Element Of Surprise
Words Gillian Serisier
In Brisbane, Hogg and Lamb is carving out a new vernacular in residential and commercial design. You'll find the studio's touch on houses and hospitality venues across the city.
Architects Michael Hogg and interior designer Greg Lamb have followed quite different career trajectories - Hogg steadily working his way up the ranks of Donovan Hill through its merger to become BVN, Lamb dipping in and out of architecture and interior design fields for the same multidisciplinary 20-year period. Crossing paths at Donovan Hill the pair worked on projects together but, with the merger, they each saw their roles being concreted in a direction that didn't appeal: "We both ended up on bigger and bigger projects and there wasn't really the connection with the clients that we liked. And there also wasn't an investment in getting a surprisingly good project at the end," says Hogg. Indeed, "a surprisingly good project" became the ideal upon which they founded their new practice.
To some extent the push to start Hogg and Lamb was accidental. At the time, BVN wasn't set up to take on a residential project that Donovan Hill had in the pipeline. Hogg knew he was leaving and asked if he could take the project. Meanwhile, Lamb was weighing up a few job offers. "Don't take either of those offers, start up with me instead," was Hogg's suggestion.
Hogg and Lamb's starting point was simple: a low overhead practice with really good small projects where both would be hands-on. Plans, however, are never that straightforward: "We said at the start, we were only going to do really small projects. But the second project we did was way bigger than [intended]," says Hogg.
The work that followed has been a mix of residential and commercial with a hefty portfolio of hospitality, though there has been very little of the signature to their work. Instead, with Hogg taking the design lead on residential and Lamb that of commercial, the to-and-fro has ensured each project answers the site, requirements, and that "surprisingly good" element. Moreover, there is a devil's advocate role for each, with Hogg defending the architectural side and Lamb the experiential. "We are a good pair, I think, in that we don't have the same approach to things. We like to really argue about things," says Hogg, with Lamb (surprisingly) agreeing: "We have a lot of discussions about how the project is developing, what our ideas are for that project. And then we spend a fair bit of time arguing about whether or not the direction that's going in is the right one."
In terms of their residential work, each project starts with what the client likes. "We don't try to force an aesthetic on clients. They usually come to us with a few ideas and they know what they what they like," says Hogg. J&J Residence, for instance, started with a simple client statement: 'I like rammed earth'. To this end, the house is designed around a giant central wall of rammed earth. Conversely, other clients approach the firm with Pinterest boards filled with ideas. Either way, the pair see the client's vision as a solid starting point. "It's rare that clients come to us with no idea about what they like. And there's enough things to work out on a project without trying to fight the client," says Hogg.
Their commercial work is similarly well conceived with the spatiality and flow of interior architectural intent forming the basis of each project. The client ideal however is treated a little differently: "There's a tendency for people to design places that they want to go to, which is not what we're trying to do. We're trying to find out what the idea of the project is and who it's aimed at, and make sure that everything works for that," says Lamb.
With hospitality, they both acknowledge the role of fashion. "We talk about what's fashionable, and the requirements for fashion. My impression of standard architectural approach is to deny fashion, and say, everything should be timeless," says Lamb, who points out that this doesn't really work for restaurants that need a certain 'now' quality. Instead, the base material layer is high quality while the paint and loose elements, such as furnishings and upholstery are immediate and easily replaced.
Since starting together in 2016 the studio has grown to accommodate larger projects and collaborate when needed. The main tenet of remaining close to the actual design work, however, has stayed true. "It doesn't really matter how big we get, we just want to make sure that every project is surprisingly good - and that we don't get caught up in going to meetings all day and not being involved in projects," says Lamb. Hogg adds: "I still draw on a drawing board. That's the favourite part of my day."
Named with tongue firmly in cheek (as Lamb says, "If it doesn't work out we could go into smallgoods!"), Hogg and Lamb has been awarded architectural prizes as Ham and Lamb without missing a beat. "One thing that's characteristic of Michael and I working together is, we do like things to be funny." Even so, it's a humour that comes from being both very smart and very comfortable with who they are, both as individuals and as a practice. It is also indicative of the shared mindset that propelled them to step out of the generally accepted career paths towards a new paradigm in measuring success, and then some.
Left to right, Michael Hogg and Greg Lamb, photo: courtesy of Hogg and Lamb.
Above: Tillerman restaurant, Brisbane, featuring timber 'rooms' which float within the layout, photo: Cieran Murphy.
Indesign Issue #90