Interview: Nick Harding of Ha Architecture | Yellowtrace

 

It’s always a real pleasure to shine a little light on the work of someone we admire, particularly when their projects and their practice haven’t been the subject of a whole bunch of other press (at least not to my limited knowledge). I guess you could, at times, think of Yellowtrace as your Robin Hood of the design & architecture world. Ha!

Hey, did you just say Ha?
Yeah, I said Ha.

Isn’t that who this interview’s about?
Oh yeah! Soz… Where were we?

Ha is a Melbourne-based boutique architecture studio, lead by the principal Nick Harding. The practice undertakes a diverse range of design projects varying in typology and scale, with individual and community focus being the common thread that binds them all. Ha’s primary directive in approaching each new project is awareness and intuition.

I became really drawn to Ha’s work after accidentally stumbling on their website earlier this year. For my money, Ha’s projects display a certain warmth and a no-nonsense spirit that feels utterly liveable and inviting – buildings and spaces which have truly been designed from the inside-out – something I personally feel is lacking in the work of some of the architects. (Sorry, not sorry!) It also needs to be said that, having spent some time back-and-forth with Nick via email, we can happily confirm that not only is he incredibly talented, he’s also a really tops and super-diligent bloke. I know, he sounds like such an architect!

On that note, please make him feel welcome to our pages.

 

Ha Architecture Portrait | Yellowtrace
Team Ha Architecture. From left to right – Nick Harding, Madeleine Hodge, Ron von Felden & Sam Horwood.

Ha Studio | Yellowtrace
Inside Ha studio in Melbourne’s Collingwood.

Ridgeway Model Process by Ha | Yellowtrace
Ha’s Ridgeway Model process, including expertly cut branding. Love!

 

+ Hello Nick, welcome to Yellowtrace! Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourself? When did you first decide you wanted to become an architect? And when did you decide it was time to start your business?

My career destiny was written by the age of about 7 years old! I remember taking my dad’s construction plans, (he was an engineer) and trying to build the project design from LEGO. I seriously decided to be an architect when I was 16 years old – after being lucky enough to visit some amazing buildings (Frank Lloyd Wright’s residential work in Oak Park, Chicago, and the Guggenheim in New York), on an overseas holiday to the US with my family.

As a graduate architect I worked with John Wardle Architects (JWA) for a number of years and, having done this, I was pretty sure starting my own practice was my future. I was in awe of the practice’s projects and the artisan manner demonstrated towards their projects – of all scales. Working at JWA woke in me a hunger to break out and explore my own unique approach to architecture.

 

Kensington Cathedral by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace

Kensington Cathedral by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace
Kensington Cathedral (2016). Photography by Dan Hocking.

 

Growing up in Adelaide has had a lasting impression on my approach towards architecture and practice. There were very few examples of noteworthy contemporary design being built during my student years. There was also no obvious emerging design community, only larger projects by established practices by way of exemplifying ‘good design’. It certainly felt to me that architecture and design was not valued and opportunities for creative expression were few and far between.

When relocating to Melbourne it was evident that design was part of daily life there. This was exciting for me as a budding young architect, but it also reminded me of the need for young people to be contributing energy back into Adelaide rather than migrating away from that city. This has lead me to pursue projects back in Adelaide, both built and then strategic, where we have considered how South Australia can retain its young talent. In recent years a youthful creative community has started to naturally evolve and now I find myself looking to Adelaide for design inspiration. The long term goal is to always be an active participant in Adelaide regardless of where I might practice.

 

Little O'Grady Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace

Little O'Grady Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace

Little O'Grady Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace
Little O’Grady Street Residence (2016). Photography by Dan Hocking.
This project investigates small footprint living in inner-city Melbourne by creating a small family home on an 81m2 site. Heritage policy dictated that the existing front room be retained and alterations were contained within strict height controls.

 

+ What is your main priority when starting projects? Is there something that is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

Having launched my own studio, Ha – Architecture, Product and Environment in 2012 I developed what we call the Ha ‘Mantra’. These are the six guiding principles to each project we embark upon, which I’ve outlined below.

NATURE – Nature is integral to any project. An inhabitant’s willingness to embrace a space is largely a result of how building interacts with the natural landscape. Ha’s objective is to produce environments that demonstrate a considered interface between landscape and architecture.

INSIDE-OUT – Architecture exists to be experienced by its inhabitant’s and therefore should be considered from the ‘inside-out’.

