An Interview with Architect Anthony Chan, Founder of Chan Architecture
Photography by Tatjana Plitt and Folded Bird Photo
Chan Architecture is a boutique, award-winning Melbourne-based architectural practice that was established by Anthony Chan in 2007. Their philosophy is create design-oriented, client-focused buildings that are both beautiful and sustainable.
What sparked your interest in architecture and interior design?
I’ve always had an interest in creative pursuits, even at a young age. I loved drawing, painting, making models – anything that allowed me to be creative – and architecture was particularly interesting to me because it could be experienced spatially and in three dimensions.
How did you begin your career as an architect/designer?
I studied Architecture at the University of Melbourne, which taught me to think critically and creatively as well as the importance of hard work and to aim high.
I worked in two of the larger commercial firms as a student, then when I graduated I worked for a few years for some smaller architectural firms who did mostly residential work. This was important in learning the fundamentals of building as well as having a close connection with clients, builders and consultants.
After I registered with the ARBV, I worked for 5 years at Jackson Clements Burrows as a project architect. This taught me a new appreciation for design and the importance of having a great team behind you. In 2007 I started my own practice, Chan Architecture. This enabled me to create my own design aesthetic as well as build an office culture which was based on the positive lessons I learnt from the firms I had worked on previously.
How would you best describe your design principles and philosophy?
There are so many variables and challenges on every built project, including the client’s brief, the budget, site constraints, authority approvals and of course, the build. Our approach is to try to find solutions that meet all these challenges in a clever yet creative manner that appears effortless but in fact requires a very high level of attention to detail.
Many of our projects also utilize recycled materials. I really enjoyed using them not just for the environmental benefits but because there’s often a story behind it. Examples are recycled bricks from demolished warehouses, timbers from old piers and buildings and reusing old windows and stained glass.
What do you find the most challenging and most rewarding part of the job?
For every project, there are so many people involved – including clients/stakeholders, consultants, authorities, builders as well as my own team. I find the most challenging part of the job is managing the expectations of all the people involved and to try to ensure that everyone is working well together.
The most rewarding part of the job is when the build is finished and you walk through the house with the client for the last time and they show genuine appreciation for all the hard work that you’ve put into the job.
What does a typical day as an architect look like for you?
A typical day in the office is usually very busy with client meetings, site meetings, team meetings, some time to sit down and do drawings and sketches and lots of phone calls. At the same time trying to balance work/life with kids, friends, and family and enough coffee to get me through the day!
What’s been your favourite project so far?
My favourite project so far would be the Boundary Street House in Port Melbourne. Our clients were really easy to work with and were open to exploring new ideas. The site was unique in that it was a new build in the inner city on a very irregular site, located on the border between a residential and industrial area which gave us plenty of inspiration, yet flexibility to design something quite unique. So we explored ideas of different qualities of light, and how different materials can produce interesting lighting effects. We also explored the use of recycled materials and how to produce a really effective passive design.
What is a common client misconception?
A common client misconception is that building is quick and easy, whereas in reality the road can have bumps along the way and can take years from beginning to end. We always try to be upfront and honest with clients throughout the project so they know what to expect and don’t get disappointed when things take longer than expected.
What are some things you’ve learned throughout the years as an architect?
One thing I’ve learned as a designer is that you never know everything, and there’s always more we can learn. At the same time, the more experience you get, the more you understand the difficulties and constraints – and despite that you have to continue to come up with new ideas.
What advice would you give to young architects and designers?
Work out a specific plan of what kind of architect/designer you want to be. This will help inform your career decisions and how you can get there in the long run. It’ll inevitably take a series of small steps, but the plan will help you get there.
The future of Chan Architecture
In the last couple of years we have started branching out to different building types, such as commercial work, retail and office fitouts and apartment buildings. It’s exciting to start to see some of these projects come to fruition and learning all the new lessons that come with these new building types.
Favourite architects/designers and studios?
My favourite architect at university is Le Corbusier, not just for his modernist aesthetic, but because he was also a visionary and saw architecture as a medium that could make a statement about greater society.
Best places or works you’ve seen or visited?
I really loved the Gion district of Kyoto. I loved the beautifully crafted, tiny wooden buildings, the quaint cobblestoned streets and just the small scale and how everything is so carefully considered.
Favourite ways to get creative juices flowing?
I love to go on a bike ride to the northern hills around Kinglake/St Andrews just when the sun is coming up. I find it’s great to clear the mind and I love the scenery, colour and fresh air.
Where to find them