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Design panel: Mark Rietveld

Design panel: Mark Rietveld

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Architect Mark Rietveld reflects on his 30-year design career, where he gets his inspiration and where Australian design needs to innovate.

Laura Valic

Editor

Director and Principal Architect at Rietveld Architects, which specialises in luxury residential design, Mark has over 30 years’ experience as a registered architect and is the creative mind behind some of Perth’s most awarded apartments and homes. He is passionate about tailoring designs to each client’s needs, with a down-to-earth approach that integrates the practicalities of home life with an unforgettable aesthetic. Mark credits his stepfather and mentor, the renowned architect and late Peter Overman, as being a significant source of professional inspiration.

Q: How has your personal history shaped who you are today?

Architecture tends to reside at the crossroads of fashion, art, and technology. As such, it is often about embracing new and emerging trends. That said, it is equally a profession influenced by our history and past personal experiences. In this way, our past tends to shape who we are as people today.

For me, having spent considerable time abroad, I’m aware that people live and enjoy life in many ways. Just as foods vary around the world, so does architecture. I feel appreciating these differences makes you a better designer and person.

Mark Rietveld, Director and Principal Architect at Rietveld Architects
‘Just as foods vary around the world, so does architecture,’ says Mark

Q: Who in your profession has impacted your work?

My stepfather, the late Peter Overman, was a renowned architect and huge personal inspiration. His mentorship and guidance not only led to me becoming an architect but shaped my way of thinking more broadly. He had a conscious tendency to avoid being a slave to fashion. He often cited how many architects and designers rely on books, magazines and online content for inspiration. The issue was that many then would replicate ideas, effectively denying themselves any sense of originality. Being conscious of this, when designing I learnt to rely more on my own inspiration and self-belief. 

Q: Where do you get your day-to-day inspiration from?

For me, inspiration mostly comes from the job itself. Architecture involves solving a given problem with an aesthetic solution, so the more problems you must solve, the more you will have inspiration to draw upon.

A site may have certain falls, orientation, prevailing winds or views, and then the client will have personal requirements or wishes. We have technical limitations and requirements of councils, NCC and other bodies. All these provide a logical basis to start. Over time, you embellish this list of requirements with more personal, almost sub-conscious ways of thinking. For example, little nuances such as preferred proportions, details or materials. I prefer to never change colours on an external corner. The challenge then is to combine these into a workable solution tied together with a strong aesthetic overtone. This is a different approach to trying to shoe-horn in a certain idea or aesthetic and ensures the design ethos of form following function holds true! This is where my inspiration starts and evolves. 

‘Materials tend to be driven by emerging fashion and design trends’
‘Unlike a new build, a renovation for me provides a greater degree of challenge.’

Q: Do you like to incorporate new or innovative materials?

Yes, but we also have an obligation to ensure these will last over time without creating a new set of issues. There’s a degree of trepidation in using new materials that have no proven track record.

Materials tend to be driven by emerging fashion and design trends. Currently, there’s a distinct push towards the use of raw materials such as concrete with less polished matte finishes. Sustainable alternatives such as composite timbers, decking and metals are becoming the norm. Designs are less simplistic with the layering of materials, shapes, textures and colors. Curves are back in vogue as are reinterpretations of past styles. Materials that fit within this paradigm are generally what we then gravitate toward.  

Q: What’s the most challenging project that you’ve completed?

The most challenging and inspiring project is generally the one you are currently working on! That said, unlike a new build, a renovation for me provides a greater degree of challenge. Here you are effectively trying to create a new identity from the old and working within the confines of an existing structure. So, when we were awarded the 2022 HIA Residential Design Award for a renovation, it was an inspiring moment.

We currently have a mid-century inspired project under construction in Mosman Park. This home resides over three blocks, covering around 3000 square metres and includes a series of interconnecting pavilions surrounded by lush gardens. Due for completion in early 2024, the home is one I’m sure will provide inspiration for the RA team moving forward!

Q: What’s your design approach to kitchens?

Kitchens remain literally at the centre of most homes, acting as the social connector between living spaces. Considering most clients seek open plan living, the kitchen has had to evolve beyond simply being a practical space into something more akin to a piece of furniture that connects with the home’s design language. I believe it’s necessary for the kitchen to have cohesion with the rest of house.

‘We’ve made major strides toward designing homes that embrace our indoor-outdoor lifestyle’
‘As blocks become smaller, we haven’t created the appropriate way of addressing the social and aesthetic challenges this presents’.

Q: Where do we need to innovate in modern Australian design?

This is not a simple question to answer! However, I will say that we have a unique climate and one that we have tended to ignore. We’ve made major strides toward designing homes that embrace our indoor-outdoor lifestyle, but we’re still bound to conventional building techniques and regulatory restrictions.

As blocks have become smaller, we haven’t created the appropriate way of addressing the social and aesthetic challenges this presents. Regulatory restrictions have meant blocks are simply being made smaller without increasing the design opportunities to compensate. Sub-divisions should be allowed to create smaller blocks only where there are designed outcomes that provide compensatory outcomes for the whole community, such as landscaped areas for homes to look onto and share.

Cars could be relegated to rear laneways or concealed below landscaped podiums and setbacks, and height restrictions relaxed where the communities are designed to work together at higher densities. This approach however requires a greater degree of design input upfront and co-ordination from both green field developers and builders. Thirty years ago, I was working abroad on exactly these types of projects and the outcomes were often amazing. So, looking forward, I’m sure this is one area where we could innovate and develop a uniquely Australian aesthetic for smaller lot communities.

Q: The Pantone Colour of the Year for 2023 was announced as Viva Magenta. Do you take notice of trends such as this?

I’d have to say, no, we wouldn’t consider this. Respectfully, I can’t help feeling a colour should be chosen based on its relevance to a particular design, not simply because it’s in vogue. It seems to me that to choose a colour because it is somehow relevant today is a sure way to make it irrelevant tomorrow.

Q: Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out in the industry?

Knowing about materials and how things are built takes time. If I knew then what I know now, I would probably have been a better designer. However, we are constantly learning. The materials and way we construct is ever evolving, so I somehow doubt it is that simple!

Q: Away from work, what is your personal creative outlet?

While you might expect me to paint or draw, the reality is I prefer to simply be outdoors walking, at the gym or switching off with a coffee and paper. My creative outlet is my work and I spend enough hours already concentrating on my designs than to commit to this in my spare time!

Q: What advice can you give young people interested in a career in architecture/design?

Believe in yourself. There are far too many arrogant, so-called experts who will undermine your own belief. I’m not encouraging vanity or self-indulgence, but simply saying those who wish to follow this path should have the strength to believe in their own abilities.

First published on 13 Mar 2023

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