Hear from Chris Major, co-founder of Welsh + Major (Sydney) at the seventh session of the 2017 UQ Architecture lecture series.

Since establishing the practice with David Welsh in 2004, Chris and David have established a reputation for delivering responsive and engaging architecture in the public and private realm. Welsh + Major’s work has been recognised by numerous awards including national, NSW and Victorian AIA awards, the BDP Sustainability Award, Houses and Think Brick awards. Their portfolio includes public spaces and private homes, restaurants and bars, galleries and shops, workplaces, and the reinvention of historic buildings. Their work seeks an artistic resolution of programme and detail with a focus on context and landscape, memory and material.

Chris is an active member of Australian Institute of Architects, and continues to support architectural education through teaching at the University of Newcastle; regular lecturing at Sydney University; and participation in design panels and juries.

Read Chris’ Q & A:

Tell us a little about your background, and what originally led you to architecture?

There are a few things growing up that I think all led me to practice architecture. As a child we moved around a lot and I lived in many different cities and many different houses. The house I loved the best was in the suburbs of Melbourne. Built by an architect in the 60s as his own home, it was a modestly scaled, largely glazed, flat roofed, brick and timber house formed around two courtyards and a tree. It was a very special place to live which contrasted with some of the other less-than-designed houses we lived in other places.

But the clincher was when I spent an exchange year living in Finland…

I also studied architecture history in high school as part of the art course which opened my eyes to design and architecture as a profession and gave me an appreciation of architecture in a much broader context of world history. But the clincher was when I spent an exchange year living in Finland and was exposed not only to the amazing architecture of Scandinavia, Aalto in particular, but also to a culture where design was embedded in all aspects of life.

Can you give us a little insight into what a normal work day looks like for you?

Being in practice with my partner David Welsh, our work day often starts before we leave home with a discussion around our projects, what needs to be done that day / week and what inputs we need from each other. Once in the studio I try and review any pressing project issues with members of our team before I get settled at my desk. Once there, there are always many small issues to be dealt with but I try and set myself some clear time in the morning with no interruptions to look at projects in depth. Then there are the usual round of design reviews, client and consultant meetings, emails and site inspections. In amongst all of this we try to make sure that everyone in our studio has what they need to do their work and that we have some time out together as a studio — either a talk or a lunch once a week.

What are some daily office rituals or habits you employ to enhance your productivity and creativity?

Running and coffee! And also having some times with no interruptions — turning my phone off, shutting down my emails, telling the team I’m off limits till a certain time. One of the challenges with a small busy practice is not to jump from one task to another all the time. Setting myself a clear list of priorities at the beginning of the day helps me to stay focused.

What principles inform your work?

We are interested in the idea of responsive design — design that says something about where it is and why; design that make people feel and think, and creating environments that are great places to be in.

Where do you go for design inspiration?

We find inspiration for our work in all sorts places.

The site itself, other great builders that have similar problems to solve and sometimes in the smallest seemingly mundane things around us. Ordinary objects, designed well can be a great source of delight and inspiration.

What has been a career highlight for you so far?

2014 was a good year for the practice, we were given Australian Institute of Architects awards for our work in NSW and Victoria and also at national level. These projects opened up a number opportunities for us and we have some great projects now in progress that we are really excited about.

Which Australian or international architecture people, practices, designers or similar do you admire?

This week…

Internationally: Sou Fujimoto + Sverre Fenn

In Australia: we really like the work that Smart Design Studio and Candalepas Associates have been doing the last few years.

What are your top five favourite design books?

At the moment…

Thinking Architecture by Peter Zumthor

Alvar Aalto: monograph by Richard Weston

Jutaku: Japanese Houses by Naomi R. Pollock

Whitney Handbook of the Collection

Oudolf Hummelo: A journey through a plantsman’s life by Piet Oudolf

What can attendees to your lecture expect to hear and see?

I hope I can give some insight into the why and how of our projects – the ideas that we think are important and how they influence our work.

Photo credit:
Photo 1: Chris Major portrait
Photo 2: Cohen Park Multipurpose Courts + Amenities, Annandale, NSW
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