Kreis Grennan Architecture, also known as KGA, began in early 2015 as a “creative and complementary collaboration” between property developer and project manager Chris Kreis, and architect and licensed builder Christian Grennan. “Christian and I both had our own successful businesses before starting KGA, but decided to join forces ‘to provide the best possible integrated services in architecture, urban design, project management and property development.’” The fusion of individual skills from the two extremities of the built environment, combined with over 40 years of joint local and international experience, allows Kreis and Grennan to provide a broad range of services to their clients.
Despite their success in the small-scale residential sector, KGA is focusing on larger work by assisting developers in projects ranging from small dual-lot subdivisions to multi-unit developments. “Our business sets itself apart from the other architectural firms operating in Sydney by offering specific property development insights, in addition to full architectural services”, says Kreis. “We don’t just create the design. We assist the developers in the early stages to find sites, analysing the project viability, all the way to project sales and marketing”. Once the concept makes sense, we work closely with craftspeople and builders to carry it forward to construction. It’s a great experience to assist the builder guiding the building process to a successful completion. “If you want to do really great work – it’s important for us to work with good people on-site and be involved in the construction,” says Grennan.
“Sometimes our involvement on site is limited, but we always integrate the limitations and possibilities of the construction process in the design. A design for us is not something where you sit down and draw a pretty picture; it’s about immersing yourself in the situation, thinking about the whole process and how we can make something of the special within the limits of the project.” Sustainability is also “a key point of our design process,” according to Kreis. In an effort to avoid tacking on energy efficient options towards the end of a project, KGA ensures that these are considered from the onset in our design brief – even before initial concept designs. “A lot of the very early, relatively simple decisions – or important decisions which seem simple – can have a massive impact on the design,” says Grennan. “Considering 40 percent of energy consumption is used for heating and cooling, we need to look at simple things like solar access, appropriate use of thermal mass, effective cross-ventilation, access to natural light; these considerations are just part of a complex web of requirements which we include in our decision-making.”
Generally speaking, our goal is to try and design homes where active cooling is not needed. We’d much prefer to use a passive design in conjunction with passive assisted systems such as ceiling fans to achieve comfort. When we do go beyond passive systems and material selection, we look at a wide range of options. We’re particularly interested in timber. I teach timber design at the University of NSW, Mass timber construction is something which we believe is going to have a really big future. We’ve just put in a pitch to a northern New South Whales council where we’re trying to convince council to support a sustainable ESD mixed-use development entirely built in timber, which is very exciting for us.” Using timber as the primary building material lessens the carbon footprint of the built environment and allows for a more cost-competitive, carbon efficient and sustainable construction.
While Kreis Grennan Architects have spent the last two decades promoting the benefits of passive design and systems, certain aspects of energy efficiency can be dependent on the client, as well as the natural characteristics of the location. “In Sydney, it’s appropriate shading, orientation, ventilation and testing the spaces through computer modelling that will confirm if the design works” says Grennan. We recently submitted an application to Cumberland council, where we are working with developers in restructuring and increase the density of Toongabbie’s town centre. We did a mix of townhouse types and apartments, all having fantastic solar access, appropriate shading and excellent cross ventilation. While we still decided to specify air-condition, they will be only required on very hot summer days.”
Another important sustainable practice for Kreis Grennan Architecture is seen working with existing buildings. They do their best to preserve the existing structures, promoting consistency in design and eliminating as much waste as possible. “We carefully analyse whether we actually need to demolish or whether it is more efficient – also in terms of the complete energy picture – to maintain and re-use certain parts of the building,” says Grennan. “By carefully analysing what’s there and what we can do, we can reduce the energy consumption in building considerably – often simply by making fairly minimal changes to an existing building.” One of the more defining projects for Kreis and Grennan was ‘The Ribbon Factory’ – an adaptive re-use of a brick warehouse and the conversion into 10 warehouse-inspired residential units. Kreis identifies this project as the “first success that cemented the future for Kreis Grennan Architecture.”
Ultimately, KGA aims to make each project engaging and open-ended for clients in order to build strong, long-term relationships. “Our mission statement is ‘crafting great places to live, work, and be’,” says Kreis. “It’s a general statement, but it’s something that fundamentally directs us in our business. Great architecture is a platform that can lift people’s spirits and make them really aware of the beauty of everyday life – it’s essentially what we believe in and drives us.” “We’re more interested in crafting great places to be in that you actually enjoy working, sitting in with your family, or doing whatever you’re doing – whatever’s important to you,” adds Grennan. “Reading a book in the sun, where the sun’s at exactly the right position for that point in the year; that sort of specificity for our client is something which we find really interesting. Some people believe that architects go away into a closed room, make this fantastic sketch, and then force it upon their clients – but that’s definitely not how we work. We like to have a very open and collaborative process, and that often leads to much more interesting solutions than if we work in isolation. We don’t care where a good idea comes from – we’re happy to grab it and make the best of it.”
