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Putting the ‘art’ into architecture – In conversation with Michael

Michael Ellis - Architect

For Michael Ellis, “architecture is the first art in which all other art is housed”.

 The Melbourne architect has designed and managed 200 projects during his 19-year career, and remains committed to the practicalities of construction, skilled craftmanship and a respect for natural materials.

 Mr Ellis reveals his greatest challenges, the place for sustainability in design, and why one house is his “favourite child” (even though, like any parent, he probably shouldn’t admit to having one).

What are the main challenges in architecture?

It’s the strength of the idea that is the greatest challenge for us in architecture. Ideas are not necessarily constrained by budget, and sometimes a small budget forces you to really examine and edit many of the decisions you’re making.

While having a working knowledge of the budget is important at an early stage, sometimes it’s not necessary to start the creative process.


Why do you project manage every build?

There is the satisfaction in seeing your work come to fruition, rather than just passing it over. If you don’t project manage it, you do run the risk of driving past it one day and seeing what someone else came up with.

We don’t often make a great deal of profit out of project management, but it is that satisfaction of seeing it, of crafting and fashioning your surrogate child into reality. That’s the part that I do find immensely rewarding.


Is sustainable design now expected by clients?

Sustainability is at the forefront of design these days and clients are looking for more sustainable designs, but as an architect I’ve always focussed on sustainability.

I’ve thought that a good designer, a good architect, would have naturally been delivering clients a building that was sustainable, that performed well in terms of its energy rating, and had an astute choice of materials.

I feel that sustainability has gained more traction than it needed, because sustainability as a response from an architect should be a given, not something that one is surprised by.


What’s one of your proudest professional achievements?

Architecture is a little bit like fatherhood, in that one’s not meant to have favourites. But the Yellingbo Artist’s Residence that we designed in 2008 comes close.

Yellingbo has received wide acclaim and publicity, and that’s really because of the strength of the gesture. The house has been edited back to its barest essentials, and it relies heavily on a brief that was formulated between the clients and myself, which we closely adhered to.

On a reasonably modest budget we’ve been able to deliver a home that was one of our best value propositions considering the overall budget, even in comparison to other projects where the budgets have been far greater.


What would your dream project be?

It would be definitely something Japanese. My wife and I are fascinated with many aspects of Japanese life, culture, and food. My love of carpentry is well known, and so I’d love to design a building one day that is heavily influenced by Japanese carpentry.