Tony Owen, managing director at Tony Owen Partners, studied advanced architectural design at Columbia University in New York, where he was awarded graduation design prize.
He has gained international acclaim for his 3D designs for houses, apartment blocks, commercial buildings and educational facilities and has 10 major projects in Sydney completing over the next 12 months.
Architecture & Design spoke to Owen about his current projects, where the 3D modeling world will go next and why his avant-garde designs have been the key to his success.
You are working on 10 major projects in Sydney in the next 12 months. Do you think this large volume of work is indicative of what’s happening in the rest of the industry?
I think it is common knowledge that the industry has been patchy in the last few years. To some degree it is luck that some firms have fared better than others. Some small firms who depend on the top end of the market have struggled and very large firms, with so many mouths to feed, are reliant on very high turnover. It tends to be mid-sized firms that have fared a little better. I believe this year will be better and I think others are starting to agree.
Can you tell A&D about some of the projects — what type, where, what size, etc?
My background was in public buildings, but in recent years, because of the market, the majority of our work has been in apartments and commercial buildings. We are always doing a few houses each year because they are so rewarding and because they are workshops for new technology. We also have a number of large projects with 450 to 1,200 units in various stages of approval.
We are doing several apartment buildings in the CBD which deal with urban issues such as how a building is perceived in a skyline and issues such as building as signage. We are also working on some mixed-use projects such as Canterbury Town Centre, which are all about place making, and also the Danks Street offices, which propose some new ideas about the work environment.
What do you think is your key to success for securing projects like these?
My career has been split evenly between working in large commercial practices to secure highly commercial approvals and doing very avant-garde designs here and overseas. That puts us in a unique position to offer genuinely exciting and progressive designs that are very commercial and easily approvable.
We definitely set out to offer something very different and the market has responded. We knew that all we had to do was show the market that there was a genuine choice. Also, the balance of the office is critical. We never wanted to go into a boardroom and have any questions about our ability to deliver a service as professional as the largest firms. From the beginning, we had people with many years of large firm experience.
You have gained international recognition for your work with 3D designs. Can you tell A&D about that work?
Digital tools allow us to go in directions not even imaginable without it. At the same time, BIM software allows us to standardise the geometry and realise these ideas as affordably as a regular design, and more importantly, to demonstrate this to clients and councils.
We are fortunate in that we had some projects to build at the right time. For example, on the Eliza project, every level has a different view and also different plan types and as such every level has a different shaped façade. A few years ago this would have been un-economical to realise. It was only possible to generate the idea using 3D modeling and only possible to rationalise this to be efficient and buildable using Rhino scripting.
In the Moebius House we used dynamic parametric models to create a form which responds to specific environmental forces in real time and to the millimeter. We call this micro-design.
What do you see as the nest step in technology beyond 3D designs?
We are excited about the potential of new materials and construction methodologies. Firms such as 3XN in Denmark have funding for new technologies such as using algae in bio-climatic glass to photosynthesise shading in sunlight and also using rapid prototyping and CAD-cam to fabricate any shape.
One day super structurally efficient buildings may be made from a single high-performance material in any shape, made on-site and assembled on-site by robots directly from the 3D model.
What is the best advice to succeed in this day and age? How do you do it?
For those starting out it may feel very daunting to open your own practice. It can feel like the whole industry is designed to discourage this and everyone will tell you it is no longer possible in this day and age. If you have belief in what you are doing it is easier than you think.
If you weren’t an architect, what would you be doing?
I would be a writer. My wife has written a book called When my Husband does the Dishes he wants Sex. It is about a woman married to an architect and is being turned into a sitcom, because what the world needs is another sitcom where the father is an architect.