Open Studio Architecture


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Britta Klingspohn and Heribert Alucha began Open Studio Architecture in 2005 with the mission to provide a more holistic approach towards their craft. Originally from Germany and Spain, respectively, they strive to cater to their clients’ personal needs while demonstrating European sensibility through flexible and sustainable residential designs. “We think that it’s very important to provide full services as often as possible to make sure that quality, consistency, and design integrity are carried through to the end of the project,” says Klingspohn. “We also think it’s important to consider interior and landscape design within the architecture. So, we integrate that into the services as well.”


Concept design is an integral point of each project at Open Studio; this initial step allows a strong relationship to be formed with the client, inspiring a deeper understanding of their needs to help develop their ideal living space through a variety of possible scenarios. The working relationship develops gradually throughout the project to ultimately achieve the best finished product possible. “We are dedicated to providing flexible and durable architecture,” says Klingspohn. “Architecture has a big influence on how people perform, their motivation, and their health. We always try to reconcile natural, social, and economic imperatives as a matter of course. We think that design is a collaborative process. There are often a lot of contradictory requirements that a design has to meet, and we’re always aiming to achieve a holistic design that incorporates factors such as comfort, technology, economics, and aesthetics that can be contradictory, but need to be balanced in order to have a quality outcome.”


As Fred Astaire once said, ‘If it doesn’t look easy, it is that we have not tried hard enough yet.’ Klingspohn and her team also work hard to actively apply this motto to each facet of the design process. “There needs to be a certain flexibility in the final design,” she says. “We think that architectural designs are often deceptive in simple solutions that incorporate very highly complex and functional requirements and services. We always aim for elegant and simple solutions that integrate all the complex components that a typical architectural project would require. We would like the project to be about the views, natural light, proportions and quality of the space, and conceal the complex elements which need to be integrated; but, we don’t want to distract from the overall design.”


Open Studio strives towards unique solutions that make the most of each space. Orientation, passive heating and cooling, as well as ventilation are used to their full potential on the project site, and durability of materials and design are strongly considered for the future of the complete structure. “We’re always aiming for timelessness and to make sure that the design stands up to the passage of time,” says Klingspohn. “A lot of the work we do is on extensions, so we’re finding ourselves demolishing an extension that was done maybe 10 years ago, and is no longer functional or in a bad state of repair. It’s not just sad; it’s also a waste of materials and so forth. So, we try and have something that is timeless that will still, ideally, be good to use in 50 years’ time, which would be much more environmentally friendly than just focusing on the materials.


We like to think outside the box. We like to find unexpected, but elegant solutions to such problems. A project we just did – we call it multigenerational living. Basically, we created a flexible space that can be occupied as two separate areas, or as a generously-sized family home. You could separate the house into a separate unit plus the main house, you could use the house as a home office plus the main house, or you could just open it up to use it as one big family house; it has an enormous amount of flexibility and can be used in a number of different ways. It would also suit different families. If the house were ever to get sold, it would suit a lot of different scenarios; that was a very good outcome, we think.”


Currently, Klingspohn and her team are working on a similar housing project that will include an extension and alteration to two adjoining houses. They have also been conducting extensive research into Passivhaus design – a technique that was developed in her native Germany. “It results in buildings that need hardly any energy for heating or cooling,” she says. “It’s becoming more common in most of Europe and the US; we’d like to see those passive house standards set up widely in Australia, if possible, and we’d like to work towards that as well. We always try and make every element of the building work very hard, maximising the utility and flexibility of all the spaces, and also avoiding duplication of spaces.”


Since the beginning, Open Studio has attributed their growth through word-of-mouth and repeat client projects; their emphasis on quality work has allowed them to develop a following of like-minded clients and suppliers, helping build strong, lasting relationships that ensure satisfaction for all participants. “All relationships are pretty critical of quality outcomes – consultants, clients, suppliers; everyone. As an example, we take very great care with all the windows in all our projects as a very important component, and we’ve been working with a window contracting company that’s had 100 years’ experience. We’ve developed a very good working relationship with them. We always include them very early on in the process, so we get an idea not just on the costing, but on the design possiblilities; we integrate that very early to make sure that the outcome is the right one. We often use a team of consultants that is the same; we involve them very early on in the design process. The relationship between builders and architects, in particular, is critical and we need to not just have a similar commitment to quality but also match our approach, attitude and values as well.”


Based on her experiences working in Melbourne, Klingspohn believes that the biggest upcoming issues in the area are construction costs, as well as the strict controls on town planning and heritage sites. “A lot of properties in Melbourne are controlled by tight planning controls, and there’s an uncertainty and haphazardness in the way town planning applications are assessed,” she says. “We find that is quite a critical issue. We would welcome a lot more certainty and consistency in the regulations; they seem to be quite open to even personal interpretation, and we think that having more certainty would speed up the process – which would be in everyone’s favour. We had a planning permit application where the design complied with all the regulations and it took over nine months to finally get the planning permit; that’s just a huge burden on clients, and we’re wondering if planning is more concerned with cosmetic issues rather than actual quality of architecture and design. We would welcome more defined rules in the planning process that deal with design quality.”


Going forward, Open Studio hopes to improve their efforts towards passivhaus and become accredited designers for passive housing in Australia. “My brother in Germany commissioned a passive house there,” says Klingspohn. “It’s been completed since a few winters ago. It’s something we think is fantastic, and would probably be easier to achieve here in Australia. Our biggest ambition at the moment – we’d love to work towards designing a full passive house in Victoria; that would be our milestone.”

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