She may be the director of an award-winning architecture firm, but humble Mel Bright still sees herself as an emerging designer: “Building a practice and good reputation takes time – each project takes about two years so seven years go by very quickly. For me, I’m still very much an emerging designer, which is all about thinking big, finding a life balance and working hard.”
The founder of MAKE Architecture, Mel and her team of four work primarily in residential. With more of an interest in process and approach rather than style, the outcome of all their projects is driven by the client’s brief and the site itself.
“A site-specific response is an important starting point for us,” says Mel. “This happens at the scale of the city and also at the smaller scale of the specific site context. Much of the work we do is renovations to existing residential buildings in Melbourne so the existing heritage of the house plays an important role in forming our design response.”
Believers in quality not quantity, MAKE focus on the way buildings can make our lives better, an idea that is particularly evident in their award-winning project, House Reduction. The first project that saw them gain national recognition, House Reduction was a novel idea that saw the interior of the house actually be reduced in size. “The brief was to help this family remain living in the inner city but give them a larger garden,” explains Mel. “So we removed their 80s extension and rebuilt that part of the house in a much more efficient way. The idea being that maybe we can design smarter rather than larger.”
The property also comprised another of their projects, Little Brick Studio; a studio garage at the rear of the site. MAKE didn’t stop there, also designing the landscape and the pool to create an integrated overall design concept, something which Mel believes is pivotal when creating a home.
“I always feel disappointed if the landscape’s not done at the same time as the rest of the project. I don’t understand how you can have a beautiful house but then look out onto a patch of dirt and broken fences. So we are really trying to push our clients to finish the project and that’s not just finishing the architecture and the interior but finishing the landscape as well.”
With many projects in the pipeline, Mel is particularly excited about a house and studio in St Kilda and house in Balaclava. Here they are exploring some new materials, as well as having to work within the tight parameters of a site that has two huge trees which are in the way of the planned extension. But it is this idea, of working with the site, rather than against it, that has always been MAKE’s approach, something they count as their niche.
“We believe good design shouldn’t just look good it should be useful and it should last,” she explains. “We also like the idea of process rather than style, of drawing on the materials and details in the existing house to inform our design response and reinterpreting and responding in a contemporary way.”
While MAKE have taken out the top prizes at the Houses Awards and the Think Brick Awards, Mel is most proud of the fact that she has done all of this while being a mother. “I am very proud that we have done all of this while I have juggled two small kids (now five and two) and that we manage to work sustainable working hours. I think it is so important in our industry that we strive to achieve excellence within sustainable working hours and with a work life balance!”