Can you please curate your JRF edit (approx 12-14 products)?
As the Director of Bates Smart, you have certainly worked on some incredible projects over the years. Tell us about your career up to this point, how did you begin your career in design?
My career began in a small start-up with two fellow graduates from Victoria University School of Architecture & Design in Wellington, New Zealand. We worked on predominately private residential, hospitality and theatre design projects. We learnt how to generate work when it wasn’t there and were fed opportunities through supportive ex-lecturers. This allowed me to create a small portfolio of built work and move to Australia where I have been lucky to work with some extraordinary design talent.
Working at such an established and respected studio such as Bates Smart, will always present a wide variety of quality projects that demand the highest levels of excellence and innovation. It’s a very supportive environment where there exists a genuine dedication to create world class work.
My design approach is humanistic at its core, influenced by my initial undergraduate studies in Ancient History and the way in which culture and the built environment is intrinsically linked. Understanding your client and listening deeply is key to the success of any project.
Mark, you have worked on some of Australia’s best healthcare projects including the Royal Children’s Hospital, Bendigo Hospital, and the Gandel Wing at Cabrini Hospital. Can you give us some insight into how this sector has evolved over the years?
The healthcare sector is in desperate need to make clinical spaces more human centric but at the same time more efficient to mitigate increasing cost pressures across the sector. The pandemic has demanded we think more critically about how we manipulate space to ensure staff and patients are safer, and their psychological wellbeing is prioritised. It’s encouraging to see ideas of salutogenesis and biophilia, ideas we have been promoting for many years, become central in design briefs.
Where do you see opportunities in the market to further improve the current health and aged care offering from a design and functionality perspective?
Hospitals are expensive to build but even more expensive to operate. The more we as designers consider the life cycle of products, modularity, flexibility, and the quality of detailing and material selection, we will reduce the financial burden hospitals continually face, diverting critical funds to the services and people who perform them.
As you know, we recently partnered with Helen Kontouris to create a new health and aged care focused furniture collection, Aplos. You have been with us on the journey since prototype days. What advice did you give us when we began working on this collection?
I very much enjoyed meeting Helen early in the Aplos’ development. Our initial discussions focused on the idea of how a range of furniture should enhance the dignity of the patients who will use it, detailing and materiality that embodies both a sense of joy, comfort and craft, elements too often found lacking in healthcare furniture.
How important does the role of furniture play in the health and aged care sector?
The quality of our healthcare and aged care system speaks volumes about who we are as a society, notwithstanding the recent issues that have plagued the Aged Care sector, the State funded healthcare system is considered world leading. I believe we as design practitioners have had a role in that success.
Furniture has and always will play an important role in the sector because it is the object which patients, staff and families encounter the most. Well-designed furniture can transform the hospital experience and increase the dignity of all. Some great examples of this are the work which Pearson & Lloyd did with the NHS in the UK. The sector is ripe for a thoughtful, design led revolution.
What is your favourite piece from the Aplos collection and where can you see it being applied?
My favourite piece is the element from which the range is built, The Village Ottoman with its slightly angled expressed leg touching the ground with a soft half round establishes the language of the entire range. From that a series of well-proportioned series of layers and backing elements are applied to great effect, allowing for a multitude of configuration.
Can you give us an insight to any exciting projects you are working on this year?
Yes, 2022 began with some very exciting wins in the healthcare sector in both our Victoria and NSW studios. We were successful with the Frankston Hospital PPP bid with the Exemplar Health Consortium and the Royal Prince Alfred Design Excellence competition with HINSW. Our ongoing design leadership role on the New Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide and the near completion of the Tweed Valley Hospital will ensure this sector remains an important arm of Bates Smart’s offer.
The Australian Embassy in Washington, USA, Melbourne’s first ‘Home’ build to rent project, Walmer Apartments for Salta Properties and a boutique family investment C&D Capital fitout in Cremorne, are all in construction and on track for successful completion this year.
Now for some quick-fire questions:
What is the most treasured piece of furniture you own?
I designed a circular dining table just before the birth of our first child in 2011, its 1600mm diameter and dark stained oak mimicked a table at my wife’s family beach house in NZ, a treasured place for us. It has been the centrepiece of our small family of 4 here in Melbourne, comfortably accommodating us, as well as many larger gatherings. It is beginning to build a palimpsest of wear and tear, a beautiful marking of our life together.
Favourite international city and why?
Paris, I’ve been extremely lucky to see this city from the inside out and from many different perspectives. As always, it’s who you experience a city with that brings a certain richness of place.
Local and international design icons and why?
I have always been drawn to designers who have a singularity or simplicity to their work and always seen to be searching for the essence of something, whether that be a certain spatial, detail or material quality. Glenn Murcutt and John Pawson.
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