Stirring the Imagination

Stirring the Imagination add

Defign is very excited about ADNZ's upcoming 'Stirring the Imagination' seminars with internationally acclaimed Melbourne architectural duo, Debbie Ryan and Robert McBride of McBride Charles Ryan.

This week we sat down with them ahead of their New Zealand tour to gain some insight into their residential projects.

Debbie and Robert are the partners in life and work behind one of Australia’s most celebrated architectural studios. They co-lead McBride Charles Ryan projects, designing innovative residential, commercial and public buildings for a variety of clients.

The unique partnership started in their University days, when they both attended Monash University. While Robert was studying science, Debbie was focussing on fine arts - something which grabbed Robert's attention.

"My father used to give me books on construction and engineering, but Deb started to drag me along to her Fine Art History lectures lead by art historian, Patrick McCaughey, and I soon realised I was becoming more and more interested in architecture," says Robert.

After spending a few years at Monash University, the pair moved to RMIT University where the focus of their studies turned to architecture.

Following graduation, both spent some time working for other companies, before making the decision to set up their own architectural studio with Tony Charles in 1988.

"We started just before the recession, renting a building in Queensberry Street, Carlton. At the beginning, we went through a period where we had lots of work, and then all of a sudden we had no work at all. This was pre-internet age, so we used to walk the streets looking for work," says Debbie.

About this time, Tony Charles left the business for another job, leaving Debbie and Robert to make the decision about whether to keep going, or give up.

"We decided to tough it out and keep going. We convinced my brother and his friend to do a development in a disused back lane, and we entered that project in an award. We didn't win, but the designer of the zinc façade put it on the front of his calendar.
MCR got publicity through that which gave us a boost," says Debbie.

Fast forward more than 25 years, and McBride Charles Ryan has evolved into one of Australia's most respected architectural studios. Their huge success, and plethora of awards is owed not only to their incredible talent, but their resilience, determination and teamwork.

"We work well together because we are both so passionate about this life interest that we share. Our kids are always telling us to stop talking about architecture," says Debbie.

While a large proportion of their work is made up of commercial and public projects, the McBride Charles Ryan team also have a reputation for creating bold and unexpected residential designs.

"We enjoy working on all kinds of projects - anything with a 'red hot' idea - but when it comes to residential projects, you get to complete them in their entirety which you can't often do with commercial work," says Robert.

One of their most recognised residential projects is the Klein Bottle House - a holiday house on a sloped block adjacent to the beach in Rye. It won several awards, including the World's Best House award at the World Architecture Festival in 2009, and the Grand Designs Best International Home Award in 2010.

Just as its name suggests, the design is based around the mathematical form of a Klein Bottle, with its spiral shape twisting back through itself.

"Originally, the clients wanted a view of the ocean. However, it was next to a national park, and the council didn't want the building to be visible. The initial suggestion was to position the house at the base of the block, but when we revisited the site, we found a position where you would've wanted to camp. You could see the clouds rolling over the trees, and hear the sea with protection from the winds, and a view over the top of the trees," says Debbie.

Its location has added to the appeal of the unique home, which offers a new way of living, an alternative to the traditional view of a home or the way people should live.

"From the living area, you can see what is happening on the other side of the courtyard. You can see the kids, but you can’t hear them, which adds to the overall peacefulness of the home," says Debbie.

The McBride Charles Ryan team have also carried out residential renovation and alteration work, including the award-winning 'Cloud House' in Fitzroy North, Melbourne. While the run down double-fronted Edwardian house has undergone several modifications since it was built close to 100 years ago, Debbie and Robert's work is the most recent, and has transformed the house into a home suitable for the clients and their growing family.

"At the beginning they asked us to tone down the MCR style, so we came up with a traditional box-like extension. They were disappointed, so we decided to make it more exciting," explains Debbie.

"You're getting a cloud" we told them - which made a lot of sense, it was pragmatic, but also had a lot of ideas attached to it," says Robert.

The pair say they look back on the cloud design as a fun idea with a relationship to pop culture. The playful form of the cloud extends into the home's renovated interior, and this section has become the most used space in the house.

"There's the idea of a transformer, with the elevated kitchen in the extension which is red - a playful colour that relates well with the overall feel of the design. We also thought carefully about materials. We left the silver lining on the outside and the inside was all about being comfortable and tough - tough for growing kids. For that reason, the interior of the cloud is timber. It's warm, comfortable and related to nature, and it's stronger than a typical material like plasterboard," says Debbie.

The Cloud House picked up the 'Architecture Residential Constructed' award at the Melbourne Design Awards in 2012, and is a real testament to the creativity of the MCR team.

Robert and Debbie will be touring New Zealand in April/May, and will deliver a series of seminars as part of ADNZ's international Speaker Series 'Stirring the Imagination'. They'll be giving their insights on upcoming design trends, as well as discussing how their firm borrows from Architectural History, mathematics and everyday culture to realise original, unlikely and technology sophisticated expressions for their clients.

Dates and Locations:
29 April: Auckland - Five Knots, Tamaki Yacht Club
30 April: Wellington - Mac's Brew Bar
1 May: Christchurch - Hagley Oval Pavilion

(5:30pm open for all events, with a 6:30pm start)

Don't miss out on tickets - visit for details

Photography by Copyright © 2011-2015 John Gollings Photography