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Video: Architecture with Brennan Cooper from Burling Brown


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James sits down with Brennan Cooper from Burling Brown to talk all things Architecture.

In this interview James and Brennan chat about:

  • The differences between draftsmen, architects and landscape architects
  • The training required to become an architect
  • The architecture process from start to finish
  • How the industry has changed with the focus on sustainability
  • Plus so much more!

Read on below for the full transcription of our interview:

– Good day everybody, James from here and today we are joined by Mr. Brennan Cooper. Brennan joins us from Burling Brown Architecture and we’re very happy to have you. Hello, Brennan, how are you?

– Good, thanks, James.

– I think we start off today by getting a little bit of an idea of your past, so if you could give us your CV in under one minute.

– Okay, so I’ve been in the industry now for eight years, I’ve basically worked throughout my university degree. Soon as I graduated I started working at Burling Brown Architecture. We mainly do educational work across the South East Queensland. The role that I’ve been performing over the last couple of years since getting registered has basically been project lead architect and also some project management.

– So a mixture of a couple of different roles.

– Definitely.

– Very good, so then in that mixture maybe we can explain some of the terminology. Because I think people will encounter different things as they’re researching and reading about what it is they need to get their journey started. So explain some terminology for me, Brenno, in the sense of what is a draftsman and what is an architect?

– Okay.

– What are the differences?

– So basically within an architectural firm that I work in there are a lot of different roles and a lot of different personnel. There’s obviously the architects themselves, but they’ll also need a lot of support staff obviously to help them along the way. It’s all about team work. So obviously we have the architect. A thing to remember when you’re an archi- to be an architect, you obviously need to graduate university with a Bachelor and a Master’s degree. Then there’s a process of working in the industry for a couple years after you graduated and then there’s a process then to obviously get registered and that includes some examinations. Only then and after you’ve been registered can you call yourself an architect. So that’s a architect. Then we’ve obviously got draftsmen within the office. They’re basically support staff to the architects and they do a lot of their computer works, so basically documenting up the designs from the architect themselves.

– So drawing the lines and the boxes and the measurements?

– As simple as that is, yeah.

– Oh, it’s not simple.

– That’s the support kind of that the draftsmen provides the architects.

– Okay and then the conceptualizing of design and then sort of working with the client side, is that the architect?

– Predominantly, yes, yeah.

– Okay understood, and then what is a building designer?

– So a building designer is, I guess separate to an architect themselves. They haven’t gone to university. They potentially have gone to university but they wouldn’t have necessarily the full degrees and graduated as a Bachelor and a Master’s and then gone on to be registered as an architect. They can have building design degrees including you could go to Tafe and also some universities, but yeah definitely worth remembering that there’s a difference between an architect and a building designer.

– What then is a landscape architect? Does that fall into your realm as well?

– So, I’m not qualified as a landscape architect per se. That is a separate qualification. We do landscape architecture. We can provide external kind of landscape kind of designs, but within Burling Brown we actually have a landscape architect and she obviously, we pass all of that external kind of works and our landscaping to her and she obviously really helps us out with that.

– Okay, so that member of the team would do the designing of, let’s say the lawns and the plants? Do they select the types of plants? What about water fountains?

– Definitely, yeah. Kind of the hardscapes do like the pavings and the footpaths and the structures we technically do those and then work together with our landscape architect and provide the landscaping areas and then Lisa, who works in our office, she’ll take those areas and work up kind of designs for landscaping and types of trees and shrubs and things like that.

– Okay, quickly on a definition then for some people at home might not know what that is. What is hardscape and softscape? What’s the difference between the two?

– I would classify hardscape as footpaths, driveways, external structures such as seats, benches, etc. And then softscapes would be your vegetation, so your grasses, your garden beds, your trees, veg.

– So the trick’s in the name.

– Yes, yes.

– Hardscape, softscape.

– Basically yeah, yeah.

– Understood, so then she’s got, or that member has got qualifications to be a landscaper.

– As a landscape architect, yeah.

– ‘Cause I assume they need to understand plants and water and things that help plants grow.