THE FUTURE – The practice believes in respecting history and understanding all that has come before, whilst confidently moving forward towards the future.

RESEARCH BY DESIGN – Ha utilises each project as research for the next. Architecture is a social investigation into how people interact with and embrace a space. The act of
building architectural experiences leads to a knowledge-base that should continuously evolve while being utilised.

SUSTAINABILITY – Ha assumes that all projects will strive to achieve the most intelligent design (above and beyond industry rating tools), utilising its surrounds and designing buildings that operate intuitively with minimal impact.

DESIGN TO A BUDGET – Ha believe that the most successful design solutions evolve from innovation driven by financial constraints.

 

Little O'Grady Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace

Little O'Grady Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace

Little O'Grady Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace

Little O'Grady Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace
Little O’Grady Street Residence (2016). Photography by Dan Hocking.

 

+ How is your studio structured? i.e. How many of you work in the studio, what types of skills do you have in-house, is there anything you are outsourcing, and how many projects do you handle at any one time?

The practice is a lean, mean team of four. We generally undertake each and every aspect of a design project in-house, and bring on additional resources to get through the production phase on bigger projects.

The studio has always intended to be a ‘star’ team of multi-skilled people, each individually capable of delving into each phase of a project. We aspire to develop a depth of knowledge in-house. There is no hierarchy as such, so we all get our hands dirty. As we specifically take on a diverse range of projects, and are only a small team, it works well for one person to lead a project from start to finish. We constantly have about 15 projects on the go, with anywhere between 5 – 10 projects active.

Our design process is a reiterative process whereby we test lots of options. Most of this work is done through 3D computer software, but of late we’ve started making physical models again, thanks to one of our clients requesting one. This has turned out to be a really fun, tactile and valuable part of the process! There’s something enriching in the simple task of shaping foam options with a wire cutter.

 

Rosa's Canteen by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace

Rosa's Canteen by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace

Rosa's Canteen by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace

Rosa's Canteen by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace
Rosa’s Canteen (2015). Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen. In collaboration with Peter Jay Deering.
Overlooking the Supreme Court of Victoria, the restaurant is situated within the John Wardle Architect’s design for 500 Bourke Street. The restaurant honours it’s sharp context while creating an inviting new home for Ross Mitchell’s rustic italian food.

 

+ How do you organise and manage the competing demands of modern business and life? Do you have any tip or tricks you could share with us that help you in your day to day (i.e. software, online tools, shortcuts, task management, cheat sheets, advisors, anything!)

We work hard and try to be as efficient as possible in what we do. No tricks just hard work. Keep things as simple as possible.

However, having a few mentors with differing roles has been invaluable (I discuss this more later in the story). After a few years now of having our head down and ‘building’ our portfolio, our dear friend Alice Blackwood (Design Editor and Communications Strategist) has been an amazing sounding board, while offering the practice an objective assessment of where we currently are, and helping us work out where we want to go. Everyone needs an Alice!

 

Leveson Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace
Photo by Dan Hocking.

Leveson Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace
Photo by Dan Hocking.

Leveson Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Tom Blachford | Yellowtrace
Photo by Tom Blachford.

Leveson Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Tom Blachford | Yellowtrace
Leveson Street Residence (2015). Photo by Tom Blachford. Built by D & A Pulitano Constructions.
Situated amongst a series of previous warehouses, this project contains a new building within the original warehouse façade. It is representative of medium density living by providing a large family home on a 200m2 inner city site.

 

+ What do you feel is the most challenging part of being an architect today? And if you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Everyone is pretty well exposed to good design these days, and through reality TV everyone is now a home renovator. The positive is that you are generally collectively striving for a ‘good looking’ outcome with a client. The downside is that there is a lack of knowledge and, at times, most importantly, trust. Although people are paying you to deliver a professional service, they often override your professional advice. If I could change the industry in one way, I would like to see architects regain some credibility and there be more substantial legislation around their professional role.

 

Leveson Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Tom Blachford | Yellowtrace

Leveson Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Tom Blachford | Yellowtrace

Leveson Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Tom Blachford | Yellowtrace
Leveson Street Residence (2015). Photography by Tom Blachford.

 

+ What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused and expressive? And your top 3 main sources of inspiration and references you are drawn to regularly – i.e. books, magazines, websites/ blogs etc?

