David Saunders began his career in the architectural industry 25 years ago, assisting his father and several other colleagues while still attending university. Upon graduation, he became fully committed to increasing his experience as an architect. Since then, he has successfully managed S2 design, and currently resides in one of their highly awarded finished home design projects in St Kilda. Throughout its years of operation, S2 design has undergone many structural changes; however, Saunders remains very comfortable with their current operational strategy. “The business has expanded and shrunk, depending on the scale of the projects that we’ve been working on –up to 6 or 8 staff members at some points in time and back to two people at other times. We adjust the staffing according to what’s happening in our work place at any given time.concont
“My preference these days is to be working on only a handful of projects, dedicate myself 100 percent to a very small number of select clients, and deliver very high quality, high design projects, rather than trying to take on every project that comes our way. I think the service that we offer is quite unique. We’ve got a particular signature style and from my experience over the past 25 years, I’ve found that it’s easier to maintain quality control when there’s less people involved in a project.”
Each project begins with a feasibility study in order to determine its overall potential. Saunders and his associates assess their clients’ needs in relation to their budget, as well as any existing statutory boundaries, in order to obtain a concise and detailed brief that will hold up in the design and planning stages. From there, any decisions regarding the build lie solely with the client. “It’s up to the client what direction they want to go – if they want to start bringing a builder in and getting involved in a design-and-construct project, or going out to tender,” says Saunders. “ We often get involved in contract administration, supervising construction of the project through to completion, and adding finer design details from broad interior design through to specific object design – such as furniture or light fittings.
In order for a building project to be successfully completed, it must be practical. If it’s not practical, it probably can’t be built. Our designs aren’t cookie cutter by any stretch. We approach every design and client as unique, and develop a brief and a concept for that project from scratch every time. Recycling details and doing the same thing over and over again is quite common to see in the open market, but we take pride in delivering a project that our clients love, want to live with forever, and is something that’s very unique and appreciated beyond the client themselves, in terms of the broader public. I think that’s clearly demonstrated in some of the awards that we’ve received.”
Over the years, Saunders has maintained a “strong interest” in the structural, social and sustainability ramifications of multi-residential buildings. He believes it is essential for any good design to reduce the boxed-in feeling of higher density spaces in order to make residents feel less confined. “I constantly hear complaints from people about all of the issues that they face in regard to living in flats or apartments,” he says. “On top of that, the media is full of discussion about ‘dog boxes’ or shoebox apartments. It’s not just the size, but also the quality of the space in terms of acoustic privacy, visual privacy, access to natural light, natural ventilation – all of the things that make you feel warm and comfortable and call your house a home. I think it’s a very important issue for all architects to consider, not just for apartment buildings, but for any types of housing. My interest beyond that is about producing high quality, beautiful and interesting contemporary designs that have a very relevant environmental and contextual response.”
Having strong ties with staff, suppliers, and clients is also a key aspect of business, and is avidly practiced by S2 design and their respective colleagues. “Relationships with staff are the same as relationships with your lover, your partner, or your kids – it’s about demonstrating respect, your commitment, clear communication, being generous at times and always showing a human side to the way you conduct your relationships. In regards to relationships with suppliers and contractors, for me, that has a very strong ethical foothold in that I’m not going to ever specify a product or recommend a company to work with that I wouldn’t recommend to my own family or use for my own project. If I don’t believe in where a product is made, who it’s made by, what it’s made from, and the accountability of the manufactured product, I’m just not going to use it.”
Saunders considers upcoming changes in the industry in terms of both dreams and reality; as an advocate for environmental change, he hopes that key modifications to technology and the building industry can be made in order to promote sustainability and efficiency. Using S2 designs’ ‘argyle’ project as an example, he hopes that others will take heed to the amount of waste produced from each build or demolition, as environmental awareness will increase in importance as resources diminish. “The dream is that the big changes we would see are environmental – not just in standalone housing but in a broader global view.
We should be making huge jumps towards sustainable power supply in terms of solar farms, wind farms, and power storage facilities. There are already a few places in the US and Europe that are 100 percent self-sustaining in terms of their power i.e. have 100 percent clean energy right now. There’s no reason why Australia can’t be there either. Unfortunately, human nature is such that we tend not to make changes in our lives until we reach a crisis. We can see the logic, and we understand what may happen, but until it actually happens, we tend not to do anything. So, my dream is that Australia will embrace 100% clean energy and there will be changes to the whole building industry in considering what materials they’re using, where they’re coming from, and how they’re recycling materials.
When I was building my own family home, it would have been so easy, and cheap, for me to hire a contractor to come in with a bulldozer and some big bins, squash the back of the house, rip it to pieces, throw it in a bin and dump it in a hole in the ground. But, I actually took a few months, personally disassembled the old house, and didn’t require any large bins on site. I collected, recycled and sorted everything. So, all of the timber was reused in the construction,the concrete was crushed and reused and the bricks were cleaned and re-laid. Unfortunately, it’s not very economical – it’s very time consuming – but, the planet will say ‘Thank you’ if more people take that approach.
Where are things going to go? It sounds to me like the building and development industries might slow down a bit because there’s been such a boom over recent times. In terms of the architecture and design industry, I’m sorry to say that more than 90 percent of buildings in Australia aren’t designed by architects. In other places around the world, like Europe, more than 90 percent of buildings are designed by architects, and I think that’s primarily for the reason that it’s legislated. The result of this legislation is clear; more beautiful cities, better designed buildings, and probably higher stock values of those buildings – because they’re designed better, they work better, they look better, and people pay more for them. We have areas around Australia that are full of poorly designed and poor quality buildings that, in the short to medium-term, will either require very high repair or maintenance costs, or just become so dilapidated over a short time that it’ll be more economical to demolish and rebuild them then to spend money on fixing them.”
Regardless of any impending decline within the architectural industry, Saunders is content with the status of S2 design and remains confident in its current endeavours. “S2 design has been very strongly goal-oriented, and there was always a one, five and 10-year plan,” he says. “We’ve constantly ticked those boxes and got to where we wanted to be and, I think, two or three years ago we got to a point where we were doing exactly the kind of projects we always wanted to be doing. We’re working with lovely clients that we enjoy working with, and we’re just really, really happy with the way the business is right now. It’s odd to say that the goal is not to get bigger, but to stay exactly the same.”