A strong sense of em­pa­thy drives Nick To­bias to seek in­ven­tive so­lu­tions for his clients’ projects.

Belle - - Who R I Ght Now - Por­trait DAVE WHEELER Words KAREN MCCART­NEY

AR­CHI­TECT NICK TO­BIAS is a man of many men­tors – while some are family mem­bers, oth­ers he had the in­stinct to seek out. Each has shaped the man he is to­day and, as a re­sult, the work To­bias Part­ners now pro­duces. “While my home life as a child was quite tu­mul­tuous, my glam­orous French grand­mother was a con­stant cre­ative force. She ed­u­cated me in art and mu­sic – not only how to look and lis­ten – but also how to make it. We did a lot of craft projects to­gether,” he says.

This was twinned with the in­flu­ence of his god­fa­ther, ar­chi­tect Pro­fes­sor Victor Berk whom the teenage To­bias would ac­com­pany on site vis­its in Berk’s Lam­borgh­ini. “The build­ing sites were like Lego on steroids for me with their cranes and trucks, and so when any­one asked, I said I wanted to be an ar­chi­tect,” says To­bias.

At the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales he chose the revered and for­mi­da­ble ar­chi­tect Neville Gruz­man, at the tail end of his teach­ing ca­reer, as a tu­tor and ab­sorbed valu­able prac­tices that still in­form his work to­day. “Gruz­man wanted to im­bue us with his pro­cesses, his prin­ci­ples and phi­los­o­phy. It was very much about per­fect­ing func­tion­al­ity be­fore form was con­sid­ered.”

Bal­ance these in­flu­ences with a stint work­ing for Bur­ley Ka­ton Hal­l­i­day in the ’90s with its dis­ci­plined ap­proach, and a worldly ed­u­ca­tion pro­vided by Mel­bourne in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor John Coote who men­tored To­bias in clas­si­cal in­te­ri­ors and ar­chi­tec­ture. “We trav­elled to the UK, France, Italy and New York and his per­spec­tive opened my eyes to these deep con­nec­tions be­tween art, ar­chi­tec­ture, pol­i­tics, so­ci­ety and ur­ban de­sign. It was like know­ing a com­puter code that I could reap­ply in a con­tem­po­rary way,” he re­calls. By un­der­tak­ing in­stal­la­tions, cat­walk de­signs for fash­ion shows and small in­te­rior projects his prac­tice grew, fast tracked by his choice of skilled and ca­pa­ble col­lab­o­ra­tors.

To­bias de­scribes his at­ti­tude to­wards his clients as one of ex­treme em­pa­thy, and the mix of projects he has un­der­taken show a di­ver­sity that is clearly client driven. With new builds, such as a house on a steep site in Syd­ney’s Whale Beach or the re­gen­er­a­tive re­use of a church as a re­tail space there is a cer­tain re­straint at play. “With the Whale Beach House we wanted to de­con­struct the five storeys so that it dis­ap­peared in the land­scape, whereas with Par­lour X in the church we were there to fa­cil­i­tate the dy­namic of the busi­ness, not as­sert an overly ar­chi­tec­tural pres­ence.”

Yet when it is ap­pro­pri­ate To­bias knows how to make a state­ment. His Went­worth House in Point Piper is de­scribed as a hig­gledy-pig­gledy as­sort­ment of build­ings set around a court­yard, that the client wanted co­a­lesced into a family home. “We cre­ated a sim­ple scheme to con­nect old and new el­e­ments with a cop­per roof which at once cre­ated a sense of unity while adding di­ver­sity through its asym­met­ric de­sign,” he says.

In­te­rior projects carry a great deal of weight in the prac­tice and one of the most finely cal­i­brated in re­cent times was the cel­e­brated restau­rant The Bridge Room in an art deco build­ing in Syd­ney. “[Own­ers] Ross and Sunny Lusted were in­volved ob­ses­sively with ev­ery nu­anced de­tail and as a prac­tice we em­brace that ap­proach as the best out­comes are of­ten achieved this way,” he says.

To­bias has a pas­sion for com­mu­ni­cat­ing the ben­e­fits of ar­chi­tec­ture, even judg­ing a TV show look­ing for Aus­tralia’s most beau­ti­ful home. “I wanted to ex­plain con­cepts such as sus­tain­abil­ity and dis­pel some archi-myths to a broad au­di­ence. If I had to take off my shirt and dive into a swim­ming pool to do it then so be it,” he adds. to­bi­as­part­

“It was very much about per­fect­ing func­tion­al­ity be­fore form was con­sid­ered.”

WHAT HAS IN­FORMED THE DE­SIGN OF YOUR STU­DIO? Sophia Leop­ardi: Our de­sign stu­dio is many things – it’s a sec­ond home, the place where the ma­jor­ity of our time is spent, a space to be in­spired and in­spire our clients and col­lab­o­ra­tors. We wanted it to re­flect our work and the val­ues that un­der­pin it. It’s where we cre­ate and we love it. WHAT INI­TIALLY AP­PEALED TO YOU ABOUT THE SITE OF YOUR STU­DIO AND WHAT DID THE AL­TER­ATIONS EN­TAIL? We had been search­ing for a space to more ac­cu­rately demon­strate our de­sign phi­los­o­phy, and the derelict 300sqm space in the 100-year-old State Her­itage­listed Dar­ling Build­ing, un­cov­ered on a walk to the pub, was an en­tic­ing op­por­tu­nity to work with a sto­ried build­ing and cre­ate our own. Past the pi­geon poo, wa­ter-stained walls and car­pets, the nat­u­ral light showed what was pos­si­ble and the more open floor plates on the lower lev­els showed how this could be en­hanced with the re­moval of some walls. We con­trasted the gritty, ex­posed build­ing fabric with care­fully de­tailed in­ser­tions and, with a lim­ited bud­get, the stu­dio was opened up to max­imise the won­der­ful light. Mod­est in­ser­tions of steel-framed glaz­ing, re­cy­cled 1920s par­ti­tions and found ob­jects set the scene, but it is not a sal­vaged aes­thetic. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE RE­QUIRE­MENTS FOR YOUR STU­DIO? David [Burton] and I share a sep­a­rate but con­nected workspace off the main stu­dio. We both have com­put­ers, nat­u­ral light and mu­sic. For my­self, I like to have but­ter pa­per and felt-tip pens, al­ways a selec­tion of ma­te­ri­als, scents (it’s got to smell good!), and some vis­ual in­spi­ra­tion – some­times a mag­a­zine, some­times a found ob­ject. For Dave, it’s his draw­ing board, Pan­tone pens, and trusty Luxo lamp. WERE THERE AS­PECTS OF YOUR RES­I­DEN­TIAL DE­SIGN PRAC­TICE THAT YOU AP­PLIED TO YOUR OF­FICE SPACE? We have rev­elled in the many res­i­den­tial al­ter­ations and ad­di­tions we have worked on over the years that have be­come the foun­da­tion of the stu­dio. Our stu­dio was a plat­form to demon­strate the rev­er­ence we have for his­tory, how this can be am­pli­fied and con­trasted with the new func­tion and story to come. Our strat­egy was to touch as lit­tle as pos­si­ble and as much as nec­es­sary. Re­pair was cel­e­brated, un­der­stand­ing that an ob­ject or space can be more beau­ti­ful for hav­ing been bro­ken. The flashes of gold through­out are a nod to the Ja­panese art of kintsugi. Our de­sign process is both in­ter­ac­tive and reclu­sive. In­spi­ra­tion can hap­pen at the most op­por­tune and ran­dom mo­ments and the plan­ning and

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