Williams Burton Leopardi cleverly dovetail architecture with interiors, inventively weaving together the micro and macro in every project.
SOMETIMES A CITY finds the architects it deserves and vice versa. There is something in the philosophy of Williams Burton Leopardi around the intersections of memory and context, heritage and contemporary life, external form and interior space, that is very much at home in Adelaide. The founder of the long-established South Australian practice, Robert Williams retired in 2015 leaving the business with two directors, architect David Burton and interior designer Sophia Leopardi.
“We nd clients respond to having both the interiors and architecture considered in tandem. It means we can deliver a cohesive design vision that ensures a building works for the rituals of daily life,” says Sophia Leopardi. It wasn’t always this way. “While we were constantly collaborating across disciplines it took a review of our most successful projects to see clearly how integrated thinking from the outset produced better results,” she says. The micro and macro dovetail, such as when a client wanted to retain a much-loved dining table, which they related structurally to a door opening, or how materials weave from inside to out connecting the two spaces.
Another example is a residential development project at Bowden, ve minutes from Adelaide’s CBD. Instead of the usual cookie-cutter approach to off-the-plan apartment interiors, WBL opted for a term coined by the practice, “elegant frugality”, which used form ply in a generous and strategic way to visually link split levels. Aimed at a young demographic, the creation of thoughtful moments, such as a stair tread doubling as casual seating, or a logical place to position the TV, re ects how people like to live and so held great appeal for the target audience.
But much of the work WBL undertakes, with skill and sensitivity, is with Adelaide’s many heritage buildings in the residential, commercial and hospitality sectors. Their awardwinning Base64, a co-working space for start-ups in Kent Town, is the brainchild of technology entrepreneur Simon Hackett, who bought the rambling series of four buildings including a signi cant 1865 residence called Wavertree. The impressive bluestone and sandstone buildings had a number of identities over the years, including a theological college and a TV production studio, each contributing unfortunate and ill-conceived additions. “Much of what we did was peel away the generic of ce space divisions and impose a restraint, a clarity of vision and rational order over what remained,” says Burton. The clients clearly loved the property’s history but saw that it needed to perform with 21st-century functionality, such as integrating communal space into the scheme and providing private working areas. The central courtyard is pivotal to the design and the kitchen with its outdoor access and rich materials palette makes it the perfect place to hang out.
One of the most inventive examples of their work is at Iberia, a spanish restaurant co-owned by chef Andrew Douglas. With no room for a standard tapas solution, the integrity of the site’s original stone wall adds a robust energy to the venue matched by WBL’S insertion of a formed concrete bar, tinted a dusty pink, which reads as an enormous sculpture. Upstairs, in the restricted width of 4.5 metres, a commercial kitchen and seating for 20 tables are housed under a rhythmic canopy of formed oak dowelling. “One food critic said it reminded him of the rib cage of a sh,” reports Leopardi.
A growing number of residential clients are recognising WBL’S willingness to explore their needs and deliver a solution that, while filtered by their expertise, speaks to the client’s lifestyle and aesthetic aspirations. “We learned from Rob Williams, who had a disarming manner and would get clients to talk about themselves in a way that felt unselfconscious and genuine. That was always his starting point and we have made it ours,” says Leopardi. designbywbl.com.au
“We find clients respond to having both the interiors and architecture considered in tandem.”