02/05/2012 - 11:00

Rattigan carves niche in social projects design

02/05/2012 - 11:00

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Rattigan carves niche in social projects design
WELLBEING: Kelly Rattigan has made her mark designing spaces for integrated social housing. Photo: Grant Currall

Kelly Rattigan was named the nation’s emerging architect by the Australian Institute of Architects last month but don’t let the title fool you.

Ms Rattigan has been operating her own architecture firm, Formworks, since 2001 and her portfolio of works has built up over time to move from residential extensions to include what she finds her most rewarding work – large-scale and innovative social projects.

She has been working for a long period on St Bartholomew’s House – a showpiece for integrated social housing and infrastructure in Western Australia, which is under construction in East Perth.

For those intrigued drivers who travel along Lord Street and wonder what the enormous structure is going to house, the $30 million Lime Street project will incorporate crisis-care housing, transitional care, long-term housing, dementia-specific aged care and mental health service providers.

When Ms Rattigan talks about the project she has been working on for several years, her niche is obvious.

 “The whole premise for the project is about creating an inner-city community that allows people at different stages of their recovery to be in one place,” she said.

“The idea of community is important to everybody but it is significantly more important to people who feel isolated by the fact they are homeless or have some kind of mental condition for which they require ongoing support.”

Ms Rattigan initially came across the project when she was lecturing at the University of Western Australia. The St Barts project, as it is affectionately known, was used as a case study for design students.

Formworks won the job when St Bartholomew’s House put the project out for tender.

“That was a real coup, to get that project at that scale, for our practice,” Ms Rattigan said.

“At the same time an architect I knew was retiring and wanted to find a younger architect who she could pass her current clients and existing projects to.

“Those two things happened at the same time and allowed the practice to grow from being mainly residential to being a commercial medium-sized practice dealing with larger clients.”

Formworks employs 9 people and Ms Rattigan is working on building a management base so that she can focus on design work, rather than managing the business as the sole director.

“There are a lot of things you need to have in place and establish before you can grow much bigger than that and to maintain the level of design and rigour to your work,” she said.

Clear project processes were the first foundation to be established in order to grow the business. This included outlining steps to follow when starting a new project and how Ms Rattigan wanted staff to interact with clients.

“Essentially, we are consultants servicing clients,” she said.

“A lot of the time architects get focused on the job itself and the client is left in the dark a bit. I think that is a complaint a lot of architects get, that communication breaks down a bit some times.

“It is something we try to stress to our staff, that it is an important relationship that needs to be managed properly.”

Other work has flowed from the St Barts project, with community organisations recognising Formworks’ experience in innovating solutions for not-for-profit organisations.

The firm has done work for Yaandina, a community services organisation in the Pilbara. It has the Yaandina Pilbara Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre and a frail-aged care centre on its books.

“It is quite specialised. There is not a lot of knowledge about these types of specialist facilities for indigenous clients,” Ms Rattigan said.

She said projects in the not-for-profit space were often for “interesting clientele with challenging projects”.

“You really need to get an in-depth understanding of their particular needs but I suppose I just enjoy designing for people that don’t typically get well-designed environments,” she said. 

“It is an area where they tend to miss out and the environments almost have more of an effect on their wellbeing.

“Working in those areas creates design opportunities that you wouldn’t normally have.”

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