Currently based in Kuala Lumpur as one of the directors at BDA Architecture, Darren Greenaway is a registered architect in Queensland, Australia and Papua New Guinea. He has over 18 years of working experience in architectural practices and specialises in residential, mixed-use, mixed-density, hospitality, retail and complex design projects.
A director at BDA since 2007, Darren Greenaway has extensive experience as a project and design leader for urban, architectural and interior design projects, encompassing a wide range of building types including commercial; retail; residential; educational; hospitality; and mixed-use projects in Australia and abroad. He is experienced in the provision of tightly coordinated architectural and interior documentation packages.
At present, he is managing the Selangor studio and has been working in Malaysia for a number of years. He has been involved in projects in Australia, United Kingdom, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. He is currently leading a number of large-scale mixed-use and residential projects in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
You have previously practised architecture in Australia and are now based in Malaysia. What are some of the main differences in designing for projects in these countries?
As with working in any country, there are different rules and regulations, but they can be easily overcome. The main differences are cultural identities, weather conditions And construction methodologies. The building methodology in Malaysia is simpler and more traditional, which requires a different level of thinking and assembly. The subtropical environment and culture are what makes the country unique and influences the way you approach design. We—Australian architects—place a strong emphasis on placemaking and outdoor lifestyle. The indoor/outdoor lifestyle is not practised as commonly here due to the extreme heat and rain patterns. The approach here is more about a visual connection with the external environment rather than a physical connection.
Tell us more about your approach to design and managing clients’ expectations.
My approach to design is to achieve a concept of simplicity through a process of investigation, experimentation, collaboration and consultation. I have a passion for climate responsive designs and the development of new construction methodology. These principles are what drive me in creating unique buildings that respond to a client’s brief and needs. It is important to take the client on the journey with you and have open communication, which is the key to ensuring that their expectations are met.
Could you give an example of a successful project that you have led from inception to completion?
I was the project director for Sphere Residential Community—a large-scale, medium-density residential development on the Gold Coast. I was involved in the project from master planning stage to construction completion. It was a very exciting and rewarding project for our company, the client and myself. The aim of the project was to promote a mix of residential dwelling types and provide affordable housing for a mixed community that includes families, couples, students and seniors. Site constraints of topography as well as existing flora and fauna were seen as opportunities rather than limitations, and this allowed the buildings to be set within a predominantly open space setting of natural bushland and parklands.
This project was a good example of innovative design coupled with cost-effective solutions. The plan form was a linear-layered composition comprising small units, minimal floor plate and an efficient core and modular design. A simple hierarchy of materials; colour selection; expression of vertical and horizontal elements; passive design principles; and simple construction detailing resulted in a project of quality architecture, organisation, affordability and aesthetics. It was awarded Building of the Year for the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Coast Architecture Awards.
What do you think is a major strength of your design studio and how have you personally contributed towards its success?
A major strength of our design studio is our extensive experience and capacity to deliver innovative design solutions. We are an ideas-driven practice, and I believe that my ability to imagine and construct concepts is at the core of what we do. I believe that strong leadership, an open mind, a collaborative approach and a clear direction have all led to a successful design studio. These qualities, along with an intensive and rigorous process of analysis and synthesis, set our design studio apart.
Could you highlight an instance where a climate-responsive design was implemented and how sustainable design principles were incorporated for a project in Malaysia?
I believe that it is important to take a holistic sustainable approach that links the ecology of the building with the poetic dimensions of architecture. Key design principles—such as orientation and function; flexibility and lifespan; form and structure; heating and ventilation; and materiality—have a big impact on the energy use of a building. These key principles were all considered in Trousdale Mixed-Use Development in Selangor (this project has been shortlisted in this year’s World Architecture Festival Awards in the Commercial Mixed-Use – Future Projects category). The building form and orientation of the towers were used to maximise solar gain, views and shield from the harsh sunlight. The adaptation of passive design principles—such as sunshading, use of natural light, passive cooling and ventilation systems—assist in maximising users’ comfort and health. The incorporation of flexible spaces, communal sky gardens, as well as waste and water management all contributed to a climate-responsive design approach.
What do you think are the major challenges faced in managing the Kuala Lumpur Studio and by the building industry in Malaysia in general?
The design studio is at the core of architectural thinking. It is where we create, develop and evolve new architectural ideas. The ability to use these ideas in all projects can be challenging as the general market is accustomed to a more traditional and conservative approach. Our aim is to overcome this challenge with a more open and collaborative approach. Our studio philosophy is not based upon hierarchy, but on open plan. There are no wrong questions and open communication is the most important. This way of thinking and approach allows us to work through all challenges. Our aim is provide a viable design solution to benefit our clients and end users. If we can achieve an innovative approach that is cost-effective, then the challenge becomes easier. This is what we do and this is why we are architects. We are here to challenge ourselves and improve the built environment.
One of the biggest challenges facing the building industry in Malaysia is the availability of skilled tradespeople. Due to the rapidly growing development industry within Malaysia, it does not have the readily available local construction workforce to meet the demands. Its reliance upon the unskilled foreign workforce to fill the gap can often result in reduced quality in workmanship. This challenge also provides an opportunity to promote employment opportunities within the construction industry. More locals can be trained and educated to pursue careers as skilled tradespeople. This will provide more employment opportunities within Malaysia and assist in filling the gap in the supply of tradespeople. In Australia, tradespeople are highly respected and well paid. There should be no reason why this cannot be achieved through education in Malaysia.
What are the main objectives that you try to meet in every design?
The main objective in design is to make every effort to satisfy the client’s requirements—in terms of style, quality, sustainability, time, cost and innovation—while remaining abreast of current urban design and architectural thinking.
What principles are fundamental to your work ethos and culture?
I believe it is important to have diversity in our thought processes and attitudes towards delivering innovative projects. I do not have a certain style; I do not have fixed ideas, and my aim is to provide innovative designs based on good local knowledge and a cultural understanding with climatic and site response. It is important to take a strategic approach in ensuring long-term sustainability and quality in delivering any project.
What were some of the major accolades you have won and how have they motivated you?
Whilst we have received awards for architectural works, I tend not to focus on award recognition. I enjoy what I do and if the client and public enjoy the design as well, then that is rewarding enough. I am motivated by learning from past projects and seeking fresh ideas to develop new innovative projects.
What are your upcoming plans for 2016–2017?
I hope to work less and play more! I like food, sports, travelling and spending time with my family and friends. Family time is the most important—if this can be combined with working on interesting projects, it will make for a great year ahead.