2017 UQ Architecture lecture series: Welsh + Major

Welsh + Major is a New South Wales based architectural practice led by Chris Major and David Welsh started in 2004. Their work is described as having modernist sensibilities and the aim in their architecture is to design in such a way that is responsive and evolving rather than just reacting. This design ethos is demonstrated in a number of their works discussed, their projects range from small alterations and extensions, to public and commercial projects. All the projects are connected in the method of intervention of the new to the old. From each project they build on a body of work that grows in depth the quality of detailing and attention to the expression of the modern additions either contrasting or complementing the existing fabric. Their design embraces the beauty of the ordinary through the simple gestures and selection and use of materials.

History and memory are strong recurring themes in the works of Welsh + Major in part dealing with mostly heritage properties but also the notion of place making which resonates in their work. Particularly in their residential projects the idea of memory is integral to the life of a house and its story. Whether it be in the building itself or the landscaped spaces and the spaces in between, all are integral to creating that sense of place. Their approach to design termed as “modernish” is reflected in the material palate they work with, usually constraining themselves to a few simple materials, generally chosen for their robust qualities and detailed simply and sparingly but to a considered affect. Always designing for light and ventilation to enhance the spaces to allow users an appreciation of the materiality of these spaces.

There is a sensitivity needed when designing in an historical context but also ambition to make more of the existing building, respecting the building but also enhancing it to give the building a successful new future. How do we work with existing buildings and their fabric to further its use as well as acknowledging the its former life? That requires an understanding of the buildings weaknesses and strengths and not being afraid to change the things that do not work to better so new life can be breathed into the building but does not compromise the qualities of the old. Adaptive reuse must consider the social, economic and environmental impact of the design.

Protecting our architectural history and heritage is critical to preserving the memories of a city. There are always layers of history as a city grows, as things are pulled down and added to, this builds on the memories. The decision of what stays and what intervention should be undertaken can quite critical to the preservation of our built environment.