1. Travel – having both urban or nature experiences outside of your home town as regularly as possible is very stimulating. Wherever you travel there are so many cues you can draw references from, and the act of being away from home seems to put you in the right mindset to absorb these details. Usually the best experiences are a long way away from home, but we can’t always be travelling overseas.

2. Collaborations – dialoguing with talented people (makers, tradespeople, other designers) around us who have specialist knowledge and can help inform our design ideas.

3. Music – is always being played at the studio. Experiencing music at concerts, gigs – wherever, is very special.

 

SPQR Pizzeria by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace

SPQR Pizzeria by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace
SPQR Pizzeria (2016). Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen.
SPQR Pizzeria is a contemporary pizzeria in Liverpool Street, Melbourne, where the wood oven is the functional and metaphorical heart of the business. It has a solid concrete base and an igloo-shaped dome built from bricks.

 

+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other architects, peers and creatives in general do you admire?

Wow there are too many to choose from but a few that immediately stand out to me are:

Timothy Hill and John Wardle were very influential to me personally as a young architect. Timothy Hill has been a mentor and a dear friend to both my brother and I since we were students. Timothy very kindly introduced me to John Wardle who took me on as a graduate after admiring his proposal for UniSA in the student common areas. He and his talented team taught me a lot of what I know as an architect. John has been a valuable professional mentor to me as I have built my practice. Both have a differing approach towards architecture but seem to overlap on being influenced by the likes of Alvar Aalto, who had a controversial orientation to architecture that was influenced largely by the natural environment in the midst of the formative years of modernism.

Both Timothy and John have created iconic Australian residential and civic projects that have been revolutionary while also having the knack of immediately appearing in their context as if they were meant to be. Both have taught me that we design spaces for people to experience, and that a building’s interface to the public realm is first and foremost.

 

Lawry Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace

Lawry Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace

Lawry Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace
Lawry Street Residence (2014). Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen. In collaboration with interior designer Jen Lowe.
An extension and two storey studio to an existing double fronted house. The new works are a reinterpretation of the existing weatherboard language. The living room incorporates a high-light north window allowing winter sun to access the space over the existing house. The studio and house frame the outdoor dinning area and garden.

 

As an emerging practice devoted to both community and sustainable projects we hugely respect Breathe Architecture’s endeavours. They are leading the charge with innovative design principles and encouraging the community surrounding their (residential) projects to think outside the square. They are succeeding and it is really impressive.

We are always dialoguing with my other brother Ross and feeding off his fantastic knowledge of unrelenting sustainable design, which helps inform our projects. His practices focus is developing a future based on infinite resources (i.e. utilising renewables).

Of late it has been really great to see Adelaide’s emerging practices recognised nationally. Particularly noteworthy is our collaborator Genesin Studio, and our friends Sansarc Studio who are producing consistently brilliant work so early in their career.

Other than this, we love the little bubble of amazing talent we are surrounded by here in Melbourne. Specifically, in our pocket of industrial Collingwood (where our studio is located), we are surrounded by many peers and collaborators. There are so many practices around us producing world-standard projects. It’s a really exciting time.

 

Lawry Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace

Lawry Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace

Lawry Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Kristoffer Paulsen | Yellowtrace
Lawry Street Residence (2014). Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen.

 

+ What advice would you give to emerging architects who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practices?

Do your apprenticeship in a practice that throws you in the deep end and allows you to experience the ‘front line’. There is a lot that can be learnt from both medium and small offices for an emerging architect. Make sure you get the best of both worlds, but personally I suggest starting in a small practice – it’s the best training you can get.

Create opportunities to test your own ideas. These may have to be side projects, but making is integral to developing your ideas. See the opportunity in every possible commission you are given – of any scale, and make something of it. This is a big part of what we do as designers on a day-to-day basis.

One of the biggest lessons we have learnt since starting the practice is that you can be the best designer, but if you cannot convince a client to be on board with your design direction you have nothing. If you are not a persuasive person you need to learn how to intelligently communicate the value of your design.

 

Dalgety Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Ben McGee | Yellowtrace

Dalgety Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Ben McGee | Yellowtrace
Dalgety Street Residence (2013). Photography by Ben Mcgee.
This renovation of an existing Victorian terrace house in St. Kilda, includes an extension to the rear of the dwelling to facilitate an external entertaining area and garden. This has been realised in the form of an urban garden that wraps around the kitchen, in which seating ‘nooks’ are subtracted from the garden volumes. The kitchen door partitions can retract and the garden and steel frame portal over, define an idyllic walled garden and entertaining retreat, with privacy from the immediately adjacent neighbouring apartments.