– Correct, yes, yeah. She’s got a background in horticulturalism anyway. That’s obviously helped her down that path where she’s at in her experience.

– Fantastic. So, what drove you then to be an architect? What drove you down the crazy path of architecture?

– It is a crazy path. I guess personally I’ve been on job sites since I was a little boy, kind of thing. Growing up my dad was a land surveyor so working on roads to houses. I’ve basically always been on job sites and got to see houses get built in front of me and just always thought that I’d want to be the one drawing them up and designing them for one day that other people could live in or use.

– That’s a really nice story actually cause we were similar. The smell of a building site for me is very personal because we grew up always going to visit the building site when we were kids.

– Yup.

– What are the different disciplines then in architecture?

– The different disciplines are really widespread. Obviously you have your standard as residential market. There’s the commercial market and then even within the commercial market there’s obviously retail, there’s health, there’s education. The list kind of goes on and on.

– Health, education, for those taking notes at home. I’m taking notes now. Industrial? Does that fall under-

– That would be potentially another whole industry, discipline.

– Explain then, if you can, what type of architecture you guys specialize in at Burling Brown.

– Yeah, so Burling Brown, we’re predominantly in the commercial discipline. More so than none, basically it’s education building. So a lot of the schools around southeast Queensland. We have well returning clients that come back to us year and year again. It’s a pretty interesting and a really fulfilling kind of relationship and role that we have working with all of these schools and providing new spaces for the kids to obviously interact and learn in.

– And they’re long term jobs, right? ‘Cause it’d be very rare that they finish quickly.

– Obviously the standard time process with a job, I’d say, a building can take up to say a year to get built, again depending on the size and what’s involved. Obviously there’s the building side of it, but before then there’s potentially 12 to 18 months of design work and approvals.

– Like anything, if you do your work up front, like if you’re buying a house you do your research up front. Then it becomes a simpler process as the building begins, but it’s never simple because there’s always something complicated. But the more prepared you are, the better you can tackle those challenges.

– Yeah, definitely and obviously we’ve built up a rapport and an experience with all of these clients that we have in these schools and the experience we have, we understand that there’s pretty similar buildings over and over again.

– We’ve had a couple of questions from members in the group about the process of when an architect is engaged to when they’re sort of off the job and when they’re completed, can you explain the process for us from start to finish?

– Okay it’s a very lengthy process. I’ll try and keep it short. Basically the client will give us a call. They’ve basically got a project in mind. We go out and see them. Obviously, for instance with our schools, they’ve already got the land basically there. Whether it’s a greenfield site, so obviously there’s no building there, or whether there’s a building already there and we’re gonna refurb it or we’re gonna knock it down and build a new building. Then obviously we have meetings with the client. They provide us with a brief. We go away and do a schematic design or a sketch design and that’s the start of the process. Then there’s design and development after schematic design. Throughout that process we obviously need to go to the counsel and get any approvals. Then consultants start coming onboard and we kick off into documentation and we work up to a point where documentation is finalized basically for the construction and we go out to tender. We get a couple of builders depending on the process we’re going through. Whether it’s, with some of our school buildings there’s a funding element from the government so there’s obviously regulations down that path of how many builders need to tender it.

– What their history is and they’re reliable.

– Exactly, so then there’s the tender process. Obviously then we get prices from builders. We access those prices, take them to the client, and a decision is made on which builder is selected. Start on site, and then we become more of an advisory kind of a roll. Whether that’s contract administration, we administer the contract between the client and the builder or whether we kind of work as an advisory to our project manager already on the project.

– So that project management I think you mentioned before.

– Yup.

– When you do that sort of role, what part of the process would you enter from the project management side?

– Basically starting on site, finishing up the tender process and the pricing and then starting on site.

– When construction starts. Then if the client wants to make changes, they, I would assume, have to incorporate the entire team if they’ve gotten to the building approval stage. Is that right or you guys are still in there pretty much to the end?

– Yeah, basically we’re always there til the end. It depends on the change, obviously, but any change to a building has potential implications in terms of design, cost, time, basically. Once the builder’s on site, these changes need to go through a process.

