Clinton Cole is the head honcho of the award winning CplusC Architectural Workshop; the projects that come out of the stable are breathtaking, rule breaking and, of course sustainable.
Then there’s the client list; a combination of affluent and aware.
With all that on the table, you can be forgiven for thinking the man and the practice comes from very a similar background. Guess what? The Sydney University graduate does not.
“When I finished Uni, half of the people I graduated with were walking into their homes that their parents had bought them. I walked out, with my five bucks in my pocket, and packed shelves at Franklins,” says the affable and easy Clinton as we sit at his kitchen bench in his stunning Darlington property, Welcome to the Jungle.
His style is markedly different from many other award winning architects – perhaps it is the effect of having such a rich skill set. On top of the two degrees in architecture, he is also a licensed builder and an accredited construction supervisor.
This is a man who started on the tools, in semi-remote areas where oddly enough, using water tanks and solar energy wasn’t a choice. His clients were off-grid before it was cool. Here he began building.
“But I wasn’t a builder,” recalls Cole with amusement. An accredited architect sure, but practical work was a different thing, and a thing he wanted to know all about.
“I had to ask the tradespeople ‘how is it possible?’, ‘is this the best way?’ – and they more than happy to help out, really, they were very good.”
An admiration was founded here that still exists today – a hundred kilometres and more from where he started out.
“What they hate doing is being told to do something the wrong way,” says Clinton, who makes it his business to never do that.
Quality building, craftsmanship, is central to CplusC. For his team, this is where the magic happens.
“Architecture fails when there’s a brilliant idea, brilliant drawings, and a bad craftsperson trying to put it together,” says Cole.
Walking through his remarkable three level home, it’s easy to see the craftsmanship at every turn. From the glowing bathroom fitout, to the external fishpond that runs along the length of the kids second storey bedroom. This is no jumped up aquarium, but rather an integral part of the life lessons that are intertwined and integral to sustainable architecture. It’s about getting real (albeit in a beautiful setting).
“I think younger generations are getting more detached about where things come from, particularly food and that’s part of reason we introduced the edible fish pond, so kids catch the fish and eat the fish,” says Cole matter-of-factly.
“Then that nitrogen rich water goes up to the roof and feeds the vegetable garden, then we get to eat our vegies. It’s not super-efficient on a tiny site like this to do it, but it’s not about the value you get out of it, as far as financial gain. It’s the value you get from teaching your kids where food comes from and enjoying that process with them, rather than buying a bag of pre-cut lettuce from the supermarket.”
But as earthy as recycled timbers and water harvesting sounds ‘anti-tech’, the systems Cole has integrated into the build are very savvy. His irrigation app, for example communicates with the weather forecast online, adjusts to the various needs of the surrounding garden beds (there are five different irrigation zones), and brings down water from the on-boundary water sources. Not easy to program, says Cole, but then it’s a cake walk.
It begs the question, which I put to Clinton, does he think architects had an easier, or harder gig 50 years ago?
“Harder 50 years ago? Um…I think being an architect was easier 50 years ago. That was around the time project management was born, globally. The architect industry sat back and said great – new we don’t have to do the dirty work. Builders took on the project work, and in the last 50 years, builders have taken over architects’ role.”
Architects disappeared from being constantly onsite. This, according to Cole, changed the way mainstream architecture built things, forever. They lost the understanding of how trades worked, of the art of craftsmanship, the hands-on knowledge. The result he says, has been dire.
“Architects are now theorists,” states the builder architect.
He cites Utzon as an example of how presence impacts results.
“Everyone reveres Utzon, as they should. What is left out of the conversation is that he was on-site for seven years, directly involved with everyone on site.”
Passion aside, what aim is the practice taking looking forward? Is it considering diversifying into the lucrative four car garage / media room market?
“No. I just want to take this [environmental eco-friendly design] further and further. “
He will be tested with the next big job that is occupying his thoughts now. A grin spreads across Cole’s face, the thrill of what’s on the horizon is absolutely clear.
“We’ve got a job that’s next level, “he says. “A client who has their forever home in Manly, they want a 25 metre, natural, lap pool. That means there will be fish in the pool.” He pauses to see my amazement, and isn’t disappointed. Wow.
“So the more work we do like this, the more clients we’re finding, they’re not everywhere, they’re one in a blue moon but ….”
And with that he looks at the clock and starts to straighten up around his award-winning house before his three kids get home from school.
“I love living here, and the kids love living here and that’s obviously the biggest reward of all,” says the Dad designer, extraordinaire.