A winning formula of science and art is the catalyst for a design aesthetic that’s pure chemistry.
Sue Carr’s design aesthetic combines science and art.
I WAS AWARE that Sue Carr, principal of Melbourne practice Carr, was a pioneer before I met her. What I didn’t realise was on how many fronts she challenged the status quo and how her multidisciplinary office has been forged out of her determination and clarity of thought. A scientist who, driven by curiosity, jumped university courses midstream to take up interior design at RMIT, Carr’s educational background ensures the place of logic, of an interest in how fixings work and of construction techniques and the architectural expression of materials. This was contrary to the perception of what interior design entailed. “Then, design’s defining role was seen as selecting the curtains and cushions,” she says. Her lifelong ambition has been to raise the profile of good design in interior spaces. “For me the concept behind any project does not delineate between inside and outside, interior and exterior – it is the whole that is most crucial – the light, the spaces, the feel, the materiality.”
Now the practice, which launched its architecture division in 2002, is able to control all these aspects within the one project, and she talks with feeling about how an empty space, before it is furnished, should deliver an uplifting experience through the fall of light, interplay of materials, flow of space, and sensation of air and breezes. This absence of things may seem contrary for someone trained in interior design but her aesthetic has always been powered by the architectural.
The rigour, applied to spatial and architectural concerns, is equalled by that devoted to furniture choices. In the 70s when her friends were sitting in balloon-backed pink velvet Victorian-style chairs, she was importing Eames chairs from the US as her dining chairs. The honesty of their exposed structure and lightweight aluminium frame combined with comfort and functionality appealed to Carr and she still looks to these timeless qualities for all her interior pieces. “I have been going to Milan furniture fair since it started and am always on the lookout for what will become an important piece of furniture in time. It is our modus operandi – we are discerning,” she explains. This discernment, this distillation of taste, is matched by a drive for the business to be at the forefront of technology. She quotes the late US architect Philip Johnson who said: “Great technologies breed great architecture.” Carr cut her teeth with a couple of groundbreaking projects in the early 90s that were avant-garde at the time – an automated, tellerless bank branch in Sydney’s Chatswood and the Australian Securities Exchange in Melbourne, which revolutionised trading with its first-ever LED digital display board and touch-screen terminals.
Never one to overplay her hand, she is a purist in that materials, and their interactions, are not disguised but celebrated and interior design decisions are there to support the integrity of the structure. Carr has developed an aesthetic that is entirely of her own making, while at the same time training consecutive generations of architects and designers who, while absorbing her ethos give it their own handwriting. This ensures the language of the practice evolves and every solution is bespoke and every idea is explored, as the two streams of the business work hand-in-hand towards 21st-century outcomes.
In a fast-paced world where clients need a deep understanding of new ways of accommodating workforce engagement, levels of luxury in hospitality or residential towers that deliver a quality of life that engages with nature, Carr is aware of the value an integrated approach brings. With interior design no longer the “poor cousin” and a greater dialogue between the two disciplines, she sees this as a positive for clients. “With the architectural division concentrating on location, context and planning and the interiors team on the experience of the internal spaces we can ensure an entirely seamless experience,” says the interior designer. carr.net.au
Her lifelong ambition has been to raise the profile of good design in interior spaces.