An Interview with Australian Architect Mick Moloney, Co-founder of Moloney Architects
Moloney Architects is a small studio of architects and interior designers that was formed in 2007 in Ballarat Victoria. They work on a range of project types including new houses, alterations, heritage restorations, and bespoke commercial commissions. Their designs are innovative and practical, with a strong focus on site-specific design, sustainability, and affordability.
What sparked your interest in architecture and interior design?
Growing up, I was really interested in classical societies. I studied classics and Latin in high school but also math and science – and wound up in a general science degree in my first year of Uni. The light-bulb moment for me was taking a Renaissance Architecture class on a whim – where I discovered a group of incredibly passionate people discussing architecture and how it is affected by cultural ideas. I enrolled in architecture the following year and never looked back.
How did you begin your career as an architect/designer?
I met my wife and business partner Jules in the first design studio in first year of architecture. We’ve been collaborating on projects together now for 20 years. We lived together at uni, and then moved to Melbourne where we cut our teeth in various practices separately. We spent years hanging with the cool architecture kids, drinking in laneway bars, and working on huge projects. I think we knew deep down that we would eventually open a practice together, and one day we just decided the city wasn’t what we saw in our future. Both of us had come from the country, so we decided to move to Jules’s home town of Ballarat and establish a design practice there.
How would you best describe your design principles and philosophy?
We are a couple of unapologetic modernists, preoccupied with ideas that underpin materiality. Our aesthetics are influenced by the specifics of a site – whether that be the connections that can be made with natural surroundings on a bush block, or the nuances of ‘place’ you find in the context of an urban site.
We are best known for our houses that use a combination of timber, concrete, brick and black steel – a palette of robust materials that complement robust architecture.
What do you find the most challenging and most rewarding part of the job?
The most challenging and important part of our work is establishing trust with our clients. As an architect, your client is essentially asking you how to create one of their biggest investments. It’s important to them both financially and emotionally – so you need to establish early on that you are going to take the responsibility of leading their project seriously. By treating the job as if it’s your own, this then turns into the most rewarding part. Every successful project feels like you have created your own beautiful design.
What does a typical day as an architect look like for you?
Everyday is different in the studio. We sometimes work separately, other days we work closely together (but not at the moment, we’re all working from home!). Some days are mostly spent talking about ideas – what approaches we are making with a project, what approaches other architects have done in the past, what can we drag into the conversation from other creative fields.
Other days are really hands on – we love making large-scale models and playing around with lasercutters and CNC machines to test design ideas.
We spend a lot of time talking – with each other, with consultants and with clients. We sketch in moleskines, debate the best lineweight of our black pens, and drink a preposterous amount of coffee. It’s like living in an architectural cliche.
What is a common client misconception?
We often hear prospective clients and people in the community say that they can’t afford a building that is designed by an architect. I’ve never really understood it, but I think this is a common misconception. The thing is, architects can’t somehow magically change the price of a building by simply being architects. There are plenty of expensive, poorly designed buildings out there that did not use an architect, and plenty of low-cost buildings that did use an architect. Building costs are a result of thousands of choices that are made during the design process. If the client and architect are working well together, they should be able to discuss the various choices available and the effect that this could have on the price of the building. This allows the client to make informed decisions about what they want to create with their budget. I think the trick is not to see the architect as a person out there wanting you to spend more money on your house, but more as your advocate and expert advisor who is there to help you get the best result for your budget.
What are some things you’ve learned throughout the years as an architect?
Don’t read emails after work or take phone calls on the weekend or after hours. It can wait until you’re back at work. There’s no such thing as an architectural emergency.
What advice would you give to young architects and designers?
Make peace with uncertainty. We all invest heavily into our design work – but sometimes projects come unstuck for reasons that are completely beyond your control. If you are too heavily invested in a preconceived outcome, it can be really upsetting when things don’t go to plan. I think it’s important to see enjoyment of the process as the reward and a successful built project as an added bonus.
The future of Moloney Architects
We are currently working on a series of smaller projects that experiment with the public and private realm in urban sites. We want to push the envelope when it comes to seeing the house as a semi-public space that can create physical connections between private space, public space (streets and laneways), community shared space.
Best places or works you’ve seen or visited?
Venice, La Serenissima
Favourite ways to get creative juices flowing?
Every 2 years I head to the Architecture Biennale in Venice. I think it is the most exciting, most engaging festival of architecture anywhere in the world.