Kieran Wong, of Western Australia based Coda Studio, is a natural raconteur who delivered a delightfully engaging presentation about his practice and the values that underpin the firm’s direction.

Kieran’s work demonstrates a commitment to the communities he represents and the social contract and obligation that he and his practice take seriously.

He commenced his talk with a brief explanation of how Coda, which he co-founded with wife Emma Williamson, evolved from a small eight-person practice (designing mostly houses) to a medium-sized professional practice (with matching computers) of about 25 people which tackles larger scale urban design projects.

Tracing the firm’s trajectory interestingly paralleled the stages of Kieran and Emma’s life.  From eager graduate architects working all hours, dabbling in all things design, growing to become a more sophisticated outfit with a strong strategic focus, with defined goals and value system.

What was clear in Kieran’s presentation was that Coda understands precisely what it stands for and has structured itself accordingly. “When we thought about the practice, we wanted to understand what our values were that we could explain to clients and in a sense drive the projects along,” said Kieran.

Four words underpin the firm’s identity and direction: joyful, generous, useful and stealthy.

… ‘can we be useful in what we’re doing?’

“For us the work that we do is really grounded in ‘can we be useful in what we’re doing?’ Are the skills that we’re going to bring to this project or this client or this type of work actually going to be useful for more than just one person or their family, but more broadly?” explained Kieran.

Kieran also gave the audience a taste of architecture and the sense of place in Western Australia, illustrating the changing character of both Perth and Freemantle over time. The similarities with Brisbane, and its hesitant attitude towards the protection of heritage buildings, were uncanny.

The breadth of the work completed by Coda is impressive and his presentation included urban projects such as Newcastle Street (a design competition for affordable housing in the city), Women Health and Family Services and Acute Homeless Night Shelter. Fremantle projects included their studio office, Victoria Quays Precinct plans and Kings Square Urban Design Strategy.

“You can see in our work, the architecture work that we do is driven a lot by collage which I won’t really talk about too much tonight but it’s a kind of mode of our practice that we spend a lot of time talking at the beginning of projects about other projects and literally sticking them together,” said Kieran.

He explained the firm’s rural projects which included the research involved in a five thousand lot subdivision in Broome North. Their brief was to make homes elastic enough to cope with the wet and dry seasons and the transient nature of the population.

“We wrote both a housing guide, a design guideline, a detailed area plan for this project… that is now being used by the local authority,” said Kieran.

“We’ve never worked in a greenfield site before… so Broome North was a really critical project for us.”

The lecture concluded with a panel discussion with Caroline Stalker, Director of Architectus, who delved more into Coda’s urban design and planning work. You can watch the full video here.

Anita Lewis

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