Justin Northrop, director at Techne Architects, specialises in hospitality design and has designed the renovations for his own house.

He was also recently involved in the Emergency Shelter Exhibition in Federation Square, with Techne’s design – Dirtbag – considering urban waste and how it can be transformed into building materials.

Architecture & Design spoke to him about designing his own home, why he got hands-on in the renovation and how debris can be used in natural disasters for building materials.

What was your experience like of renovating your own home? 

Renovating our own home was a great experience. I have strong childhood memories of living in and around family house renovations that were done by my father, a structural engineer, so it felt familiar and satisfied a desire I have had for a long time. 

Why did you decide to do it yourself?

Being an architect, it is always an ambition to create your own house. It was great in the design and documentation stage to plan and sculpt the spaces to suit our family requirements. The existing turn of the century double fronted cottage had the usual problem of compartmentalised space and no interior connection to the garden space. We also needed more room for a growing family.   

Much of the construction work was undertaken by a builder (Visual Builders) but I got involved where I could – timber framing, landscaping and some of the joinery. I did this partly because I enjoy the physical aspect of building as much as the design component, and partly because my inner cheapskate wanted to keep costs down. Getting hands on in the construction process is also a great reminder as an architect to keep the issues of construction at the front of mind during the design process. 

Did you learn anything about the process which has been useful in your work?

It is a good reminder to understand the complexities of construction and the issues that builders have to deal with. Spending our own money obviously reinforces the importance of maintaining budgets in any project, and I learnt to weld so I could build some shelf frames for the interior. That has given me a better feel for the material.

Do you think it was easier to design it yourself or would it have been easier to have someone else design it for you?

On some level it would have been. I procrastinated by messing about with design alternatives for a long time before we got started and relying on another designer may have made it much quicker. That said, I think it would be really difficult to simply be a client given the opportunity to put my work into our own house.

Can you tell me about the Emergency Shelter Exhibition and the reason for your design approach to it?

The Emergency Shelter Exhibition was an ideas based exhibition where architects were invited to create a prototype for an emergency shelter for a hypothetical disaster scenario. The approach we took was to imagine what survivors might likely achieve for temporary shelter in the aftermath of a major storm where widespread flooding had left people homeless. 

We decided to create a shelter that people might create using debris and material that is commonly found. For us, plastic bags were an obvious choice to utilise as both a roofing material and to form the structure of walls by filling them with earth or sand. The form of our robust structure was based upon a ‘primitive’ hut design which made use of four walls, a pitched roof and a simple doorway.  

You are heavily involved in hospitality design. How has it changed over the past couple of years?

The emergence and growth of the fast-casual market is a phenomenon that will likely stay. It has obviously been a reaction by operators to meet the market in these more cautious financial times, but there seems to be much more to it than just economic imperative. I think people just appreciate a simpler and more casual approach where the meals, service and the design of the space are finely tuned and considered to meet the demands and expectations of the patrons.  

Our input as architects is being constantly challenged to come up with the right design to support these businesses and their brands while meeting all the functional and social requirements of these dynamic places where people meet and share food and drink.

What emerging design trends are there in hospitality design?

While we do try not to focus to closely on trend and we see each design as a direct response to the brief, the site, the operators and the product offer, it is naive to think that we can work independent to the styles of the day. So, American (North and South) inspired concepts and interiors will continue to emerge and 80s inspired design will soon be everywhere in case you think it isn't already.