– Beautiful. Okay, and when it’s completed, it’s completed. And then onto the next one.

– Yeah, usually. There is usually, but there’s a defects liability period with every new build. Within that period, we obviously still stay in contact with both the client and the builder so if anything was to, any item or material to become defective in that period then that’s obviously still the responsibility for the builder to come and rectify that. That’s usually a 12 month period after the completion date.

– When you were learning about your craft, I can only assume that sustainability started to rear its head as an important element of design. Then there was a question put to us of how has architecture changed with the focus shift to sustainability? Has it started to shift or how do you guys try and incorporate those types of designs?

– Yeah, it definitely is shifting. It’s probably a slower process than everyone had obviously hoped for and anticipated. We are incorporating at a very basic level with solar panels and water harvesting and for instance like water tanks.

– On to the advisory side of things. I thought I’d ask you what it’s like more if anybody wanted to be a budding architect, so they’ve grown up on site with their old man as well. Now they’ve decided that that’s the kind of thing they want to do. What’s the job kind of like? What’s it like to work as an architect and what advice can you give for anyone considering becoming an architect?

– I guess, you’ve obviously really got to want to be an architect to be an architect. It’s not probably an easy process and an easy journey to go down. I find it extremely rewarding. I love my job, I love what I do. I love being able to provide buildings to kids and to people and to homeowners, etc. It’s amazing, but yeah, you definitely need to know that this is what you want to do. Definitely do some research and even go and sit in an architect’s office. I remember I did some work experience when I was at school and that was pretty incredible and gave me that extra little kick that this is what I wanted to do. It’s in no way an easy path, but it is rewarding at the end of the day.

– I remember I did work experience in an architect’s office as well. I think it was in year nine and I ended up putting labels on every single thing in the office. I got removed within two days because I’d labeled the cups and the laptops and the computers, the cutlery, everything got a label.

– No wonder you got kicked out.

– I got shot, but that’s all right. Yeah fine, old man was over the moon with the result. He couldn’t believe that I’d wasted that $2,000 for the labels. Anyway, I’d really enjoy being an architect. I wish I did it. What would your tips be then for people selecting an architect? So they’re going to that point now they want to do a new home or new structure. What would you recommend would be three key parts to selecting your architect?

– Definitely I guess the first is the project you’re undertaking. Are you undertaking a house? Is it a school building, for instance? Is it a church, is it a shopping center? Then the architect needs to be, more than likely have experience in that discipline. I’d say and that would be number one. Potentially number two, I still think there’s a level of relationship with an architect and a client. I think you need to be able to have a good rapport with them, be on the same level, and being able to communicate a design brief from say a client themself and me, the architect, being able to interpret that into the design form on a piece of paper that can obviously get built.

– ‘Cause things can change and people’s opinions can change. So it’s always good, we try to teach building relationships is incredibly important especially when looking for property because hopefully if you’ve built a good enough rapport with an agent in your local area then they’ll call you when there’s an off market opportunity that other people wouldn’t be able to get.

– Yeah.

– So it sort of seems to be the trend across the board that building relationships with people, doing your research, making sure you know what type it is you want, and know what type of building and type of project you want.

– Yup.

– And then checking on the experience of that architect and making sure that they’ve got the track record.

– Yup, definitely.

– What is then I suppose, in closing, what is the final principle that is stuck with you or what is one experience that has stuck with you on your eight or so year journey now that you’d like to share?

– There’s a lot of experiences. But I guess, basically in reflection I would just say that for me every day is different. I’m learning something new. I have been here for eight years but I’m definitely not the same person I was six months ago. I’m so much better off, a better say architect or a project manager than I was. I’m learning something new every day and while the process is potentially still the same in the procurement of these buildings, there’s always variables and there’s always different relationships and new things popping up around the corner.

– Well, thank you very much for your time, Brennan. It was very insightful. If you want to see the full interview, make sure you go to the mrkts Property Hub on Facebook. I look forward to talking to you soon and thank you very much for your time.

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