KGA also practices a similar philosophy in terms of their suppliers and staff. Working in collaborative partnerships with clients, suppliers and staff are carried out from the beginning to the end of each project to promote familiarity and build trust within the workplace. “We have got a exceptional network that grew with us. We got to know them and we work really well together,” says Kreis. “That compliments us as a business. If you engage KGA, you don’t just get us; it’s us plus our network of suppliers and consultants. We work extremely well together, just like a well-oiled machine. We see staff members as the core of our business. Without our staff, Kreis Grennan would not exist. Recognising this, we made sure to create and maintain a nurturing environment for employees to learn and grow with us.
According to Kreis and Grennan, the protracted approval process for development applications will has a large impact on the industry now and in the near future, along with the current approach towards further population growth in Sydney. Over the next 20 years, the population is expected to increase by more than two million, invoking the need for an increase in housing density and collective cooperation between industry and government leaders. “The delay in the obtaining planning approvals is becoming a big issue,” says Kreis. “The amalgamation of different councils hasn’t helped; it’s not yet driving efficiency in the process. We’ve lodged a development application in a western Sydney council for an affordable multi-unit development and it’s taken over six months just to get the initial response back from council; it hasn’t even yet been properly assessed. It’s nothing controversial and being an affordable housing development, it supports the growing need for cheaper housing in Sydney. This should be something which is fast-tracked and pushed through the system. We really need to see a change there.”
There’s a certain lack of overarching master planning in Sydney. Most strategies focus on a smaller scale and a spot-by-spot re-zoning strategy. There is little of an overarching plan which addresses how are we going to fit those extra two million people into our city over the next 20 years. That’s a 40-50% population boost and we seriously need to look at increasing our housing density to support this. It’s not just housing; with that comes infrastructure as well. We need to plan and build services, such as schools, hospitals, etc. This will happen a lot quicker than we’re actually able to react, so we need to start work on this now. Grennan adds a possible solution through the increase in flexibility by the government in relation to spatial housing requirements. “Planning flexibilities, such as much smaller apartments – which are currently not allowed – must be considered. In our opinion it’s possible for people to live a good life in a room not much bigger than a hotel room, as long as it’s well designed and thought through. Banks are very difficult about funding smaller apartments; but, if a small-scale apartment is what someone needs and can afford, it’s a progressive way to increase housing density and assist with affordability.
Originally from Switzerland, Kreis first came to Australia about 15 years ago. After travelling and working many years in the US, Asia and Caribbean, he found adaptation back to the Swiss climate and life-style rather challenging. He eventually decided to settle in Sydney not long after the 2000 Olympics; this decision created “great economic and social opportunities” for Kreis. “For me, Australia’s is a fantastic place, my family loves living here and I am excited being part of shaping the future of Sydney,” he says.
Sydney-born Grennan shares a similar cultural influence with Kreis, which he can attribute to his own experiences in Europe; they both aim to demonstrate this influence through their designs and ideas as company directors. “I spent quite a bit of time working and studying in Europe,” he says. “However, I also studied in Australia, and ended up back in Europe working in the Netherlands for a number of years. I initially went for one year, and the work opportunity there was so amazing, I ended up staying for about seven years. Then, I decided to come back to Australia and set up my own business, which was a mixture of a construction company and a design company. I’m actually a licensed builder as well. That grew out of an interest in making and crafting buildings very carefully, and working with great craftspeople. I ran into Chris at one point; we worked on a multi-residential project in Newtown, kind of clicked, and we just kept in touch and kept working and doing things.”
KGA have also recently signed a contract to purchase a piece of land in Sydney’s Inner West with a plan to subdividing the lot into smaller lots and assist the demand for new housing. “Our property development ventures are obviously a big thing for us this year. To successfully get that rolling and heading in the right direction.” says Grennan. “On a personal level, I definitely want to continue exploring timber construction with the Masters students out of the University of New South Wales this year, and continue to build on our long-term client base, particularly with a focus on multi-residential projects.”
“We’d love to work together with a developer who is keen to investigate design options info into renewable resources or materials such as the cross-laminated timber (CLT) products,” adds Kreis. “Many developers are shy of doing that; it’s considered too risky, because it hasn’t been done or explored much here in Australia. That’s something which we hopefully will do a lot more in the near future.”