Little O'Grady Street Residence by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace
Little O’Grady Street Residence (2016). Photography by Dan Hocking.

 

+ What would be your dream creative project or a collaboration?

Working with an international music festival such as Mutek (international festival of digital creativity and electronic music), working with amazing music and visual artists to design unique performance spaces for people to experience.

 

Savoy Tavern Back Bar by Ha. Photo by Ben Mcgee | Yellowtrace

Savoy Tavern Back Bar by Ha. Photo by Ben Mcgee | Yellowtrace

Savoy Tavern Back Bar by Ha. Photo by Ben Mcgee | Yellowtrace

Savoy Tavern Back Bar by Ha. Photo by Ben Mcgee | Yellowtrace
Savoy Tavern (2014). Photography by Ben Mcgee.
The Savoy Tavern Back Bar is the dark and moody sister to the Savoy Tavern Public Bar. Immediately adjacent, it offers the alternative of a dim lit bar and dining experience accompanied by music and a dance-floor.

 

+ What’s next – can you share with us your vision, some of your goals (and some of your current projects)?

We have just got a planning permit for our most exciting project yet, a boutique office building in Richmond for McCorkel Brown Group. We are very proud of the building design, it will be a unique and special place for MBG’s operations to be based for many years to come. Most noteworthy it will reflect the Ha’s aspirations and endeavour to be energy neutral – achieved through a solar array integrated into the roof design, and a series of intelligent natural ventilation strategies. As with a lot of Ha’s projects, this project has a very public interface: Hoddle Street (see below). We have some very fun ideas for how the building can interact with the Hoddle Street traffic which we are currently working on.

 

121 Hoddle Street Night Render by Ha | Yellowtrace
121 Hoddle Street Night Render.

 

Beyond this, we always make sure our projects are diverse in scale and typology, and demonstrate an awareness of their natural environment with minimal impact on the planet. As we are developing trusting relationships with our clients we intend to work with them to continuously push the boundaries of intelligently designed buildings.

On the other end of the spectrum we are always prototyping new lighting ideas. We have relationships with a few talented craftspeople and they have helped us develop what we are calling the ‘UFO’ light. We are really excited about developing this as our first product in the coming year. You can see the prototype in the flesh at SPQR Pizzeria which opened in October.

 

White Suede Emporium by Ha. Photo by Ben Mcgee | Yellowtrace

White Suede Emporium by Ha. Photo by Ben Mcgee | Yellowtrace
White Suede Emporium (2014). Photography by Ben Mcgee.
The flagship store for the Melbourne based fashion entity is a sequence of fine, suspended steel hanging devices, floating in a world of white.

White Suede / Myer by Ha. Photo by Dan Hocking | Yellowtrace
White Suede Myer (2016). Photography by Dan Hocking.
Continuing the language established for the Emporium Store, we have adapted the concept to create a ‘kit of parts’ for Myer Australia. The components facilitate both a functional and decorative means to display the White Suede clothing and accessories range, in a flexible sequence of components. The hanging racks can be connected in varying configurations allowing the tenancies to be altered in traffic flow and configuration, creating interest and surprise amongst the repetition of department store layouts.

 

Let’s Get Real:

+What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

Starting an architecture practice.

+What rules do you live by?

Do it once and do it properly.

+Your most treasured belonging?

My record collection.

+What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

Rainbow Serpent Festival changed my life.

+It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Wearing socks under my Birkenstocks!

 

Autonomy Emporium by Ha. Photo by Ben McGee | Yellowtrace

Autonomy Emporium by Ha. Photo by Ben McGee | Yellowtrace
Autonomy Emporium (2014). Photography by Ben Mcgee.
The design is a response to the current fragility of the retail industry. The store investigates the potential to pre-fabricate a modular ‘kit of parts’ facilitating a demountable retail presence that can be relocated and re-appropriated to suit a future tenancy.

 


[Images courtesy of Ha – Architecture, Product and Environment. Photography credits noted.]

 

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor
Google+

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

4 Responses

  1. Brenda Calder

    What a fantastic interview really enjoyed the read and would use Nick Harding in a heart beat.

    Reply
  2. Fran Hale

    Our friends at Ha! We have been lucky to work with Nick and his ‘lean mean team’. Certainly a super talented and super lovely bunch. Great interview.

    Reply

Leave a Reply