Buddha Dordenma \ Bhutan
From a hill overlooking Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, a statue of Buddha calmly surveys the landscape. Pictures don’t really reveal its scale, but the workers beetling around the temple at its base do. The statue is 60 metres tall, it’s almost finished, and it’s a project that was planned in Melbourne with an international flavour.
“It was all about co-ordination – the structural engineer was in Hong Kong, we were in Australia, and the monks were in Bhutan,” says Büro director Paul von Chrismar.
A 20-year veteran of the industry, von Chrismar was working in China five years ago and staying at the JIA Hotel in Hong Kong. A meeting with the owner led to the company designing another hotel in Shanghai, and then to the $30 million Buddha Dordenma Project in Bhutan.
And now Büro is designing a stupa in Bendigo, a traditional place of worship that will be re-created with modern materials for the area’s Buddhist community.
Design as conversation: A diverse range of projects including the origami- inspired office fit-out on Collins Street, which won an award from the Australian Institute of Architects.
“Everything is connected. A statue of a Buddha in Bhutan informs a stone screen on a house in Brighton, because you’ve travelled and seen a particular pattern and you’ve brought it back and used it here,” says von Chrismar.
“To be flexible, to think about the big picture – it’s a very Buddhist philosophy, and it informs the design that we do.”
That’s an excellent description of Büro’s ethos: a diverse mix of influences and interests, where everything is likely to influence something else.
“As an architect, to focus on one particular stream of design or one avenue of development is too limiting. You have nothing that is informing what you’re doing,” says von Chrismar.
To illustrate, he discusses a project that the company did for BalletLab, a foldable construction called Origami, to be used on stage, that has all the flexibility of its namesake, the Japanese art of paper folding.
On stage, it could become anything from a mountain to a cave – and its spartan beauty served as the inspiration for a $100,000 office fit-out on Collins Street that beat off projects with million-dollar budgets?to win an award from the Australian Institute of Architects.
“I believe in the craft of architecture. The new architect has to find that ground which no one else can – what it feels like to touch a certain material, what it’s like when the light comes into the room at a certain time of day, what materials can and can’t work. Those sorts of crafted things are what we now hang our coat on,” von Chrismar says.
“As an architect, you need to understand everything from contracts to construction. But people come to you because they want something creative, something beautiful.”
Büro was formerly a triumvirate, but former directors Stephen Javens and Glen Chamberlain have left to form their own firm.
Residential \ Middle Park
For the company’s current iteration, design is conversation. As principal Bronwyn Stocks explains, it was a conscious decision not to use names.
“Büro is German for ‘office’ – the idea was that it’s not about individual personalities. There’s a core, and we can expand as needed,” she says, explaining that this extends to the company’s work.
“It’s the notion of how something can be adaptable to what might be required in the future. We look not just at what you want from a house now, but what you might want in five years.”
This means there’s a lot of back-and-forth between clients and consultants, especially when it comes to taking a leap of faith – such as a house the company is working on in Brighton, which will see its façade clad in a water jet-cut stone screen.
Nevertheless, both von Chrismar and Stocks are adamant that designing a house for a client is a very personal thing, one that could take into account everything from a favourite colour to the books the client’s children like to read.
A good example of this is a house in Middle Park, which Büro completed in 2009. It was built for a lawyer, who appreciated order – but he also had an art collection that he wanted to display, and he needed space for his children as well.
“The spaces work well together, everything from the stairs to the bathrooms to the upper decks. The client also liked entertaining, so we had a front-of-house kitchen for guests as well as a scullery kitchen, so all the cooking and preparation could take place behind the scenes,” says von Chrismar.
“It has to fit the person – you want it, as much as possible, to be like a hand fitting into a glove.”
Then there’s the apartment project in Caroline Springs, where a new community is being built, replete with its own retail hub, community centre and schools. And there’s the urban design – Büro is working on large-scale planning for the Dandenong central business district, which is being remodelled by VicUrban.
And then, on the smaller end of the scale, there’s the work the company does with artists – in addition to the BalletLab piece, the company is working on three other such projects, including a percussion piece.
They seem to share a passion for art and architecture, so it’s little surprise later in the interview when it emerges that von Chrismar and Stocks are partners personally and professionally.
The two met through a shared love of scooters – his a Lambretta, hers a Vespa. Home talk is often shop talk, and the addition of a son to the family means that they now discuss child-friendly design.
“We’ve always been aware that architecture is something you live, it’s not a nine-to-five thing. That passion makes it OK to spend nights working on a project and to spend weekends driving around to look at new buildings,” says von Chrismar.
“If you don’t have that passion as an architect, I don’t think you can really succeed in creating.”