fitzpatrick+partners: Designing building for a long life, love and a great fit


Glulam (glued laminated timber) and CLT (cross laminated timber) office building

It’s obvious if you think about it: longevity is about the most important environmental attribute.

Architect James Fitzpatrick of fitzpatrick+partners says that along with the now-standard environmentally sound practices which every architect should consider, a building will last if it is appropriate for now, adaptable for the future, and above all, loved.

And being loved means lasting the distance, which is possibly the most environmental thing of all, because it means less construction, less energy and less waste.

James, who is also a champion of cross-laminated-timber, has designed several of Australia’s dozen or so CLT buildings and has six more on the drawing board, among them southern hemisphere’s “largest timber building. The studio doesn’t often do residential buildings, but James has also recently completed his family’s all-timber home in Castlecrag.

With partners Rod Pindar and Paul Reidy, fitzpatrick+partners concentrates on the design of hotels, office buildings, entertainment buildings and infrastructure such as hospitals and schools. While James is quick to point out that he comes to each project with no “pre-ordained vision or approach” and timber is not the answer for everything, technology is opening up exciting possibilities for the material in terms of off-site prefabrication, resulting in less on site works, and more efficient and cost effective solutions.

As humans, we look for texture, colour and activity.

“People appear to go wow in those beautiful clean sculptural spaces, but the second time, do you go wow again? As humans, we constantly look for a texture, colour and activity.

Charter Hall, Adelaide

“Good design always sits well with good design. If we consider furniture – a 1700s Chippendale will sit beautifully with a Wegner piece from the 1950s or a Zaha (Hadid) piece from the 2000s. They are all considered, and when put together they can enrich each other through their visual differences – yet each is of its own time.

“Our buildings welcome that layer of history, that allowance of designed change, and that resulting lived-in feel. It’s like your really comfortable old, worn blue jeans – you always come back to them.”  

So, is this timeless design? “We design for our time. Maybe timeless design is buildings that can be recycled and re-used. Or maybe if you give people a building they like, that they can adapt, that they can come back to, they will keep it, because they love it. Maybe this is timeless design.”

According to James clients keep returning because they like the process and the relationships that are formed with the studio. It’s rare they’re given a definitive brief, instead they work with clients to help find the solution through analysis, questioning and testing of solutions. It’s an enjoyable process, he says.

The Seed House, Castlecrag - photo by John Gollings
Valentine Street, Parramatta

Valentine Street, Parramatta

88 Walker Street, North Sydney

Are they expensive?

“Cost is defined not just in fees, but also in the functionality of the solution, its ongoing maintenance costs, its end value and its longevity.

“We consider materiality, performance, maintenance, durability so the solutions will be inherently recyclable and reusable.

“The choice of materials address many of these issues. If you wrap a building with light weight, non-durable materials, you will have to replace them in five years when they are dented and scratched, while concrete or timber or stone will see out the full life cycle of the building. We want our buildings to adapt and change, and to reflect those changes through the patina of use.”

Strongbuild Office - photo by John Gollings

“The test for our buildings is, do they fit their purpose and give back to society and the environment, and are they social? People enjoy seeing and being with people, moving around, using that private corner or that sunny pathway.”

Australia has a new CLT plant in Wodonga and a new Glulam Plant under construction in Queensland. “Timber first” policies are favoured by governments in some Australian municipalities and overseas. 

Timber projects around the world are increasing in scale and complexity, and we are now seeing timber office and residential towers being proposed. While Australia is not quite in that position yet, fitzpatrick+partners is continuing to explore larger scale timber and timber composite structures including, currently, a 16-storey office and retail complex. And it continues to research and develop solutions in this area.


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