used in a critical way to describe everything that’s done wrong about projects.”

Kevin said design can start with form which results in styling or it can start with content which actually results in designing.

“You require both, I think, to be an architect. You need to know how to style as well as design,” said Kevin when talking about his chair design for the relaunch of the Hallingdal 65 fabric by Kvadrat.

Kevin was unabashed about describing the inadequacies of his own work. He had a refreshing realistic approach to design “mistakes”.

“Intentions can change if we don’t feel so precious about what we want to do and we figure out a new way of understanding what craft can be,” said Kevin.

If you’re inspired by form, what you end up producing will just be something that is a parody of that form…

Throughout his talk, Kevin examined a number of case studies which included many Foster + Partner designs like the Millau Viaduct, France; Millennium Bridge, London; and Commerzbank Headquarters, Frankfurt. He invited us to re-see these exemplary structures through his eyes explaining why he thought the projects worked or didn’t work in terms of achieving the fine balance between form versus content.

Other projects in his critique included Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House plinth; Herzog and de Meuron’s Beijing National Stadium; and Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House in China.

“It doesn’t really matter whether you cut and paste from another architect or you cut and paste from nature, you’re still cut and pasting. If you’re inspired by form, what you end up producing will just be something that is a parody of that form,” said Kevin.

Kevin ended his lecture with an analogy about music composition and disc jockeying.

“The composer starts with the basic elements of the musical note and pieces it together in a manner which creates something entirely responsive to that period of time. A disc jockey takes chunks of music and strings it together with a very, very clever beat and it’s wonderful. But in music, there’s a distinction between composing and disc jockeying,” said Kevin.

“The distinction does not exist in architecture and so students and young architects are constantly parodying, imitating and styling when they have not yet understood what designing really means.”

Following Kevin’s presentation, UQ Architecture’s Professor Sandra Kaji-O’Grady and Lecturer Leonie Matthews moderated a provocative discussion about architectural critique which can be viewed here.

This article was based on the lecture presented by Kevin Lowas part of the 2016 UQ Architecture Lecture Series event on 26 April 2016.

In partnership with the Australian Institute of Architects, APDL and UQ are pleased to offer this event as a professional development activity for architects. Architects who attend UQ architecture lecture series events can claim two Informal CPD points for attendance, or earn two Formal points with completion of the Design Online written exercise which reflects on new knowledge and the ideas presented. AACA competency: Design.


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Q & A Kevin Low

Small Projects

Anita Lewis

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