5 Minutes with Contreras Earl Architecture’s Monica Earl

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In the lead-up to Urbanity, on August 3-5 at The Star on the Gold Coast, The Urban Developer sat down with Contreras Earl Architecture director Monica Earl to discuss the firm’s business model and approach to design and placemaking, as the importance of conferences such as Urbanity.

Earl will join Cottee Parker’s Angelo Di Marco and Theresa Bower of Burrundi Design Studio as part of a panel discussion on building lasting and culturally significant places, Thursday, August 4.

How has Contreras Earl Architecture established and maintained such a successful business model?

“We believe that architecture should evolve with technology and challenge conventional form-making. It is my belief that every building has the power to enhance or detract from its setting; to harm or improve the city. 

“Buildings and precincts must adapt to increasingly complex parameters if they are to improve our environments for people and for the planet. 

“At Contreras Earl Architecture we work at the intersection of architecture, urbanism, landscape and interiors. Through research and observation of patterns in nature we are able to create site-specific solutions to each project brief. 

“We are inspired by the form follows function geometries in nature and through the use of advanced technologies we aim to instil the richness and beauty of the natural world into the architecture. 

“It is through the use of advanced software, robotics, materials and construction processes that we are liberated from traditional building practices and forms, and free to explore these more creative and avant-garde ideas.” 

During your time with Contreras Earl Architecture what existing project best represents the firm?

We are often asked the question about our preferred project typology. As a practice we believe that it is not about the scale of the project but the scale of the ambition of the project. 

“When ‘The Living Coral Biobank’ brief presented itself to us, we recognised a project that was incredibly motivating to us as designers.

The Biobank will be a ‘coral ark’ containing all 800 species of hard coral from around the world, along with their algal and bacterial symbionts. 

“This purpose-designed facility aims to secure the biodiversity and long-term survival of the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs worldwide. 

“While the corals are the ‘primary user’ of the Biobank, our ambition is also to create a beacon for environmental awareness.”   

Two recently completed Australian development that has impressed you?

The Phoenix Central Park Gallery’ in Chippendale in Sydney for its innovative and playful use of brickwork. It is an interesting building typology (a visual and performing arts space) to find in a side street at the city fringe. 

I think the success of the project is also a result of a successful collaboration of two architecture practices and an art philanthropist, you can see many robust design moves have been rigorously thought through.

The Punchbowl Mosque’ by Angelo Candalepas is one of those timeless pieces of architecture that embodies a permanence due to the significance of the brief and the striking formal outcomes. 

Within the central dome the monolithic form is both heavy and light, with the cast in-situ concrete construction giving the feeling of the spaces being carved and sculpted on site.

A recently completed international development that has impressed you?

The Shed by Diller Scofidio and Renfro in New York for its flexibility of program. The building is designed as a piece of infrastructure rather than as a conventional building. 

Its ability to adapt to different scales and functions makes it future-proof while there are some permanent spaces (galleries and rehearsal spaces) the unique part of the building is the movable outer shell that allows the building to expand and contract adapting to large-scale performance events and installations.

An inspiring book, research paper you’ve read recently or presentation you’ve attended?

Antoine Picon’s book ‘The Materiality of Architecture’. In our practice we combine emerging technologies with the traditional practices of hand sketching and model-making, and we find a synergy in the parallel use of the traditional analogue tools with digital tools. 

Picon’s book highlights that computer-based design methods are not at odds with more traditional practices, but that the technology allows new ways to control material resources.”

Why do you think it is important to have conferences like Urbanity?

As we put the most recent challenge – the pandemic behind us, the bigger problems like climate change and mass migration will not go away until we make some strategic and collective changes to our lifestyle, and our lifestyles are shaped by the urban condition in which we live. 

Any attempt to solve these big issues requires collective participation, and it is through conferences like this where a diverse array of industry professionals from the built environment can come together to create a dialogue for change and to find ways to collectively heal our current practices of living.

Of the vast array of speakers presenting at Urbanity who are you most looking forward to hearing from?

I am looking forward to hearing from Adelene Teh about the visionary development Sth Bnk in Melbourne. It is great to see developers such as Beulah commissioning such ambitious projects and introducing world-class buildings by leading international practices such as UNStudio to the Australian urban context.

A building of that scale is really a piece of infrastructure which has the ability to shape the culture of a city. From the designs I have seen the buildings will incorporate public spaces with nature and cultural programmes, bringing so much more than just private residential programme.

Join us as Urbanity brings together an unrivalled roster of the industry’s best developers, architects, place-makers, innovators and property professionals. 

Urbanity is a must-attend event for anyone that is involved in the development of cities and regions.