2015 UQ Architecture Series with Paul Jones, OMA (HK)

In the lead-up to the seventh lecture in the 2015 UQ Architecture Lecture Series, April 28, we spoke to speaker Paul Jones, OMA (HK).

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

My father was a fitter and turner by trade as well as a teacher, consequently he seemed to be able to make just about anything. He was always designing and building things himself in a DIY kind of way. He always researched his projects and showed that there is more than one way to approach to problem.

I also had an uncle who was a builder during the 60’s and 70’s, before the ‘spec-house’ era. He would design and build houses based on trends observed in American design magazines using modernist architectural approaches to domestic design.

I also liked drawing, particularly technical drawing, and I think the combination of seeing things being made with an interest in drawing made architecture a logical choice.

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

Teamwork and communication is what informs most working days. Days are simultaneously inward and outward focused, looking closely at what is going on around us. There is a constant shifting between business, management and content issues that needs to work in equilibrium. Email and meetings are the methods used to communicate and work together on a daily basis. We have a large office in Hong Kong which acts quite independently. However, there is continuous communication with the offices in Rotterdam, New York and the Middle East, collaborating and information sharing.

We travel extensively in the region to meet with clients to discuss their projects, visit sites and present our work. Hong Kong is a hub, with many destinations no more than 3 to 4 hours flight away.

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

Finding quiet or uninterrupted time to concentrate is necessary. A lot of communication is required throughout the day so typically an early start to the day with a fresh mind allows one to focus on a task.

What principles inform your work?

Process is very important. It’s important to have/make time to think and explore our projects based on a thorough understanding of the brief, typology, site and context. We are continually looking for opportunities to approach the project in a lateral or innovative manner. Once decided, we then deepen/develop the design then produce.

Good ideas can come from anywhere so it’s important to have ideas come from many sources. Projects ideas are then nurtured... This is liberating and more interesting for everybody working in a team environment. Experience helps guide decision making.

Where do you go to get design inspiration?

Looking at buildings and places in context to understand their qualities, how/why they work. Through observation try to understand what has informed the building/place, the key idea and the context. This context is missing when researching projects from publications. There is a lot to learn seeing and experiencing things in-situ.

What has been a career highlight for you so far?

Having worked with a diverse mix of great, intelligent, talented and interesting people that have demonstrated commitment.  They have been very generosity and a source of motivation.

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

I’ve always like the work of the modernist masters, particularly Mies. Van der Rohe.  Mies demonstrated structural clarity and clever ambiguity in planning through simple devices to make spaces obscure the boundaries between rooms as well as inside and outside. He reinvented architecture with the way he experimented, as many architects were at the time, with structure, construction materials, and form. His buildings were straightforward and almost not designed but at the same time very idiosyncratic.

In direct contrast to Mies there is also the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Very prolific and ‘rich’ work. Scale and volume, inventiveness with materials, detail and decoration, connectivity between interior and exterior were mixed with warmth and domesticity. Both Mies and Frank Lloyd Wright were leaders and courageous in their approaches. There are many contemporary architects whose works are derivative of these architects.

I have very fond memories as a junior architect at Peddle Thorp. In their heyday they were ground breaking and incredibly influential across Australia and designed most of the capital cities on the Australian east coast (over 150 buildings). They were prolific in successfully expanding globally. One of Hong Kong’s most successful practices actually originated from Peddle Thorp.

Of course working with Brian Donovan and Timothy Hill and many key collaborators of the practice was a great experience. Brian and Tim were also very courageous and set the tone of the architectural scene in Brisbane and Australia. They were incredibly influential.

Most recently, joining OMA was equally interesting. Highly geared and full to the brim of very talented people. The office is in an exciting period of growth and consolidation, with the partnership having recently expanded and David Gianotten taking on the Managing Director role.

What are your top 5 favourite design books?

  1. Delirious New York (1976)
  2. S M L XL (1995)
  3. Clog – REM (2014)
  4. Project on the City 1 – Great Leap Forward (2001)
  5. Project on the City 2 – The Harvard Guide to Shopping (2001)
  1. Road Map 2050 (2009)
  2. WWF Energy Report (2010)
  3. Rob Krier – Architectural Composition
  4. Kevin Lynch – The Image of the City

What can attendees to your UQ Architecture lecture expect to hear? 

Largely about the differences and contrast between living and working in Australia and Asia.

Date: Tuesday 28 April

Time: 6:00pm for a 6:30pm start – 7:30pm

Where: Auditorium 1, level 2, State Library of Queensland

Register: Eventbrite

Architectural professionals who attend the series will be eligible for 2 formal continuing professional development points (CPD).

2015 UQ Architecture Series is presented by the University of Queensland School of Architecture and the Asia Pacific Design Library.

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